Thinking out of the tea chest

Industry analysts say receding tea consumption in traditional markets could be negated if new markets are actively tapped for business. A recent study in Britain, the very nation that propagated the tea plantations in the mid 1800s, found that the brew was loosing flavour with the new generation of Brits.

Over the last five years total tea sales in Britain has declined some 12 percent, falling from 707 million pounds in 1999 to just 623 million pounds in 2004.

An official from Sri Lanka’s Forbes Tea Brokers on Friday said the loss of traditional markets was a concern for a tea growing nation, but added that growth in some of the traditional markets had reached stagnation, limiting large scale growth.

According to research house Euromonitor International the Western Europe market for tea posted growth under 1 percent in 2004.

Key markets for Sri Lankan teas, the Middle East and the CIS taking in some 70 percent of the island’s teas however offer greater growth potential.

The emerging economies and their rising per-capita incomes in the two regions, tied to their current flavour put them in the list of fast growing consumer markets that have the power to drive demand.

Another potential market, but perceived to be a hard market to crack has been the US. Some American companies have already made headway, selling ready to drink teas, selling them based on their inherent medical properties.

Melting Away??

Coffee and other beverages however are competing head on with tea for the bigger gulp in the beverage industry, and is a trend spanning markets across the world.

In volume terms however total tea consumption is still growing, with the world estimated to be drinking over 2.5 million tonnes of tea annually, increase at a rate of over 1 percent annually.

The traditional tea bags and loose leaf teas are slowly loosing favour for ready to drink variants offered in difference flavours – the numbers limited to imagination.

Tea sector analysts say the secret has been in tapping new markets for the tea, especially with non-traditional tea products.

Officials say Sri Lanka has been slow to adopt to change, with only a handful of local tea packers and exporters having a taste for new thinking.

Sri Lanka however still holds potential in the global market, with its strengths in orthodox teas, a relative niche considering that over 75 percent of the world’s black tea comes out as CTC (Cut Tear and Curl) teas.

The island will however need to adopt the change and explore new tea based products to capture the taste buds of the new generation of consumers.

Orthodox Vs CTC

Black teas are processed using two generally practiced methods – CTC and Orthodox tea making.

For CTC teas, the green leaf after a withering process is ground to break down the leaf into smaller particles to promote the fermenting process.

For orthodox teas, after the fermenting process, the teas are rolled instead of grinding to begin the fermenting process.

The teas in both processes after fermentation are fired to stop the fermentation process and remove excess moisture from the made teas.

-LBO Newsdesk: lboemail@vanguardlk.com