28 Feb 11 The new US craze for tea
There is a tea party going on in the United States… even if the tea is not exactly recognisable as good old char. No one is suggesting that the craze for costly coffee in America, instigated most particularly by Starbucks of Seattle, is coming to an end. But what can be said with confidence is that it is being given a bit of a run for its money suddenly by tea.
Has Uncle Sam himself finally grasped the art of brewing and mashing? Not quite. Most grocery shelves in America still offer the feeblest selection of teas to anyone looking for more than “breakfast” or “Earl Grey”. Ask for a cuppa on a domestic flight and they will serve you hot water and milk in a paper cup accompanied by a tea bag that you must dunk yourself in the vague hope it will all turn the colour of rust.
Yet, a serious effort is going on to do to the humble leaf what the folks in Seattle did to the bean, above all make it appealing enough, in all sorts of new-fangled brews and blends, to anchor full-blown tea shops with prices as shocking as the menus.
And a head of steam has already been achieved. According to the New York based Tea Association of the USA, there are now roughly 3,000 tearooms open across America compared to only 200 back in 1995. And on the retail side companies such as Harney & Sons Master Tea Blenders in Millerton, New York, are rushing to keep up with demand for new speciality blends for the shelves of shops like Whole Foods.