A dive into tea

Contributed Photo / Congerdesign
A cup of tea in a porcelain cup.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on May 6 to correct a spelling error.

Susan Ikpeama, a Toronto local, excitedly showed off her vast tea collections in her cupboard and on top of her refrigerator. The teas she shows are from all over the world, collected throughout her life by herself and her friends as they travel. These teas originate from Germany, Vietnam, France, Turkey and many other countries.

Although coffee remains the most consumed drink by Canadians today as reported by Statista, a reliable source for market data, tea is no longer the underdog it had been a few years prior.

“When I’m at my family home, I’d either be drinking tea or water,” said Ikpeama about visiting her family in Toronto.

A popular form of consumption of tea is bubble tea. The delectable variety of flavours and toppings like tapioca or grass jelly allow people to customize their drinks and enjoy various flavours fit to their own tastes.

The bubble tea industry is especially on the rise. According to a market report by SkyQuest, another source for market information, it is anticipated to have a compound annual growth rate of 6.9 per cent and has become the third-most consumed drink in Canada.

“There are more bubble tea shops than Starbucks,” said Ikpeama.

Liana Valdez, a third-year user experience design student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, has also observed the rise of bubble tea, noting it to be a good entry for greater tea consumption with its options of fruity and milk teas.

Tea in any form – herbal, regular or bubble tea — hold significance in their consumers’ everyday life, brining comfort and joy to their drinkers.

“Tea is soothing. It’s warm and comforting,” said Ikpeama.

That is not all. For consumers like Valdez, their journey with tea began in elementary school. As Valdez aged, her tastes changed as well. In middle school, Valdez’s choice of tea was green tea. In her high school years, more bubble tea shops began popping up, which led to her interest in milk teas. Nowadays, Valdez often chooses tea based on moods.

Valdez’s moods can be distributed into calm for green tea with honey and milk, needing sugar and caffeine to be a mood for apple cinnamon fog, for lectures matcha lattes and time with friends to be a mood for Thai tea.

Ikpeama, on the other hand, favours green and white tea overall. White tea being picked at the age where the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, has not had the leaves open yet. Its low oxidization and processing give it a fresh and soft floral flavour. It’s better paired with more delicate flavours like light fish, basmati rice, peaches, orange blossoms or fresh salads.

Tea is often also praised for its health benefits due to it being rich in anti-oxidants and other compounds that could help with weight loss, diabetes, cancer prevention, etc. However, ethics in tea production has not been a topic on every consumer’s mind.

Ikpeama admits that while buying tea, she often looks for flavour over ethically farmed tea. Like Valdez, Ikpeama also buys teas based on cravings or mood.

Tea plantations have companies and policies put in place to ensure the ethical sourcing of tea, however when asked on Reddit, consumers stated they do not pay much attention to ethical sourcing.

“I always appreciate knowing if the tea has come from a more ethical source, but I don’t actively seek it out as it’s usually more expensive,” said user Bubbles_JG.

Countries like India and Kenya have laws and regulations put in place for tea farming, but still face issues of worker exploitation. An investigation by BBC Africa Eye and Panaroma in February 2023 led to findings of exploitation in the Kenyan tea plantations for Unilever, which owns popular brands like Lipton, Tazo, PG Tips and more. Following this, firms were hired to work with or rehire welfare teams to help manage these plantations.

COVID-19 has also had a great impact on the tea sector, specifically speciality tea stores. In Canada, tea drinkers themselves have seen some changes over the past five years.

Valdez noticed the difference in specialty tea shops in Brantford with many stores shutting down.

“There was a guy in my neighbourhood called Daniel’s tea,” said Valdez, referring to the shop, T by Daniel. “He would give out free samples and such. I wonder where he’s gone.”

Ikpeama adds onto that feeling by mentioning seeing a lack of tea shops over Toronto. In an article by World Tea News, they reported of many tea distributors facing shutdowns during COVID.

“After COVID, I have had to travel to get my teas,” she said about having to travel farther in Toronto to find speciality tea stores.

However, both agree there has been an immense rise in bubble tea shops over Ontario.

“Bubble tea is such a good option, it is expensive though,” said Valdez.

Contributed Photo / Pexels
A collection of teas.

This article was originally published in print Volume 23, Issue 8 on Thursday, April 4.

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