Tea may have helped provide a high point in the history of the soon-to-be United State's Revolutionary War but now it is starting a revolution of its own -- a green economy that could rival that of the other growing green economy, cannabis.
And it may have been that very famous tea party in Boston (which John Adams aptly described as the Destruction of the Tea in Boston) in 1773 that allowed coffee to become the go-to hot beverage in the U.S. It is odd that for a country that started with descendants from Europe that we shunned tea for many years. But that is changing, and besides, tea was being served here in North America and what would become New York even before London.
Both of these things were pointed out to me by authors Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson, who were both signing their book A Social History of Tea at the World Tea and Healthy Beverage Expo in Long Beach, California, in May.
Richardson, the Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museums admits the Boston Tea Party did play a role in our view of tea. "There is an interesting and very real story about the Boston Tea Party and the events leading up to it, and why it was seen as a sign of protest. And did that turn America off to tea? Well, yes and no. Remember, they were drinking tea 10 years before London in New Amsterdam, New York as we know it now," he stated on the expansive conference floor.
"Yes, tea was here in the 1600s," Pettigrew added. "But remember geography plays a big part in why coffee and tea emerged in different places. The tea routes were not plagued with the strife the coffee routes were, so the tea flooded in to Europe once the routes were opened," she concluded.
Tea has been used as currency, traded for opium and its health benefits have been heralded for thousands of years. In America almost 65% of tea consumed is iced tea and bags win the day when it comes to hot tea. But make no mistake -- it is big business.
According to Global Industry Analysts, Inc (GIA) in San Jose, California, the global tea market for hot beverages is forecasted to reach $69.77 billion by 2015, with tea accounting for $29 billion of that. Market Research firm Mintel International forecasts tea sales growth of 50% between 2011 and 2016 and at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas two years ago David De Candia, director of Tea at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Los Angeles, California, was on the Will Tea Ever Be As Big as Coffee? panel where the consensus was tea could trump coffee sales by the year 2017.
No matter the numbers everyone agrees, tea is on the rise in the United States. The World Tea Expo 2014 had extraordinary attendance and interest with thousands of visitors and over 200 exhibitors.
George Jage, President of WTE2014 agreed. "The fastest growing categories are ready to drinks, which are blowing through the roof. They are a great alternative to sugary drinks, and now you can get fresh tea, all types, in instant forms, fresh teas. Products like 'Tea of a Kind' where there's tea in the cap of a water bottle, so you make it right in your own water," he stated.
As for the roll out of tea shops and stores in the United States, Jage was more than optimistic.
"There's 25,000 coffee shops in the United States," he went on. "About 11,000 of those are owned by Starbucks. So you can say that Starbucks has about a 2.5 multiplier in the community. Starbucks just bought 'Teavana' and is looking at 300 stores, which right there means 750 new tea shops in those communities," he concluded.
And thank the universe. As a tea lover I often have a to carry my own tea, tea kettle, cup, saucer, spoon...all of it to a restaurant if I want to get a decent cup. At #WTE2014 I found the Tea Pod which has cut down on what I need to bring, but still. Most restaurants think it's throw a bag in a coffee mug, put a slice of lemon and honey packet on a saucer and call it a day. NOT.
Tea is ritual, it is time, it is refining tastes, both of tea, service wear, it's casual or formal, it's festive or quiet, it's invigorating or relaxing. And it's not that hard. So for everyone out there from restaurant owner to single person with roommates and everything in between, there's nothing a good cuppa' can't cure. Friends come together around tea, conversations spring up, life happens. So brew some. But please, learn how.
The #WTE2014 proved tea is a true growth industry, one that is expanding, not contracting. And it is built around a beverage and a ritual that has been pleasing millions for thousands of years. And it's completely healthy, you could drink a gallon and not gain a pound.
Devan Shah, creator and owner of International Tea Importers and Chado Tea Rooms summed it up best when he was awarded the Cha Jing Lifetime Award during the World Tea Awards at #WTE2014. "Tea, the most romantic of all beverages, has certainly come a long way in the United States," said Shah. "It has seen steady growth year-over-year for the last 15 years, and I am proud to be a part of that growth, and I am very grateful for this honor."
Coming Up: Tea 101, How To Brew A Great Pot of Tea