Diners shun wine for a nice cuppa

Speciality teas are becoming the drink of choice in top-notch restaurants

Lunchtime, suppertime: any time is teatime at a growing number of top restaurants as chefs encourage diners to swap that glass of something for a nice cuppa. Restaurateurs are hailing tea as the new wine, claiming Britain's national drink is better suited to bring out the flavour of their dishes than many reds or whites.

The trend has caught on around the world, with Copenhagen's Noma and New York's Momofuku among those offering customers a wide variety of so-called speciality teas. They join British stalwarts, from the Fat Duck and Hix to Hibiscus and Gauthier Soho, which are all giving tea a starring role on their menus.

Pyramid-shaped bags aside, the tea world is not noted for its innovation: tea bags have been around for more than a century, since Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea importer, started sending out samples in silk bags in 1904. More recently, tea got left behind by the march of the coffee chain giants.

Analysts believe it is a matter of time before Starbucks branches out into tea following its acquisition last autumn of a US-based tea shop chain called Teavana. Unilever, the group behind PG Tips and Lipton, has also looked into opening a chain of tea cafés. And Teapod, a mini chain based in London, is keen to expand. Meanwhile, Costa and Caffe Nero have recently increased their selection of speciality teas in an attempt to diversify.

Bill Gorman, chairman of the UK Tea Council, says tea drinking in the UK, which has fallen since the 1970s, was now starting to grow, with sales of speciality teas increasing by 7 per cent each year. The British drink 165 million cups of tea a day, of which only 12 per cent are drunk outside the home. This compares with 70 million cups of coffee.

"Coffee chains are realising that to grow their business they need a good tea offering. They had problems in the past because using water from a coffee machine does not produce good tea, but that is changing," Mr Gorman said.

Health fears are also boosting tea sales, with green and white teas favoured for their antioxidants. Richard Vines, who chairs the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards, said: "People are drinking tea instead of alcohol at the end of a meal, so they are demanding a choice from restaurateurs." He predicted "tea-pairing" – matching different teas to certain foods – "would become a bit of a fashion", adding: "And why not? Tea has such distinctive flavours."

Alexis Gauthier, a Michelin-starred chef, said tea "enhanced the umami flavour" in many of his creations. He pairs a green tea with a spring starter of asparagus, broad beans and wild mushrooms. "In the past we'd have looked for a sauvignon blanc. But it's difficult to find something that doesn't kill [the flavours]. Tea is more subtle than wine." He matches each new menu with a different tea and says tea sales now comprise 30 per cent of drink revenues during lunch at Gauthier Soho.

Lalani, a tea importer, recently launched a course to train tea sommeliers. "The tea renaissance looks at seasonality and provenance. You can focus in on particular gardens, producers, the day tea is picked, and how the terroir [a word usually associated with wine] makes a difference to flavour, structure, and quality," Nadeem Lalani said. "You enjoy tea just like a fine wine or a whisky."

John Kennedy, who owns the café TeaSmith, recommends choosing tea for the effect it will have. "For a mid-afternoon slump, there is green tea; to go with lunch we suggest a digestive tea." He compared industrially produced teas, such as PG Tips, to instant coffee, adding: "We're a nation of tea drinkers but we drink such a narrow spectrum."

Oddly, given its history, the US is helping to drive the tea revival. Wholesale tea sales have grown from $1.84bn (£1.21bn) in 1990 to $8.2bn in 2011, and the retail industry is worth $27bn, according to the Tea Association of the USA. That accounts for more than half of tea's global $50bn market.

"There's more innovation in the States in tea houses than here because they don't have a heritage in tea like us," Teapod's owner, Huw Marks, said. He said the market in the UK had been "under-served because tea is very personal", adding: "We grow up with our own version of tea and how we like it." Despite being keen to expand, he said the future did not lie in separate tea and coffee chains. "I don't think it's tea or coffee. Most people drink both."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own