This capsule is the true story of tea in the UK

The ceremonial setting and ritual are inextricably linked to ‘English’ness – this relationship between tea and Britishness – that is increasingly identified by the tea industry as a key revenue generator. The appetite for tea in the UK is huge and any marketing around the appetite for tea leads to the marketing and promotion of tea as a drink of celebration, purity and economy. This narrative has become so embedded in the drink that a focus on tea is almost a necessity.

The industry invested heavily in developing the coveted green tea that is available in the UK. As a result, in recent years the majority of tea flavours introduced to the UK market has been in green tea. Given that the fad for green tea was introduced by Holland and the Islands (where the original green tea plantations were established), the well informed consumers from the Islands identify green tea as the pinnacle of tea consumption as well as connoisseurship.

The popularity of tea in the Islands is largely attributable to their coffee culture. This has created an all consuming passion with coffee which has led to an explosion in this consumption. In the UK, however, tea consumption is heavily restricted and the very instant coffee we drink has been more successful in becoming the default morning tea as it requires no pretentiousness, formulation, preparation or mulling over as it is instant and indeed ‘harmless’ and, in many instances ‘ubiquitous’. This ‘built in caffeine fix’ satisfies the need to meet our caffeine intake ‘on the job’ and at work – which is also the means by which many limit their caffeine intake, particularly coffee drinkers.

The record levels of coffee consumption in the Islands in the mid-1990s led to a backlash amongst tea drinkers who therefore turned to tea in decreasing numbers, perhaps paving the way for the revival of more spiritual forms of tea. The recent proliferation of infused tea/tea blends is largely popularised by the fact that these blends have the added benefit of being easier on the wallet. Tea-lovers also assert that any tea that is not steeped provides an infusion of other herbs, spices and other special flavourings that are usually derived from tea gardens and therefore don’t carry the risk of undesirable side effects.

The growth of tea in the UK mirrors that of coffee – both grown and consumed in increasing numbers. Consequently, it is estimated that over 70 billion cups of tea are consumed per year in the UK. In comparison, approximately 80 billion cups of coffee are consumed per year in the UK.

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