In defence of tea: the Great British cuppa is not dying out

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Georgie Young
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Recent research suggests that millennials and Generation Z are abandoning traditional tea in favour of herbal teas and coffee, but there’s still a place for the builders’ brew at the tea table, argues Georgie Young.

“The Great British cup of tea is dying”

These were the large black letters of the headline that I’d stumbled across while browsing the internet and drinking my morning cuppa. I nearly spat it out. Surely not?

Drinking tea is one of the hallmarks of being British – and by tea, I mean the wonderfully comforting builders’ brew served with milk and with or without sugar. It’s been the subject of reams of poetry and the topic of many a debate; friendships are made and lost on whether the tea bag or the milk are put in first, and woe betide anyone who makes a D4 colour tea according to a viral tea colour chart (if you were wondering, I champion D2 all the way). 

However, research firm Kantar found that demand for black tea has fallen by 2.7% over the last two years. Likewise, consumer brand giant and PG Tips owner, Unilever, has reported that it is struggling to grow its tea brands in the UK and US – and it think it’s come up with a reason: my generation is turning away from traditional tea. 

It’s true that research has consistently suggested that millennials and Generation Z are eschewing the good ol’ builders’ brew in favour of herbal concoctions and coffee. A survey conducted by National Tea Day suggests that consumers are abandoning the ‘builders’ part of the brew altogether, with 70% of the tea industry’s growth attributed to female tea drinkers. A further 50% of tea brands saw 24-35 year olds as their fastest-growing demographic. But why is this happening – and what are we drinking if it’s not a bog-standard cuppa?

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One answer seems to lie in the change in tea’s image. A kaleidoscope of different blends of tea have exploded onto the market. Last weekend, I popped into my local Bird & Blend and was instantly overwhelmed by the aromas of hundreds of different types of tea piled on the shelves, and brands like T2 have successfully hooked British consumers with their vivid colours and a mix of non-traditional flavours. It’s no wonder that NTD reported modern-day drinkers as seeing tea as healthy, colourful and sensual instead of a more traditional view of it as comforting, creamy and sweet. It appears we are looking to expand our tea-filled horizons beyond that of the humble Assam tea bag. 

Another argument is that we’ve changed the way we drink tea. Afternoon tea has seen a 54% increase in bookings and restaurants are increasingly listing tea pairings alongside dishes as well as wine. Going out to drink tea, it seems, is an immersive affair and only worth it if evidence of the outing ends up on Instagram alongside a tray of perfectly crafted cakes. 

There's still a place for the British brew at the tea table

This emphasis on the aesthetic can also explain why we’re drinking more coffee. Although tea is still Britain’s favourite drink (we consume a whopping 100 million cups of it a day), coffee is a close second, with 70 million mugs being knocked back every single day. More and more young people are turning to coffee beans rather than tea bags for their daily caffeine hit – and this is partially because coffee is much more photogenic. A quick image search for ‘latte art’ pulls out reams of designs lovingly crafted into coffee foam, and cafes have really upped their interior game in the last few years; the phrase ‘Instagrammable cafe’ being increasingly typed into Google from early 2017 onwards.

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All that being said, I still think that there’s a place for the builders’ brew at the tea table. 

No, I wouldn’t exclusively go out for a cup of tea, but that’s because nobody can beat the way I make it in my kitchen at home (four minutes to brew and a splash of milk, in case you were wondering). The experience of making a cuppa – the ritualistic pouring of the teapot and stirring of the teaspoon – is a relaxing, meditative and calming experience that goes beyond the drink itself; certainly one that lies beyond the confines of an Instagram story. 

Tea is the great healer. If someone is upset, it’s tea that they’ll be offered – and you can’t forget the Dr Who Christmas episode in which David Tennant is brought back from the dead by a flask of it. It’s the ice breaker, being offered to builders and electricians across the nation, and it’s the centre of sofa-bound catch ups and crying marathons. 

If you want to get scientific about it, black tea has been proven to have a whole raft of health benefits. It contains antioxidants that help to fight inflammation and prevents your blood vessels from hardening. Tea drinkers have a significantly lower risk of stroke and heart disease, and research has suggested that drinking regular tea could improve your memory

Drinking tea is a calming experience at any time of day

It may not be as eye-catching as a whipped cream-topped spiced latte or as colourful as its herbal cousins, but nothing can beat the quiet calm of a traditional cup of tea. Change may be brewing in the tea industry, but the Great British cuppa will always be a part of it. Where there is tea, there is love – and tea time isn’t over just yet.

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Georgie Young

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