The Portuguese and Dutch were the first tea traders. Tea reached English shores in 1657 when it was first sold in a coffee house in London, and it has become known as "the Englishman's drink".
Some 7.4 billion cups are brewed by the catering industry every year, yet less than half of restaurants offer it to customers. According to the Tea Council, 22% of restaurant customers will request it if it's not available on the menu.
Tea is traditionally dispensed using hot water from a hot tap boiler or kettle; connoisseurs insist the water is freshly boiled. But, other than using boiling water and fresh milk, it's a hard drink to get right. Non-dairy creamers and UHT milk leave a distinct taste that cannot be disguised easily. Tea is also a drink that does not hold well and tastes "stewed" within minutes.
The type of brewing equipment available and the tea used with it is varied. Multi-dispense machines can be used for either tea or coffee, but not all heat water to the temperature required for tea.
Liquid, freeze-dried, fresh leaf or spray-dried tea can be used. Tea bags are used via a hot tap on the side of the machine.
Tea produced in beverage machines currently makes up just 1% of the market. Kettles and hot water boilers used in conjunction with teapots still predominate.
Hobart Still has a range of hot-tap, expansion and counter-top pressure boilers that provide a continuous supply of hot water.
Café du Monde offers the Chatsford teapot system that uses fresh leaf tea with an inside strainer. After tea is brewed, used tea leaves are conveniently disposed of. It is available on free loan to buyers of its tea.
Denehurst Hotel & Leisure Centre, Church Stretton, Shropshire
Tea is a popular choice at Denehurst Hotel. It is traditionally served in pots and is freshly brewed using Typhoo teabags.
Stott-Benham water boilers are used to supply hot water and hotel guests have a kettle and teapot on a welcome tray for use in the 17 bedrooms with tagged bags in Typhoo's Plantation Freshness brand.
"Most of our customers are 40-years plus, and tea is a popular drink," says hotel manager Rod Taylor. He estimates he serves 400-500 cups per week.
Fresh milk is served with tea at breakfast, but because of problems with refrigeration, Countydale - a liquid creamer - is served with tea in the rooms. It is also used in banqueting.
Taylor uses it with tea and coffee and claims customers say it does not spoil the flavour.
Martha's Pantry, Fleetwood Village, Lancashire
The restaurant is a busy, multi-service 350-seat unit. "We needed a fast system to keep up with demand," says manager Terry Wood. He chose Autobev, a push-button dispense, 14kw under-counter pressure boiler from Marco Beverage Systems.
The machine has two nozzles that can be programmed to accommodate either a teapot or cup and can be modified to take a cafetiäre. Capacity is up to 700 cups of tea per hour, each cup taking five seconds to dispense. Customers serve themselves from two Autobev machines.
Wood estimates that an average of 200 pots of tea, compared with 250 cups of coffee, are served daily.
Royal navy senior service
Equipment used by the Navy has to be robust enough to cope with severe operational conditions. Tests are carried out by Naval Support Command to simulate these conditions to ensure equipment can stand up to them.
Recently, a Classic 2 leaf tea dispenser and Solo coffee brewer were put through their paces. Manufactured by General Dispensing Systems, the machines were tested for vibration and shock. They will be now be used throughout the Navy.
The Solo coffee brewer is a single product dispenser, using ingredient and hot water. It is a small, slim, customised machine, finished in coated metal.
Classic 2 uses fresh leaf tea, dosed into a hopper and dispensed. Used leaves are disposed of within the machine.
Typhoo has produced two compact machines for dispensing tea. The leaf tea dispense machine provides 250 cups per hour without refilling. Maximum capacity is 300 cups per hour.
The Typhoo freeze-dried tea dispense machine makes 750 cups without refilling, with a maximum of 450 per hour.
A range of hot water boilers is produced by Hobart Still. The hot tap has a capacity of eight to 16 gallons per hour.
Expansion boilers provide continuous hot water. Capacity is from 59 to 200 pints per hour. Counter-top pressure boilers can produce 60 to 128 pints of boiling water per hour.
Attachments can be fitted to enable self-service of coffee pots, decanters, urns and thermos flasks.
A new, fresh brew machine has been introduced. Available from Single Service, the compact Hot Shot dispenses tea and coffee. It is push-button controlled with a one-litre jug option. Douwe Egbert tea and coffee is available for the machine.
Marco beverage systems
A cup-warming carousel is a free-standing unit for use with beverage systems. Aimed at self-service locations, the carousel from Marco Beverage Systems will heat and store up to 60 cups and saucers. Small and compact, it can fit into 1sq ft of counter space. It is available as a heated or non-heated model.
Alliance is a compact, push-button hot beverage dispenser from Douwe Egbert. It offers a choice of 10 drinks, including black and white instant tea, at a dispense rate of 450 cups per hour.
Tea bags can be used with the hot water selection.