Now for a nice cup of organic

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THE TRADITIONAL British cuppa is undergoing a quiet revolution as consumers change their tea-drinking habits.

Decaffeinated and instant teas, once scorned by purists, are enjoying a surge in popularity with health-conscious consumers. Sales of these products grew by nearly 50 per cent last year, while growth in sales of fruit, herb and organic teas followed close behind.

But Typhoo, the tea maker, says in a report on tea-drinking patterns that the biggest seller remains 'premium tea' - epitomised by brand names such as PG Tips, Tetley and Typhoo.

Sales of all the 'new generation' teas - decaffeinated, instant, fruit and herb, organic and vacuum-packed - grew by 50 per cent in 1991 to pounds 60m, 9 per cent of total annual tea sales of pounds 662m.

While the primary tea market is mature and sales volumes are declining gradually, Typhoo predicts that sales of the new tea types will increase to over pounds 100m by 1995.

John Tugman, marketing director of Typhoo's parent company, Premier Teas, said: 'Segmentation has been a long time in coming to the tea market . . . We are, after all, asking people to change or at least adapt a habit of a lifetime.'

In the hot drinks market, tea increased its lead over coffee in 1991. Tea's share of the market rose to 48 per cent, with coffee at 43.2 per cent.

Tea bags were again the overwhelming favourite last year, but their use seems to be hitting a plateau.

Tea in bags accounted for 82 per cent of sales, whereas 20 years ago 85 per cent of the tea purchased was loose leaf.

On average, Britons drink 3.29 cups of tea a day. Three-quarters drink it daily, while only 53 per cent drink coffee each day.