While South Africa feeds its growing addiction to the specialty coffee trend – seen through the local burgeoning of cafes, micro-roasters and a multitude of coffee choices in chains such as Vida and Woolworths – it seems, that in other parts of the world, tea is starting to give the caffeinated brew a real run for its money.
The world is definitely shifting its attention from coffee back to tea, but is the gentler brew really capturing the hearts and palates of a dedicated coffee culture?
According to Beverage Digest Magazine, coffee consumption in the USA - for the first time in decades - fell between 2006 and 2009 by 2.3 percent while tea drinking increased over the same period by 4.5 percent.
In line with this and the growing global trend towards health, iconic coffee house, Starbucks, dropped the word "coffee" from its logo a few weeks ago and Jeff Hansberry, the company’s president for Global Consumer Products, shared the news that Tazo tea - the tea line they assimilated into the Starbucks stable a few years ago - has become “a billion-dollar brand” for the business.
Fifteen years ago, there were only 200 tearooms in the USA; today there are nearly 3 000 tearooms, according to the New York-based Tea Association of the USA.
The most popular of these and one causing waves not only in the industry but on the street is Argo Tea - a tearoom that started in Chicago’s trendy Lincoln Park neighbourhood and has spread to New York and St Louis.
Tipped to be doing to the tea leaf what Starbucks did to the bean a few years ago, Argo, according to their CEO, is striving to do to tea what Apple did to computers; and they’re achieving this through a range of café-style tea drinks - from the mojiTea to Smootea to Teapuccino - that offers consumers a healthy, hip way to drink tea.
It is interesting to note that, five years ago; this need was filled in South Africa when a Paarl olive farmer and ex-coffee addict, a marketing guru and a businessman joined forces to pioneer a world first: a naturally caffeine-free espresso made entirely from South Africa’s own rooibos tea.
Recognised for taking tea into the café space, red espresso has, won five awards (three being global) for innovation - including making history as the first tea (and first South African company) to earn coffee’s highest honour at The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) by winning the Best New Product - Specialty Beverage Award 2008/9.
Proudly South African
In the same year, on the other side of the beverage spectrum, red espresso was also voted a Top Ten Best New Product at the World Tea Expo 2009 for essentially taking tea out the bag and into a place no-one thought it would go: the espresso machine and, with it, coveted café culture.
To date, the home-grown innovation and proudly South African brand is being exported to 18 countries on five continents, stretching from West Coast USA and Canada to eastern Asia down to New Zealand. On the Iberian Peninsula, red espresso together with its local partner, have successfully introduced the innovation of the world’s first tea espresso in capsule format.
Designed for use in a home capsule espresso machine, they have successfully taken significant market share from global leader Nespresso in this market.
Locally, red espresso continues to grow from strength to strength and remains one of the company’s core markets. It has - in a few short years - become a household brand in South Africa.
Listed on the menus of national chains Mugg & Bean, Woolworths, Seattle, Kauai, Primi Piatti, Col’cacchio, as well as over 1 000 independent cafés, the product experienced double figure growth in 2010, in both food service and in retail stores such as @Home, Spar and Pick ‘n Pay.
Keeping abreast of cutting-edge innovation, the company also recently introduced the portable espresso maker - the award-winning mypressi TWIST - to South Africa. This is on the back of red espresso and the makers of the TWIST - also winners of a prestigious blue-ribbon SCAA award - entering into a global partnership and cross-pollinating across markets.
So, in terms of worldwide tea trends, it seems South Africa is not so far behind after all. The question lies: Where to from here? Is the future of the café culture written in tea leaves?
Rooibos packs antioxidant punch
The health benefits of rooibos
Rooibos - why it's good for you