If you needed further proof that coffee’s lost its sex appeal, please see Exhibit A: The man in a clown-suit unironically schlepping something called “McCafé.”
Fact: Put “Mc” in front of anything and the foodies will flee.
No, big now is the delicate tea leaf, hand picked, sometimes before dawn, on the mountainsides of Yunnan, at sea level in Assam, Heaven Pool in China, and, yes, even South Carolina. Intricate green spirals, hand-sewn flowers that blossom in hot water, smoky black Lapsang souchong, or a perfectly aged Pu-erh that steeps into a copper-colored caramel liquor. It’s yummy. It’s growing.
A report from Packaged Facts values the U.S. market for tea at $7.4 billion, and they expect it to double in the next three years. For the first time ever, soda sales are slumping as consumers grab ready-to-drink teas (Snapple, Honest Tea, and Tazo, to name a few) that provide a healthier middle ground between syrup and Plain Jane bottled water.
“Tea is definitely outpacing coffee these days,” says Melanie Mitzner, co-founder of The Groovy Mind, an online market for organic, eco-friendly, and fair trade goods. “We’ve seen a significant increase in orders of our artisan teas — the higher quality, whole leaf, or limited editions.”
Julie Carlin, owner of The Tea Cart, a San Diego-based online purveyor of fine tea and accouterments, has also seen her client base bloom in the last few years. “Tea has romance, and it has history, and people are hungry for that. I think it’s an indication that people aren’t looking at tea as something that their grandmothers did.”
“It’s so different from coffee,” affirms Ronald Eng, co-owner of Infusions of Tea in La Jolla. “Coffee, you get your jolt in the morning and then you go and you go and you go. Tea is about slowing down, pausing, and recognizing the people around you, or your environment, or the cup of tea in front of you.”
If coffee is Facebook, then tea is a handwritten note from a friend.
For beveragistas wanting to get their toes wet, the number of options can be daunting. Mitzner recommends that you relax and enjoy some culinary tourism.
“I think as far as an essential experience, select teas from different locations. Select a tea from India and select a tea from China and select a tea from Africa — that’s a fun way of doing it.”
Better yet, head on over to Tea Destiny in Del Mar, where owner Anne Rowe is happy to give customers a tour of “The Great Wall of Tea."
“There’s over 60 teas there, and a little sample dish sits in front of each one,” says Rowe. “What people really appreciate is that they can not only see the tea, but they can smell it too — the whole experience is very nice.” PAUL STUART