Why tea needs to copy coffee in order to survive

Tea is out of favour.

By tea, I mean standard black tea from a teabag. With or without sugar, in a mug or taken away: comforting, habitual, biscuit optional. According to research by consumer analysts Mintel, sales of black tea have dropped by 22% over the past five years. In 2010 Britons bought 97m kg of tea, last year only 76m kg. Mintel thinks that figure will continue to decline. What’s behind Britain’s cooling enthusiasm?

Apparently the under-35s prefer green or herbal teas. Global warming’s effect on prices may also have affected sales. (Maybe the tea campaigners and climate change groups can get together on this one.) And, the report says, people are prioritising their health and buying fewer biscuits. But of course, the biggest culprit is none of these things. The real reason for tea’s decline is coffee.

Unlike tea, coffee is aspirational. It is a Rolex in a cardboard cup. A takeaway flat white/bulletproof says you have means and a lifestyle. Money to spend, time to wait, the taste to pay for something better. With its steely levers, clanking and hissing, the coffee machine hides its secrets in a puff of magic steam. But any fool can make a tea. It is the anti-coffee, a beverage so unaspirational that it is fondly known as a “builders’”. I have nothing against builders – my dad was a builder – but even builders have gone off a cup of builders’; the last lot who came to my house asked for a cafetiere.


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