Stephanie Sokol for OU News Bureau
It can be prepared in many ways, and taste is up to the brewer. Tea, the world’s second most popular beverage behind water, has soared in popularity during the past 10 years.
Americans drank over 3 billion gallons of tea in 2011, 85 percent of that black tea, 14 percent green tea and the rest oolong or white, noted the Tea Association of the USA, which is based in New York.
“(Tea is) now well over an $8 billion category, with growth in different areas — not only in the specialty tea segment, which are the more premium teas and the flavored teas — but also in the raised drink segment, which has been quite a big driver in this category,” said Peter Goggi, tea association vice president. “Tea has benefited very much so from its healthful positioning.”
Tea has the ability to relieve stress, improve heart health and potentially prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, according to WebMD. The site cites tea as a “superfood” with polyphenol antioxidants and flavonoids, both healthy.
“Nowadays, tea is a little bit trendier,” said Liz Webster, assistant manager at Lakeside Mall’s Teavana. “People see it on shows like ‘Doctor Oz’ and come in seeking tea for its health benefits.”
In addition to providing nutrition, tea can act as a pick-me-up, providing caffeine, though in a more balanced way than coffee, according to Alan Laszuk, tea consultant for the American Tea Masters Association, based in San Diego, Calif. Laszuk offers training in tea preparation.
“Tea does not distribute caffeine to the body in the same way that coffee does,” Laszuk said.
“Coffee is like an injection of caffeine where you get all of it at one time and then you peak and crash afterwards,” he explained. “Because of the theanine in tea, the caffeine enters your system in a brand new manner, so you tend to be more alert mentally and your heart rate doesn’t start to rise.”
The taste of tea
Bigelow Tea is the No. 1 specialty tea company in the U.S., said Elaine Gavoli, Bigelow communications manager. The brand has 120 varieties of tea, and has
people researching the latest trends and preferences among customers through social media and grocery store statistics.
“We here at Bigelow like to think tea’s popularity growth is because it tastes so good,” Gavoli said. “We make all of our teas to please the pallet — it’s a taste profile that we’re going after, and we hope that people are enjoying teas for that reason.”
While Bigelow is mainly bag teas, stores such as Teavana offer loose tea that the drinker measures out and steeps, for more flavor, Webster said. Its sample Chai-Chai blend, made up of Macaraza Chai and Cinnamon Tea, is one of the store’s top-sellers.
The largest tea producing areas are found in China, Taiwan and Japan, each of which has influenced tea drinking in the U.S., Laszuk said. While all countries have played a part, he said England has most shaped U.S. preparation of tea with its traditional tea bag preparation.
Half of the U.S. population drinks tea daily, 85 percent being iced, with ready-to-drink tea growing by more than 17.5 percent, according to the Tea Association of the United States.
Laszuk said that while people attending his training seek healthiness, the taste is crucial. For a stronger cup, he said, people can steep tea in boiling water, but typically most people leave it for about four minutes to avoid bitterness.
“The first thing people seem to discuss is the health benefits, which seems to be driving people,” Laszuk said. “But the flavor, from my experience talking with people in the tea business, I’d say its 80 percent flavor and 20 percent health benefits. Everybody’s interested in the health benefits, and there are some things very apparent with tea not in coffee.”
Growing popularity among young people
While tea is popular among many age groups, Laszuk said, 70 percent of tea drinkers attending his sessions are college age.
“Tea, like music, has many eras,” he said. “This is a new era for tea.”
Tea has gone through style and development changes over the years, Laszuk said, though the most success occurs for tea shops close to colleges.
Oakland University Junior Lindsey Brendel just started drinking tea. She said she likes the health benefits and the flavor. Her favorites are Taj Mahal Chai and green tea.
“Goldfish Tea in Royal Oak is my favorite tea house,” Brendel said. “The perfect combination is to see an independent film at the Main Art Theater and talk over tea after. It’s a good beverage to converse while drinking.”
Health benefits aside, tea offers something other drinks can’t, which is what makes it attractive to its drinkers.
“The bottom line is this: Tea tastes good,” Goggi said.
“It’s refreshing, you can make it any way you want. You’re not limited to what someone hands you. You can start with a tea bag, some loose tea, you can brew it yourself, make it as strong as you want, add whatever you want. It’s completely up to you, the brewer, as to how you consume your tea.”
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