Brits opt for tea bags over loose-leaf teas

With 98% of Brits declaring they drink tea every day, Britain’s reputation as a nation of tea drinkers is obviously intact but how many brew and ‘take their tea’ is surprising (and maybe questionable to tea purists…).

“The new super survey of over 1,000 adults in Britain reveals some fascinating insights into the nation’s particular preferences for their ideal brew, from habits around adding milk and sugar to some of our peculiarities when brewing up,” said Dr Sharon Hall, chief executive of the UKTIA. The 2024 Tea Census Study was conducted in March 2024 on behalf of the UK Tea & Infusions Association (UKTIA) in advance of International Tea Day on 21 May.

There’s a clear favourite format of tea that Brits use for their daily brew, and it’s the tea bag. “With nearly two thirds (64%) stating they need a cuppa before they can even begin to tackle the day ahead, it’s no surprise that 84% pick the option of a tea bag to make their black tea, with 16% opting for loose leaf,” said Dr Hall.

Curiously, the age group most likely to prefer loose-leaf black tea was the 30-44-year-olds (27%), compared with 16% of 18-29-year-olds, 12% of 45-59-year-olds, and only one in ten (10%) of those aged 60+. “When it comes to other types of tea, it may also come as a surprise that the age group most likely to mainly drink loose leaf varieties were the youngest (18-29-year-old) adults,” Dr Hall shared. She added that for both herbal infusions and green tea, more than a quarter (28%) of this age group said they predominantly chose loose leaf over tea bags. This compares to only 5% of the older adults.

The UKTIA Census Tea Study also covered the steps Brits take to make a cuppa, and it turns out that while Britain is known as a nation that likes a strong builders brew, of the respondents, just a few are brewing their tea for the appropriate times. “Only 7% said they brewed their tea for the optimal three to four minutes for most types of tea, especially black teas,” said Dr Hall. A quarter of survey participants (26%) said they left the bag or leaves in for only one to two minutes while nearly a fifth (18%) brew their tea for less than a minute.

When asked which order they add the items needed for making a brew, Brits most commonly put in the tea bag first followed by water, milk and sugar/sweetener. Nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents said they drank their black tea without any milk.

While adding milk to black tea is common in the UK, tea experts and enthusiasts frown upon adding it to green tea, white tea and herbal/botanical infusions, which are all more delicate and can be overpowered by the addition of milk (whether it is dairy milk or plant-based milk). However, it seems Brits like adding milk to all tea varieties. The survey revealed that a third (35%) of Brits add milk to green tea, and nearly a third (32%) add milk to their herbal infusions.

“An interesting revelation from the data was [how many] of us add milk to our green tea, which many tea connoisseurs would argue ruins the flavour, but people should have tea just how they like it!” Dr Hall remarked.

Of those respondents who did add milk, the most popular choice by far was semi-skimmed – 40% – with 18% choosing skimmed, 13% opting for the full fat variety, and just 5% preferring plant-based milk in their brew, despite the trend for plant-based diets.

“For those adding an accompaniment to their teatime, the most popular snack pairing for Brits was by far and away a sweet biscuit (48%),” shard Dr Hall. Other popular tea-time accompaniments include a chocolate biscuit (36%), cake (32%), a sandwich (24%) and chocolate (18%). Around a fifth (22%) said they preferred to enjoy their brew without any snacks or treats.

Of course, no matter which type of tea is used, the best way to ensure a ‘perfect cuppa’ is to always use quality tea and filtered water for boiling. The UKTIA suggests that the optimal temperature for green tea is 80C (176F) while it is 90C (194F) to 98C (208.4F) for black tea, but it is important to always follow the instructions on the packaging for the perfect brew.

And when preparing tea, Dr Hall urges tea drinkers to ‘Smart Boil’. “Measure out the number of cups of water you need for each cup you are making, this will save time, money and energy. Add one tea bag or one rounded teaspoon of loose leaf per cup.”

Whether you brew your tea strong or weak, take your tea with or without milk, and enjoy it with or without a savoury or sweet treat, I hope tea drinkers enjoyed their ‘perfect cuppa’ on International Tea Day and every day! And as International Tea Day has passed, I will wish everyone a happy International Tea ‘Week’ instead!

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