Next to water, tea is undeniably the most popular beverage on earth. A favourite in Asia for over 5,000 years, this ubiquitous product is now encroaching upon consumer markets perpetually dominated by coffee and even soft drinks.
According to the U.S. Tea Association, overall tea sales in the USA have nearly quadrupled since 1990, much of it driven by increased demand for healthier green and herbal teas. In Canada, consumption of green tea soared 22 percent in 2005 and, according to the Tea Council of Canada, ballooned by a whopping 60 percent in less than four years.
Analysts claim North America’s new preoccupation with tea is being led by baby boomers seeking soothing alternatives to coffee, but also by twenty-somethings drawn to the fireside ambience of trendy new teahouses and specialty shops, many featuring such perky concoctions as green tea lattes, frappes and smoothies.
With what today must be considered fabulous foresight, Brendan Waye, founder of Steeps Tea Inc. in Calgary, Canada, opened the city’s first specialty teahouse in 1999. The “tea only” concept, he says, was unheard of at the time. “Today people are tuning in, there’s an overall awareness of tea.”
Waye notes tremendous growth in premium teas like chai, rooibos, and matcha. Of these it is matcha, first concocted by Zen monks in Japan nearly 800 years ago, that is capturing the hearts and minds of health-conscious consumers.