Most Seattleites would probably agree that coffee and rain are the two constants here. Nothing is better than going through the Starbucks drive-thru before heading out on a typical rainy day, right?
In 2010, The Daily Beast reported that Seattleites spend an average of $36 per month on coffee in its article “20 Most Caffeinated Cities.” Bundle, a small New York market- research company, ranked Seattle third in its “America’s Most Caffeinated Cities” last year, behind Chicago and New York. In 2012, coffee drinkers still outnumber tea drinkers — 183 million to 173.5 million — according to Packaged Facts.
These numbers are not surprising since within virtually any Seattle neighborhood or district you’ll find a Starbucks, plus a Tully’s or other kind of coffee shop. But in such a coffee-saturated city, who would’ve expected a growth in tea culture?
Last year, George Jage, the president and founder of World Tea Media (a Las Vegas-based company that provides business solutions to the global tea industry) said that tea consumption has rocketed in North America over the last couple of years.
“Tea is an amazing beverage, [and] it’s packed with health benefits. It [also has] a lot of bigger opportunities to go up than it does anywhere else,” said Jage in an interview with FoodNavigator-USA last year. “It’s both meditative and commutative. I think it’s what the world needs right now.”
A long history
Humans have been drinking tea for nearly 5,000 years, according to the Tea Association of USA,but its exact physical and cultural origins remain a mystery. Its consumption spread across many cultures in Asia to Europe over thousands of years.
The earliest record of tea drinking dates to the 10th century BCE in China. It then spread to Korea and Japan. These countries are known for their traditional tea ceremonies.
In the 16th century, tea became highly popular in Europe and the American colonies. If it wasn’t for tea, the infamous Boston Tea Party might never have happened and there might have been no Revolutionary War.
The United States also played an important part in the history of tea, as Americans invented both the tea bag and iced tea in 1904, according to the Tea Association of the USA. The United States also has led the rest of the world in marketing convenient ready-to-drink forms of tea in bottles. Though tea is the second-most popular beverage worldwide after water, it ranks seventh in United States.
In Seattle, the tea culture began with the Queen Mary Tea Room, 2912 N.E. 55th St., in 1988. Owner Mary Greengo said that, 25 years ago, grunge was big and Starbucks was just starting off. Nobody thought about creating a tea room in Seattle, although a couple hours north or west — Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. — offer plenty of traditional English tearooms.
“It was a totally new thing. Let’s just put it this way: While everybody was going right, I decided to go left,” Greengo said.
She apparently made a good decision. Queen Mary Tea Room is now the only independently owned, single-location tearoom in the country and is also one of the few high-tea places in Seattle, according to Greengo.
There has also been a tremendous growth in Seattle’s tea culture since the late ‘80s. In 1995 the Sage Group, a Seattle-based market-research firm, published a book on the tea industry titled, “Tea is Hot.”
Tea Association of the USA reported that tea consumption has increased in the fast-growing beverage market. It attracts consumers who are health-conscious and curious about exploring the exotic cultures of tea. There are now more than 200 places in the Greater Seattle area that serves both coffee and tea, and about 20 of them are tearooms in particular.
Seattle’s teahouses offer a range of types of tea, as well as different atmospheres. They often categorize the tea by its kind: white, black, green, oolong, red, decaf and so forth.
All “true” teas come from one kind of plant, Camellia sinensis. The various types result from different oxidation levels and techniques of production and processing. White tea is lightly oxidized; next would be yellow, then green and oolong tea, while black tea is fully oxidized.
“I think people are more knowledgeable now,” Greengo said. “There have been so many health-related articles. You could open up any magazine and probably find an article about how good tea is.”
Tea Republik, located on Northeast 45th Street and University Way Northeast, is the latest addition to the growing number of teahouses in Seattle. As a modern Asian teahouse, it now serves about 100 customers daily with its variety of tea flavors since opening in early January.
“At first, we weren’t getting many customers, but I noticed more people are coming in, and we are starting to see regulars,” said Kacey Ingalls, a University of Washington junior who is a part-time worker at Tea Republik. “My perception about the tea culture has also changed since I’ve started working here because there are more students who are into drinking tea than coffee. Plus, it is healthier, too.”
According to the Tea Association of the USA, tea offers health benefits such as lowering bad cholesterol and the risk of heart attack, prevents cancer and causes healthier-looking teeth and gums.
Tea is a better substitute for soda or coffee because it has less caffeine,but it gives an equivalent boost. According to the International Coffee Organization, “Tea has more caffeine than coffee weight by weight, but less weight is used, in general, to brew tea.”
Tea also reduces stress but keeps the mind alert and focused.
Though Seattle may still be coffee-saturated, the health benefits and consumer interest in tea is increasing.
Added Kara, a regular at Remedy Teas, 345 15th Ave. E., in Capitol Hill: “I think that people are in the process of discovering the greatness of tea. No doubt, people here are still in love with coffee, but I won’t be surprised if tea culture will surpass the current coffee culture.”
Even Jeff Hansberry, Starbucks’ president for global consumer products, said Tazo tea has become “a billion-dollar brand” for the company, at an investor meeting last year. Starbucks also dropped the word “coffee” from its logo last year.
Driven by convenience, health benefits and a growing interest in tea, the industry is anticipating a strong, continuous growth over the next five years, according to the Tea Association of the USA.