The tea sector is undergoing a major change, says Ian Boughton, with sales of dessert and iced teas increasing, together with new flavours and ways of serving it.
Whatever some caterers would like to think, the tea sector does not stand still, and big changes are currently happening. Dessert teas are beginning to increase in sales, tea is cropping up in unusual menus, and the age-old American habit of iced tea has finally begun to make a commercial mark here.
It all goes to make up new ways of serving tea, according to Teapigs. In this, a little imagination brings big results, according to Nick Kilby, the company's tea evangelist.
He says: "Look at the way chai latte, steamed with milk from the espresso machine, has become popular. The new thinking is to take tea further as an ingredient, in something like a smoothie; using chocolate tea in a latte is a typical new idea."
the superhero ingredient
A big new tea for this is matcha, the stoneground high-antioxidant green tea powder from Japan, which Teapigs calls "the superhero of modern tea".
"A standard tea bar in the USA will have a menu with five varieties of chai, matcha lattes, smoothies, and iced teas," says Kilby. "Nobody in this country has gone that far, except for people like Oliver de Trafford at Moksha Caffe in Brighton - he invents recipes such as a teaquiri (matcha and lime) and matcha flat white, and they sell. He has students drinking six matcha lattes or smoothies a day, at £2.25-£2.75 each.
"We're all still learning on this - the next year is going to be all about building and exchanging a knowledge base of new ideas."
The concept will grow, according to Andrea Stopher, senior customer marketing manager at Twinings.
"Summer is going to allow for dessert tea cocktails from Twinings Naturally infusions. These are made from herbs, roots, flowers, fruits and leaves, with known health benefits," she explains.
They are caffeine-free with few calories, although the infusions are often then blended with double cream and purée or sorbet and yogurt to create a "more than a smoothie" effect. More unusually, a Twinings peppermint infusion can be microwaved in milk, whisked with drinking chocolate powder and served with whipped cream.
Iced tea is an American habit, but increasing in the UK, and herbal infusions work well - liquorice and mint, or lemon and ginger are more refreshing than a fruit soft drink, says Teapigs, and should sell at £1.50-£1.75.
"The way to achieve better margin is with multiple uses for any one tea" says Tessa van Rensburg, director of Java Republic. For example, a speciality infusion, such as Java's blood orange, is usually served hot in a tall latte glass, but it can also be brewed and chilled, and served with ice (pictured left). An even better price comes from serving it in a pitcher - two blood orange teabags are brewed and chilled, added to freshly-squeezed orange juice, and topped with roughly-cut mint and orange slices. A shot of vodka makes the cocktail version.
The same principle works with wild berry tea, lemon green tea and even with rooibos. It also works with Tetley's infusions - Summer Merry Berry, which the brand calls "the spirit of summer in a cup", with blackberries, raspberries and strawberries, can form the basis for iced drinks and smoothies.
"Right now, iced tea is the order of the day," says Dan Bennett, head of food service at the London Tea Company. By contrast, he adds, autumn is the time to bring in the berry and cinnamon, or nutmeg and vanilla hot drinks.
"We are seeing a significant move towards something different," he says. "Our top three sellers are white tea with elderflower and apricot, peppermint with strawberry and green tea, and a green tea with mango and ginger - sales of that now exceed Earl Grey.
"The elderflower and apricot is a delicate flavour, which consumers find accessible - and once they try it they are hooked."
The common aspect to all of these ideas is simply something that comes in a teabag. It is all tea - just not as we know it.
• Java Republic 00 35318809300
• London Tea Company 020 3159 5480
• Teapigs 020 8568 8989
• Tetley 0800 387227
• Twinings 01264 348181