Can specialty tea elevate teatime?

Ahead of National Tea Day in the UK, The Tea Group, a community of tea enthusiasts and experts that work with luxury hospitality companies to educate consumers on the ‘teatime experience’, launched a survey to the British public, to ascertain their teatime preferences and habits. According to the results, 55% of Brits say they prefer a herbal or other leaf based tea, over traditional English Breakfast, despite it accounting for 85% of sales in 2019, according to Unilever. With a further 87% saying that tea relaxes and comforts them, and 37% saying drinking tea is an opportunity for ‘me time’, it is evident that the value of the teatime experience is not lost on the British public, as it very much remains a cultural and habitual staple in most of our lives.

Yet The Tea Group is striving to elevate the tea experience further, as it demonstrated at its National Tea Day event at the Dorchester Hotel, London. The event was a luxurious and informative showcase of teas from all over the world, and even some closer to home. Díaz Ayub, managing director at The Tea Group, noted that specialty tea has been taking a backseat from specialty coffee in recent years, despite tea being the second most consumed beverage globally, after water.

The menu for The Tea Group’s National Tea Day event. Image: Kathryn Brand

Each tea presented at the event was paired with a dish with the intention of enhancing the flavour notes of the drink, with some pairings forming natural companions, while others were certainly more unusual and bold. Jersey Fine Tea’s British-grown green tea, paired with tuna tartare with a tobiko caviar and yuzu, was the former. The salty and citrus flavours of the dish balanced with the fragrant and mild green tea, which was pleasantly not bitter, unlike so many green teas I have tried before. We were told that this was a combination of the fact that Jersey Fine Tea only pick the top leaves of the plant to use in its teas, and also knowing how to brew green tea correctly, which is at a lower temperature of about 80-85°C, to refrain from burning the delicate tea leaves and creating that astringent flavour often associated with green tea.

The event was a fantastic opportunity not only to showcase some amazing tea growers and producers, but also to showcase the ritual, tradition and ceremony behind certain teas. One such example was a Japanese matcha ceremony, from Chill Tea Tokyo, whereby the matcha was mixed with a small amount of hot, but not boiling, water, and stirred with a special bamboo whisk until frothy, to promote creaminess in the flavour, before more water was added to make the final drink. The Tea Group demonstrated to the guests, most of whom were representing luxury London hotels, with each tea how it should be served to guests, in order to maximise not only the flavour, but the whole experience of teatime, validating the premium value that such specialty teas demand.

While the UK, and much of the world, is going though economic challenges and cost of living crises, people are still seeking out small moments of luxury where they can, and afternoon tea is more popular than ever, both in the UK and the US, said Díaz Ayub. Therefore, an opportunity is presented to maximise people’s desire for a little luxury and offer them an entire experience with their teatime. Since the pandemic, consumers are increasingly interested in teas, with so many willing to branch out from their standard cup of builders to something that will promote wellness, digestion, or mental health through botanical and herbal blends. This provides hospitality companies with an eager audience to really promote specialty tea to their guests, and enter a category that needn’t just be reserved for coffee.

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