Waves in the Tea Industry

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world only second to water. Hard to believe in a country monopolized by double double and non fat skinny venti lattes. The coffee industry has seen a move from pouches of pre-grinded coffee to freshly roasted and grinded beans served through a fancy espresso machine. This evolution has been divided into three different waves that have been replicated by the tea industry.

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The First Wave of Tea : tea bags

The first wave of tea is defined by the invention of tea bags. Tea bags have accidentally made their first appearance around 1908 when Thomas Sullivan, an American tea importer, started sending his tea samples in silk pouches. Little did he know that instead of emptying their content into a teapot, customers would put them directly into hot water. By the 1920s, tea bags became a firmly established way of drinking tea in America and when the 1950s came around, their popularity grew even more especially in Britain.

Reasons to use tea bags:

  • Make single serving tea more convenient

  • Reduce the time needed to clean the leaves out of the tea pot

  • More accessible

To raise their profits, companies started compromising the quality of their products by using lower grade leaves to fill their tea bags. Even though consumers knew about it, they did not object as they were more interested in anything that would make their life easier at that time.

Tea has an image problem. Most people’s experience of tea is through a tea bag: watery, weak, limp, unimpressive. Jesse Jacobs of Samovar Tea.

The Second Wave of Tea : tea blends

The second wave of tea has been marked by the increase in the popularity of tea blends. Even though they are as old as tea itself, companies such as Teavana and David’s Tea made them a must amongst novice and expert tea drinkers.

Reasons for blending :

  • Introduces new and unique tastes, aromas, and textures to a cup of tea

  • Creates balance and consistency from one cup to another

  • Used for medicinal purposes

  • Creativity - as a form of art

There is a debate amongst tea experts who think that blended and flavored teas are only for marketing purposes. They strongly believe that blending ingredients with high quality leaves compromise the natural taste of the tea. They have the feeling that blenders often add a mix of fruits, flowers or flavours to lower grade teas only to get a better margin for their products.

The Third Wave of Tea : putting process at the forefront

To follow the trends set up by the wine, chocolate and coffee industries, tea shops owners have recently started to improve their tea menus by offering single estates teas and unique tea based beverages to their clientele. The new generation of teatenders is now exclusively working with pure camellia sinensis, abstaining from artificial flavours and other ingredients. The focus is on high-quality loose leaves teas that are meticulously brewed according to recommended practices. Tea is not just a commodity but an artisanal product that has been grown, harvested and processed at a specific estate in a specific region of the world. Drinking tea is now a social experiment where customers try to discover everything from the health properties of their brew to the uniqueness and the story behind each of their cups.

Sarah + Chris


Sarah Pelletier