It's tea, but not as we know it

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In America, the hot new drink comes in flavours such as Irish Crème Latte and Mojitea – and it bears little relation to a plain old cuppa. David Usborne reports

There is a tea party going on in the United States. But before you conjure visions of Sarah Palin and slogans excoriating Barack Obama think instead of the sweet and smooth caress of an Irish Crème Tea Latte. (Which of the two you will find less palatable – politician or beverage – we dare not say.)

This is not about a war between political ideologies but between hot drinks. 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. That Irish Crème concoction is the February special at Argo Tea which recently has been opening branches in such cities as New York, Chicago, Boston and St Louis.

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.

The founder and CEO of Argo Teas, Arsen Avakian, recently recalled opening his first shop in Chicago eight years ago. “A lot of people thought it was insanity,” he said. Likening himself to Apple founder, Steve Jobs, he added: “I want to build the Apple of tea, and really create a premier global brand. We have really reached a growth tipping point for us and are ready to take growth to the next level.”

A visit to one Argo branch in Chicago revealed that, like Starbucks, the Argo chain is turning the business of ordering a cuppa into a bit of a face-reddening challenge. If Starbucks regulars can appear sometimes to be speaking a new language, you might be similarly baffled by the crowd at Argo. How am I to choose this morning between the Smootea, Tea Sparkle, MojiTea (inspired, allegedly, by the Mojito) and the Ice Green Tea Ginger Twist, all offerings trademarked by the company.

Starbucks, of course, remains the biggest threat to the relative tiddlers of tea such as Argo. When the first Starbucks opened in Seattle in 1971, the siren mermaid logo had “coffee” and “tea” beneath it. Tea soon fell away as the founders concentrated on becoming serious baristas. But did you notice that just a few weeks ago, the word “coffee” vanished also? Starbucks is not just about coffee any more. Indeed, its Tazo teas became a billion-dollar brand for the company, it revealed in a recent call with Wall Street analysts.

Still, this may be the time for Argo and other tea purveyors to find their place in the American market where, according to Beverage Digest magazine, coffee consumption fell between 2006 and 2009 by 2.3 per cent – it’s that recession thing – while tea drinking increased over the same period by 4.5 per cent.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s getting bigger and bigger, like a snowball,” says Michael Harney, vice-president of Harney & Sons. A humble word of advice to Argo, which boasts that it buys leaves from 16 countries: keep your eye on brewing stuff that actually tastes at least slightly like tea. That Irish Crème Tea Latte tasted like Baileys without the booze to me. Sweet and gooey, oh, and a bit like coffee.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world