Tea is hot . . . or cold. Your choice. Either way, this first cousin to coffee is one of the fastest growing and most important categories in the beverage industry. Coffee house operators, restaurateurs, and food retailers better pay attention. Update your selection, educate your staff, and inform your customers to establish your position and boost your sales.

Until recently, tea sales in the U.S. were incidental, lagging behind the specialty coffee boom. But it’s been a couple of centuries since we threw tea into the Boston Harbor, and tea is back with a vengeance.

To some degree, this surge of interest is driven by significant – and attendant publicity of – health benefits, which include cancer prevention, weight loss, and more. Lower caffeine content per ounce is said to be another contributing factor, given the aging population. Additionally, of course, the growing interest in all things culinary, sensory, and gustatory is the perfect driver for the fabulous array of flavors and aromas in the tea world.

As with coffee, there is a lot of information to absorb from thousands of years of Eastern tradition, and hundreds in the West. Categories include a stunning number of varieties: true leaf teas include greens, oolongs, blacks, and more; straight teas from China, Japan, India, Africa, and Indonesia as well as blends, flavors, and decafs. Dozens of herbal infusion, also known as tisanes, have their own history, lore, traditional uses, and methods of brewing.

In the future, I’ll talk about understanding and classifying different tea types & styles within this framework, as well as topics on brewing, marketing and merchandising in your establishment.