Tea time in America

I was asked by people at Seattle Coffee Gear if I was interested in a post by them and among the subjects they were thinking of was “Tea in America”.

Since this topic is of interest to me, I gave a go ahead and I began searching myself to provide later a complementary look at it.

In other words, stay tuned but first let’s leave the floor to my guest.


“But the kettle’s on the boil

And we’re so easily called away

Hands across the water

Heads across the sky”

– Paul McCartney


Greetings from America, where it looks like we may (finally) adopt tea into our daily routine. Tea has come and gone from our culture several times based on availability, fashion and, of course, politics. It is time to dust of granny’s teapot, from all indicators, tea is here to stay.


With the recent purchase of the Teavana chain of stores, Starbucks is betting they can do for tea popularity what they did for coffee popularity. Teavana has over 300 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico located in popular shopping mall locations. Starbucks has plans to expand and triple that amount. Currently Teavana sells teas and tea ware and some locations are being revamped to sell prepared food and beverages.


According to NPR, the wholesale value of tea has grown from $2 billion to $10 billion over the past 20 years. Currently there are about 4,000 specialty tea rooms and retail stores in the U.S. There are many demographic factors that indicate a continued economic boost for tea sales including aging baby boomers and an increased Asian population. The time is ripe for tea.


The preference here has always been for black tea, preferably iced, which makes up 85% of the U.S. market. This is why McDonalds offers Sweet Tea (water, sugar, orange pekoe and pekoe cut black tea) nationwide, not just in the Southern states where the iced drink has always been popular.

Caution: What falls on the floor after roasting could end up in your 32 ounce iced tea

While this tea revolution is being led by corporate giants McDonalds, Starbucks, Pepsi (Brisk) and Coca-Cola (Honest Tea), small specialty tea shops are quietly doing more business. With increased awareness of tea comes increased demand for premium teas, because a rising tide lifts all boats (and teacups).


Some die-hard tea enthusiasts have a hard time welcoming the onslaught of new tea drinkers. Tea blogger A.C. Cargill laments there is ‘Too much emphasis on fancy tea rooms and fancy flavorings, not the real tea experience.’ A similar phenomenon happened with coffee, Starbucks was established in 1971 but the Third Wave of coffee did not take shape until 30 years later. Right now is a great opportunity for tea educators to expedite the evolution.


Shiuwen Tai, a tea shop owner and tea educator in Seattle, offers classes about how tea is grown, harvested and processed. She specializes in Taiwanese Oolong teas and leads annual trips to meet the producers. Her enthusiasm for quality tea is contagious and she shares her knowledge during tea tastings, general interest classes and lectures on advanced topics. She says people who appreciate fine coffee or fine wine will have an easier understanding when she talks about what makes a fine tea.


The East Coast is also seeing more shops devoted to fine tea. Tea server and blogger Nicole Martin reports, ‘Most in my area are brand new. Radiance Tea House in New York City is probably coming up on 8 or so years though. My favorite is definitely Tea Drunk’ (in the East Village). Both of these shops offer classes and tastings to further educate customers about fine teas.


Fresh roasted tea from Floating Leaves Tea in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Washington

A little more tea education and it is possible some Americans may trade corporate tea’s quantity for local business’ quality, and a 1 liter cup of Sweet Tea for a 100ml gaiwan. Either way, tea is here to stay!


Samantha Joyce is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear in Seattle, Washington and enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee and tea. Currently she enjoys steeping Oriental Beauty Oolong in a gaiwan to impress her coffee-loving friends and family.


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