I’ve been writing an article with my yearly forecast of tea trends since 2016. First it was the year of transparency, then the death of direct trade, followed by immersive tea experiences, and finally unpredictability of 2020. I always focus on the positive outlooks of trends, so I want to be clear that my outlook has never been so optimistic despite the theme of Scarcity that I forecast for 2021. In scarcity we are all going to become wiser and more appreciative tea people. In scarcity our tea lives will change (but after the past 12 months I think we have all grown much more comfortable with unpredictable change).

The first scarcity I want to address that I know is important to tea lovers is the scarcity of social interactions. Large gatherings are said to potentially become permissible by the end of the year. This means many of the tea gatherings we love are at risk of postponement in 2021. I suggest tea lovers—and tea businesses—that rely on these social tea gatherings to seek out ways to connect with the tea community online. I have dedicated the majority of my time in holding space for this community through daily Virtual Tea Parties and larger Virtual Tea Festivals. I had to cancel my 2020 Amazing Tea Race where I travel with tea buyers to visit the small tea growers in the Tealet network. With my experience with producing virtual events I look forward to doing it justice by turning the 2021 Amazing Tea Race into a rich and interactive education experience that tea professionals and tea lovers can enjoy from their own home.

Tea Trends of 2021 - Scarcity - Photo of someone standing in a tea field with their arms spread

Author’s friend, Rebeca, who hand-makes very small batches of very good tea in Taiwan
“Drink less tea, drink better tea”

The pandemic shrunk tea outputs through country-wide shutdowns in Spring 2020 and it can be expected that the same thing may happen this spring as well. This is not the scarcity that I am referring to in my tea trends of the year. I am referring to the backlog of exports and imports due to country shutdowns and increased stresses on our world’s logistics systems. It is reported that there are months of sea shipments waiting at Chinese ports because they simply don’t have enough or can’t make enough shipping containers to send these shipments out. Air shipping has become 2 to 4 times higher than usual, making it impossible for tea to remain competitively priced on the retail shelf and retain profits for the importers, wholesalers, and retailers. You may have started to notice your favorite tea brands removing individual products from their offerings, simply because there is no product available at a price that fits into their business model.

Additionally, you might notice a shrinking number of tea service outlets and brands available because there is a real challenge of keeping a small business open throughout the pandemic. Many fear that this culling of small business will bring more power to the big box brands, but you must keep in mind that the big box system is doomed for even more scarcity than the small business world. Small businesses may close, but new ones will launch and have the ability to run lean and be agile during this challenging time. Big box business may have the capital to stay alive, but the supply chain issues I mentioned in the last paragraph are even more detrimental to the commodity business.

Don’t be shocked to hear of something crazy like a black peppercorn shortage this year. Things that we too often take for granted will become scarce. Many factors affect this, and ultimately every person poor and rich will learn the true value of our food – including tea. Prices will increase due to this scarcity, which will affect the amount we consume. This is why I suggest that all people focus on spending their hard-earned money on products that they truly value and appreciate. In this scarcity I encourage all of us to become more connoisseurly. Enjoy the best cups of tea of your life this year!

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