Welcome to the World of Engineered Teas!
The other day I visited some tea shops with one of my students. We really noticed how western marketing techniques have impacted how tea is sold. But more importantly, we noticed how this is affecting what consumers are really getting for their money.
In the 16th century, it was the Portuguese, then the Dutch and the French, and finally the British who brought Chinese tea to the West. The British especially have been able to make tea an inexpensive commodity worldwide and it is Indian Black teas which are consumed in the West more than any other. A fascinating history of Black Tea and its impact on history is here, in The Chinese Tea Shop’s website resources section.
Today, consumers want more and more variety. Tea manufacturers have responded with an incredible selection of scented and flavored teas with fruit, berries, spices and all sorts of other natural and synthetic enhancements. It is now possible for a tea shop to offer a new tea flavor every day of the year and still not exhaust the selection that is available.
Many of these teas are made from low grade Indian black teas which are designed to have a good aroma from the package. Western consumers are now being conditioned to purchase tea based on aroma rather than on the taste. This has been a bonanza for tea shops, making things more efficient and profitable as they no longer have to make tea before customers buy, as has been done at better tea shops for centuries.
This is a shame for consumers because, as tea experts know, many of the finest teas have little or no aroma. Of those that do, the aroma may not indicate the complexity of what a tea has to offer. The only way to assess the taste and quality of a tea is to taste it! (There is another more advanced technique here.)
Scented and flavoured teas are an old tradition and there are some well known tea houses that make very high quality blends. The new designer teas do give consumers lots of choices but for the most part, they are really just a way for the tea industry to disguise low grade tea leaves at designer prices and consumers are not likely to experience the best of what tea drinking has to offer.