Why this beverage is the new black (and green)

A TREND is brewing steadily in cafes, restaurants and homes across the country - and it is the hip and health-conscious Aussie's cup of tea.

The common cuppa has shed its humble reputation, as tea industry gurus reveal our thirst is growing for the more sophisticated side of this brew with benefits.

It is a subject Dilhan Fernando is passionate about as son of luxury tea brand Dilmah founder Merrill Fernando.

Tea manufacturing is a family affair for the Fernandos and the stunning plantations where their crops are plucked are steeped in Sri Lanka's culture and history.

"Tea is enjoying an incredible renaissance," Mr Fernando tells a Brisbane audience at the Dilmah School of Tea, an event designed to inspire tea enthusiasts and give them a greater understanding of the natural herb and its versatility.


Dilmah founder Merrill J Fernando tasting tea with two sons Dilhan and Malik.
Dilmah founder Merrill J Fernando tasting tea with two sons Dilhan and Malik.

The tea expert, who is the first half of the Dilmah namesake - the second syllable comes from his brother Malik - explains the world's second most consumed drink has evolved to a sensory experience.

People are looking for teas to suit different moods, occasions and foods.

"We're getting a new generation of tea drinkers," Mr Fernando says.

"Ten years ago you would have been hard-pressed to find someone under 40 with a teapot in their kitchen."

Today the market for tea sets and accessories targets stylish sippers of all ages and there is plenty of star power to back it up.

Lady Gaga is among the high-profile tea drinkers while model Miranda Kerr has collaborated with Royal Albert to design a pastel china teaware collection.

Singing superstar Lady Gaga is among the celebrity tea drinkers.
Singing superstar Lady Gaga is among the celebrity tea drinkers. AP/Mustafa Quraishi

Mr Fernando describes the modern tea drinker as "adventurous" and seeking a variety of "tea experiences".

"It's mood associated, food associated, it's personal preference, it's the time of the day. It's so many different factors," he says.

A focus on wellbeing is another driver behind tea's popularity, a trend he says has trickled down from the buzz surrounding healthy eating.

"People are looking for wellness in their food; if you look at the kale trend, kombucha, fermented foods, these all are driven by a desire for wellness," he says.

Thanks to its antioxidant content, tea has long been touted as a powerful elixir.

Potential benefits from drinking tea range from reducing stress and boosting exercise endurance to links with fighting certain cancers, preventing type 2 diabetes and cutting the risk of dementia.

Tea sommelier Gina da Silva believes the growing community of people wanting to improve their diet and lifestyle has led to a greater awareness about the advantages of drinking tea.

"People are starting to find the health benefits attached to tea," Ms da Silva says.

Her Sunshine Coast tea house The Silva Spoon has a diverse range of gourmet teas and she says the niche market attracts tea connoisseurs looking for a point of difference.


The Silva Spoon owner Gina da Silva says the market for gourmet teas is growing.
The Silva Spoon owner Gina da Silva says the market for gourmet teas is growing. File

"Gourmet brands are really becoming more popular," she says, pointing to sales of their crème brulee and coconut cream varieties of chai tea taking off.

She says the "green shot" blend, designed to drink before a workout, is another sought-after option.

Tea paraphernalia is also proving popular.

"People are taking their tea experience a lot more seriously and are looking for delicate china cups to drink from and Japanese tea pots to brew their tea," Ms da Silva says.

"It's becoming a bit of more of an art form."

While coffee culture still dominates in Australia, research into our tea drinking habits reveals half of the nation's population aged 14 and over drinks at least one cup of hot tea a week.

The Roy Morgan figures show the average volume of tea consumed during the 12 months to June 2016 to be 9.5 cups per person, up from 9.1 cups the previous year.

Women are more likely to be tea drinkers than men, with 55% having at least one cup in an average week compared with 45% of men.

Mr Fernando says he is seeing fewer strictly coffee or tea camps and some people are drinking both to cater to their needs or moods at different times of the day.

The increasingly sophisticated world for tea aficionados has put the spotlight on techniques to brew and present the perfect cup.

Forget clumsily dunking a teabag in boiling water for 30 seconds; those who take their tea seriously are venturing into loose leaf varieties and following a careful process to achieve the best beverage.

The rules include everything from storing your tea carefully - in an airtight container away from moisture, heat, light and odours - to correct dosage (2.5g of tea per 220ml water).

There are also water temperature and brewing time guidelines for different types of tea.

Incorporating tea into dishes and pairing teas and foods is another hot topic discussed as we move into the chilly months.

Like wine, the ability of tea to enhance food is significant.

"It's about building a sensory experience - that's what consumers are demanding," he says.

School of Tea participants are given a taste of tea pairings touching on both sweet and savoury.

They include Szechuan chicken teamed with Earl Grey and chocolate fudge served with a refreshing Moroccan Mint; each combination a match made in heaven.

The culinary options are endless, from brewing tea into bitters or pairing tea with cheeses to using in a jus.


Tea can also be used in cooking and cocktails.
Tea can also be used in cooking and cocktails.

However, he says it is essential to trust your tastebuds and sample dishes with and without the tea element to see what works.

He expects the trend of using tea as an ingredient in food and drinks to be firmly on the foodie radar as it expands in Australia's hospitality scene.

"In addition to the restaurants it's going to happen in bars - we'll see more tea cocktails and tea mixology," he says.

Whether it be enjoying the ritual of making a cup to enjoy at home, brewing the beverage for better health or indulging in a fine dining experience, appreciation for tea time is going strong.

As Mr Fernando says: "There is no more relevant herb to our lives in the 21st century."

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