Tea has had a long and eventful 4500 years of history since its fabled discovery in 2737BC. This little leaf has started wars, triggered political movements, changed cultures and landscapes across the world. It is currently the second most consumed drink in the world (after water) with an estimated 3 billion cups of tea being consumed daily. And yet despite this history and popularity it is truly incredible that 99% of the Western world knows nearly nothing about tea. But this is changing.
Tea in the West in the 1800’s used to be highly valued and the drink of the rich and royalty. As tea production became industrialised and mass produced it became more accessible to everyone and tea became seen as a simple cuppa. The downside to this commoditization of tea is that producers reduced the variety of tea produced to just black tea and began selling poor quality teabags. For over a century the West has been fed this awful substitute for proper tea and this is what most people thought that tea was all about. But people are finally discovering true tea. Brands like chinalife are breaking down the false preconceptions of tea and revealing to the West, the secret drink that has been enjoyed in Asia and select tea circles for centuries.
There is a new age of tea coming and it is the age of the Tea Connoisseur. Much like wine in the 70’s and coffee in the 90’s, the West is finally beginning to understand the immense variety of quality and flavours that can be extracted from the simple leaf by true tea artisans. Did you know for example that there are more tea cultivars than wine? How many have you tasted? Couple this excitement with the proven health benefits of tea and the drive towards functional drinks and you have an absolute rarity: a healthy indulgence which is bang on trend.
Brands like Unilever (Lipton) and Starbucks (Teavana) have noticed the growing trend towards the premiumisation of tea and are spending huge sums of money to promote and capture the market. But, for all their market research and money, they are lacking one key attribute – tea knowledge.
Ever since the East India Company sent a botanical spy (Robert Fortune) into China to steal tea knowledge in order to set up Indian tea plantations, the Chinese are very wary of prying foreigners and hold their secrets (and their top quality tea) close to their chest. As a buyer for chinalife I travel many times to China and visit farmers in order to tease out the secrets of true tea (usually after a meal and a few drinks!). The fact is that even the mighty Lipton only knows its own commodity and knows very little about anything else. So their solution is to take an inferior product and make it premium through fancy names and scenting with a variety of usually artificial flavours (zesty lemon or pineapple ginger etc). It is the equivalent of asking McDonalds to make steaks.
Other brands are trying to create the latest tea gizmo – tea pods, electronic infusers etc but again they seem to be missing the point. For all the beauty and complexity in tea the best way to prepare it is simply pouring pure water over the best quality leaf that you can buy. In most tea farmers homes they brew in a bowl – how much simpler can you get?
The new generation of tea connoisseurs are not interested in silly scents or expensive machines, they are primarily looking to understand and develop an appreciation of fine tea. Without real tea knowledge and direct sources with artisan farmers, no brand can meet this demand.
I urge every single one of you to join this growing trend by simply tasting a pure cultivar tea grown with love and passion by a tea artisan. I promise that one sip of the right tea and you will be compelled to keep exploring this incredible leaf and before you know it, you’ll be a tea connoisseur too.