by Brenda Watson
Member of the Guild of Food Writers
It was Queen Catherine, wife of Charles II , who first introduced tea drinking as a social and family habit to the English in 1662 when she took chests of tea to Britain from Portugal as part of her wedding dowry. Today Britain exports tea to over 120 different countries including China. According to the marketing organisation, Food from Britain, in 1995 British exports of black tea were worth some £131 million, or 35,000 tonnes in volume, and The Tea Council, based in London, reports producer members account for 66.5% of all world tea exports.
Britain's 530 million tea industry is dominated by a handful of big brand names - Tetley (number one tea bag brand), Typhoo (Premier Beverages), Brooke Bond PG Tips (Van den Bergh Foods) and Twinings. Older famous names such as Ridgways, Hornimans, Lyons, Jacksons of Piccadilly and Fortnum & Mason live on also and there are a number of renowned smaller regional tea specialists such as Taylors of Harrogate.
Britain imports around 20% of the major tea producers' exports, buying tea from India, Sri Lanka, East Africa, China and Indonesia. According to The Tea Council there are approximately 1,500 different tea blends, the constant flavour and quality of the well-known household brands being reliant on the skills of tasters and blenders to create time-honoured different types of tea grown in varying climatic conditions.
The famous English Breakfast blend, for example of Ceylon and Assam for full flavour and strength, while Earl Grey is a blend of black China and Darjeeling teas which have
been treated with the citrus oil of bergamot which gives its characteristic scented aroma and flavour. Earl Grey is one of the most popular of the speciality teas and said to be named after the second Earl Grey who delighted a Chinese mandarin with his praise of tea, so the honourable Oriental gentleman concocted this special blend for his noble English friend.
Speciality teas like English Breakfast and Earl Grey represent the growth end of the tea market in Britain and abroad, with Twinings dominating the sector. Twinings exports to over 90 different countries with its Twinings, Jacksons of Piccadilly and Fortnum and Mason brands. Earl Grey is far and away its leading blend. New markets are now emerging in Central and South America and South East Asia for the company which has exported tea since
the 18th century.
Twinings was exporting its teas to America at the time of the Boston Tea Party, although none of its teas were involved in that particular incident, says the company. Thomas Twining met President Washington on a trip to America in 1796. In 1910 Harvey Twining opened a shop on the Boulevard Haussman in Paris which is still trading successfully today.
British breakfast products, including flavoured or breakfast teas are proving very good business for top French department store La Grande picerie de Paris, whereas in Britain, perhaps the favourite occasion on which to take tea is in the afternoon. This ritual is believed to have originated from Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, in the early 1800s.
Afternoon tea, traditionally consisting of your favourite pot of tea, tiny sandwiches, scones with jam, and cakes may be enjoyed at home, in a small country tea room, or in the elegance of a luxury London hotel such as The Ritz.
The Tea Council's 1996 Definitive Guide to the Best Tea Shops in Britain lists more than 70. Included in the guide (which is available overseas from The Tea Council) is Shepherd's Tea Rooms in Chichester, which was voted Top Tea Place of the Year in 1995 for the third time. The Tea Council is also working hard to promote tea as a fashionable digestif drink after dinner instead of coffee.
Some wonderful pairings of teas in the restaurant setting are suggested, Try Lapsang Souchong with creamy Stilton and a glass of Tawny Port or a second flush Darjeeling, considered to be the champagne of teas, with apple strudel.
In Britain tea continues to be the number one beverage accounting for around 43% of everything drunk and in consumption terms the United Kingdom tops the world list with nearly 80% of the population brewing and drinking tea daily in the home. However home consumption is declining as tea faces increasing competition from soft drinks.
Tea bags dominate the home market, accounting for 87.5% of all the tea brewed in Britain and in an attempt to stir the market afresh Brooke Bond has spent four years researching a pyramid-shaped tea bag, claimed to be the first major innovation
since the launch of the square bag in 1951.
Tetley, which introduced the round tea bag in 1989, lifting sales in the sector by some 15%, might disagree. Brooke Bond's new bag is being rolled out regionally where the new line will replace square bags. The new shape, according to the company, offers quicker release of aroma and taste, performing like loose tea once in the pot.
Tetley is also trialling a new style of bag, this time in Australia where Tetley has a factory near Melbourne. The new no-drip Drawstring Tea Bag, claimed as a world first, has been
successfully test marketed in Western Australia and Tetley is considering a national roll in that market and other possible countries for this product. In February 1996 Tetley Australia launched a range of speciality teas - Emperor's Garden Green Tea, aimed at the health conscious consumer and Tetley English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and Earl Grey.
Tetley boasts the number one tea bag brand in Canada and Portugal as well as in the UK. Canada, the United States and Australia are very strong markets for The Tetley Group which was created in July 1995 when the Lyons worldwide beverage business was acquired from Allied Domecq.
Tetley operates in more than 30 countries worldwide and has the world's largest capacity tea factory in Britain at Eaglescliffe, in northern England.
In Europe there are a number of success stories such as Horniman's brand being the number one in Spain, a 25% share of the tea bag market in Malta, and increasing sales of tea bags to Poland, through Tetley Polska.
In around two years Tetley has shot from being newest market entrant to one of the leading imported tea bag brands with over14% of the black tea bag market which is the second largest in Europe after the UK. Other potentially huge black tea markets being considered by Tetley for expansion include India and Russia.
Tetley is already aiming to create a niche black tea market in China with the test launch last September of a Western-style tea bag brand, With a name roughly translated as "bringing prosperity" , the product is a specially-blended alternative to green tea, designed to appeal to upwardly mobile young Chinese. It is being tested in supermarkets in Shanghai.
For more information contact:
Food From Britain
123 Buckingham Palace Road, London, United Kingdom, SW1W 9SA.
Tel: +44 171 233 5111
The Tea Council Limited
Sir John Lyon House
5 High Timber Street, London, United Kingdom, EC4V 3NJ
Tel: +44 171 248 1024
325 Oldfield Lane North, Greenford, Middlesex,
United Kingdom, UB6 OAZ
Tel: +44 181 338 4000
Van Den Bergh Foods (Brooke Bond)
Brooke House, Manor Road,Crawley, West Sussex, United Kingdom, RH10 2RQ.
Tel: +44 1293 648000
Pasture Road, Moreton, Wirral, United Kingdom, L46 8SE.
Tel: +44 151 678 8888
Twinings, R. Twining & Company Limited
South Way, Andover, Hampshire, United Kingdom, SP10 SAQ.
Tel: +44 1264 334477