Posted in Kafevend Blog
Given the question, do Americans prefer coffee or tea, doubtless most of us would plump for coffee as the answer. While it's an assumption that certainly appears to be true, tea's status there has undergone a marked resurgence in the past couple of decades. Before we take a closer look at tea's position in the USA today though, let's briefly consider the primary reason for its back-seat position to coffee.
When European colonists arrived in America to start a new life they brought their tea and associated paraphernalia with them. Tea drinking was therefore widespread, but with no tea being cultivated in America at the time it had to be imported from Britain. The tax on tea was already problematic when, in 1773, Parliament passed The Tea Act which handed the British East India Company a monopoly on tea trade with the American colonies. Within a few months outright rebellion was ignited in the form of the Boston Tea Party. In excess of forty tons of tea was thrown overboard into Boston Harbour. Unsurprisingly, tea drinking was viewed as something of an unpatriotic pursuit in the aftermath and instead, coffee flourished.
As time went on, various entrepreneurial American farmers had a go at growing tea themselves. By the latter portion of the nineteenth century tea cultivation had become more successful and commercially viable thanks to the experimentation of Dr. Charles Shepard, whose own plantation flourished in the south-eastern state of South Carolina. The state's tea production is currently thriving on Charleston Tea Plantation, a 127 acre estate situated on Wadmalaw Island. Nevertheless, despite tea grown here and elsewhere across the nation, the US has to import an awful lot of tea to satisfy consumer demand and ranks amongst the top five tea importing nations of the world.
So if America is back to importing tea by the tonnage, how does all that tea get used? Although iced tea might spring to mind, there's far more to the US tea scene than just strong sweet tea served with ice and lemon. Tea's renaissance has been facilitated by companies like Teavana, a company that began life as a single tea house in Atlanta in 1997 and now comprises over 400 outlets. Bought out by coffee behemoth Starbucks in 2012, Teavana offers a wide selection of teas of all colours and permutations and an extensive range of teaware too.
Tea's growing presence in the USA was also highlighted last month by the first TOTUS(Tea of the United States) awards. In the non-commercial categories many of the winning teas came from Mississippi, but commercially it was Hawaiian teas that scooped all the awards. Tea, like coffee, is grown on the largest of Hawaii's islands, but while coffee does best on the west side, the tea plantations lie on the east side where the tea plants benefit from a moister climate, in addition to the acidity of the volcanic soil.
When all is said and done then, there seems to be a reciprocal action going on either side of the Atlantic where tea and coffee are concerned; rather as our own nation of committed tea drinkers has got on board with coffee culture in recent years, so the coffee loving USA is embracing all that tea has to offer!