Sales of green tea are soaring, fuelled by young women who are bored with bottled water as their tipple of choice.

The trade in speciality teas such as the green varieties has risen by 50 per cent in the past two years, at a time when sales of traditional black leaves are falling. Experts said that the widely publicised health benefits of green tea, coupled with its image as a "trendy" drink, have been behind its success.

The tea's image has also been boosted by celebrity endorsers such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez.

AriZona, an American drinks company that makes chilled and flavoured green tea drinks, said that J-Lo had supplies of their products flown in from the US when she was in London last year. The firm has now set up a British website and says sales have risen by 125 per cent in the past five months.

The actress Lindsay Lohan is also reported to be a fan, apparently ordering two cases of AriZona to be sent to her hotel while in the capital promoting Herbie: Fully Loaded in July.

Bill Gorman, executive director of the Tea Council, said: "People are very interested in green tea, I think partly because they want to be healthy and have taken on the messages about drinking lots of water, but have got bored with just buying bottled water that has no real taste to it. Green tea is a tastier way to take in lots of water, but has added health benefits.

"Traditionally, it has been very hard to get young women interested in tea but, with the green varieties, they are the ones behind the increases. They view it in the same way as they do wine, trying different products and tastes and going for ones that have a trendy feel to them."

Tetley launched its own range of green teas last year. The surge in demand has even led the world's largest coffee chain, Starbucks, to introduce a wide range of tisanes, as they are officially known. One tea bar in Soho is also selling a 35-year-old Chinese tea at £300 for a 100g packet.

A report by the market analysts Mintel found that between 2002 and 2004, sales of black loose tea and bags fell by 16 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. During the same period, speciality teas rose by 50 per cent and herbal and fruit varieties by 30 per cent.

But Mr Gorman of the Tea Council pointed out that the traditional cuppa was still the most popular tea on the market, with speciality products accounting for just 2 per cent of total sales.

Green tea comes from the same leaf as black tea, but undergoes a less aggressive manufacturing process and contains antioxidants that can protect against cancer and heart disease. A recent study found drinking two cups a day was equivalent in antioxidants to five portions of fruit and vegetables.

American research has also found green tea can help with weight loss. It found that men who were dieting and who took a green tea extract every day lost twice as much body fat as those not on the green tea supplement. Scientists believe that a plant based substance called catechin, contained in green tea, may stimulate the body to burn calories.

Green tea also contains natural antihistamines, which prevent the swelling and irritation associated with prickly heat..

People in Britain spend about £700m a year on tea and drink 62 billion cups .

Heaven sent

* According to Chinese legend, the story of green tea began in 2737BC when Emperor Shen Nung, known as the "Divine Healer", noticed that boiling water before drinking it gave subjects longevity and better health. One afternoon, as he knelt before his boiling water, leaves from a tree fell into the pot, prompting the emperor to proclaim the pleasant aroma "heaven sent". Records as far back as AD520 show Buddhists chewed the leaves while meditating. By 780,The Book of Tea by Lu Yu extolled its virtues. It became popular with the masses in the 14th and 15th centuries, when Chinese seamen were given the drink to ward off scurvy. The word tea is also Chinese, coming from the Amoy dialect word "te" (pronounced "tay"). The Dutch brought tea to Europe via Java. The English word tea, originally pronounced "tay" and "tee", derives from the Dutch - By Louisa Reynolds

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