Our changing taste for tea

Posted by Simon Attenborough

You really can’t blame someone for having post-purchase dissidence when they order a tea and get an over priced cup of hot water and a tea bag! Especially when there is such a huge range of quality affordable tea for cafes and restaurants to serve. For several decades now we as Australians have accepted mediocre grades of tea that mainly come in the form of a black tea bag in a box of 100 from isle eight at Woolies! The lowest grades of mass-produced sub-continental black (and now green) tea are fine if you don’t mind a splash of milk and two sugars to mitigate the face wincing astringent taste! For many out there they don’t know any better. They just think this is tea. It comes in a bag, you add it to hot water, dunk it several times, add stuff to disguise the flavour and proceed to do more dunking with a sweet biscuit.

The more I interact with the Australian tea drinking community the more I see a shift in consumer taste preferences. Steadily, tea drinkers are now appreciating that there is a new world of tea out there and you don’t need to add enhancements to avoid a bitter unpalatable taste. They are ditching the teabag and embracing the virtues of the more traditional and authentic ways to make loose-leaf tea. Now they use a teapot, infuser or put their tea straight into a cup or glass Chinese style. Once the change is made to the wide variety of quality loose-leaf black, green, white, oolong or even pu'er tea its hard to go back to the old ways.

We all strive for excellence in what we consume so why should tea be any different? The irony of the tea industry is the biggest names in tea mostly sell the lowest grades of tea. Just because its in well marketed packaging doesn't mean its any good. One of the key principles to great tea is to select tea that is fresh, a higher grade and in loose leaf or bud form. Knowing the guy who sells you the tea also helps too! Your tea will not only have great taste it will give you several infusions from the same leaves that you first start with and importantly provides the optimum health benefits associated with that category of tea. 

Cafes and restaurants are now realising that they cant just have an emphasis on serving fine barrister made coffee and neglect the true tea drinker by presenting a limited choice of dreary teabags. It’s just as important to offer quality ‘exotic’ tea brewed in a pot or fancy infuser. With an ever-changing international population, Australia’s tastes are also changing to accommodate the folk who come from tea drinking cultures. They expect a selection of fine tea and usually understand that tea can be on the pricey side when choosing quality. That’s fine when you consider the inflated cost we pay for a cup of coffee nowadays!

We all know that drinking (quality) tea is good for our health but the very ritual of taking time out to brew and drink it is healthy in itself. It gives us a chance to take our minds off ‘things’ and relax. An insightful old man I met in China when I lived there said to me that tea should always be drunk sitting down and not rushed. This way you can appreciate the taste and really enjoy it. If you don’t already partake in an essential daily ‘tea ritual’ then why not make 2014 the year that you do? Take time out each day to sit down, drink quality tea and slow down the frenetic tempo of life. It has immense longterm body and mind benefits!

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