We at California Tea and Coffee Brewery are tea geeks who just kind of “go for it” everyday in our own little loose-leaf world. That’s why it was such a surprise and honor when we received an email from the largest daily newspaper in mainland China, with distribution to approximately 150 countries, asking for an interview regarding specialty tea retailing in the United States, as part of a piece they were doing on the Chinese tea industry.
The Chinese are looking for ways to enter the U.S. market in a big way, possibly opening retail stores and expanding exports. But the Chinese palate is very different from the average American’s, who is used to black, iced, bagged, pre-brewed, bottled, highly flavored, and sweetened tea. Therefore, tea businesses in China are looking at bagged and flavored blends as essential to produce for the American mass market.
However, just as in Britain, where preferences are turning from almost nothing but classic blacks to more and more green tea, tea consumption in the United States is changing as well. In our store, in just under four years, we have seen a growing interest in not only green teas, but oolongs and white teas. Americans are stretching their palate outside of the box they have occupied for so long. Corresponding with China Daily reporter Zhang was a real pleasure. It was also exciting to begin receiving questions and emails from Chinese tea entrepreneurs and exporters who saw us in the article and asked for or found our contact information.
Let’s face it, it’s a very small world now, with few geographical, informational, or cultural barriers. Loose-leaf tea, traditionally brewed and served, has long been a cultural tradition in China, making them perfect mentors for us Americans as we move rather quickly toward wanting to know more about premium Chinese (and other) loose-leaf teas. I am truly hoping that they, in a quest to capture a larger piece of our market, don’t attempt to over-compensate for our salted, fried, and microwaved tastebuds, but rather help us move in the direction of purity, enjoying great tea for its own attributes by offering it loose, free of bags and sachets, and unsweetened and unflavored. America has exported so much of our culture to other countries; it seems a good time for China, who has already contributed so much to the world in art, architecture, and cuisine, to export their love of great tea, in its simplest form, to us.