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Millennials Responsible for Tea's Surge in America

Tea has long been the drink of humanity. An estimated 3 billion cups are consumed daily, making it far and away the most popular beverage on planet earth. Only water is consumed more.

But, in many cases, domestic tea consumption is teetering in its native East Asia, where specialty coffee has become a craze. Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China have all caught the bean bug; constantly exploring new methods of preparing, serving, and in some cases, growing great coffee. Coffee consumption has increased by over 4% every year since 1990 in East Asia.

But in the U.S., the exact opposite phenomenon is occurring. The bastion of specialty coffee is slowly upping its tea game. This in itself would not be possible if there wasn't consumer demand for better tea. Who's leading the charge? The young, of course.

87% of millennials identify as tea drinkers, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. And a recent report by Rabobank showed that some of the world's largest and "safest" brands (i.e. Lipton, Twinings) are steadily losing tract in the tea world thanks to the changing tastes of the American market. It's no accident that Starbucks acquired Teavana, David'sTea recently went public and even Dunkin Donuts is launching a specialty line.

Where previous American generations preferred commodity black teas and iced teas (e.g. Southern Sweet Tea), the youth are now reaching for oolongs, white, yellow and green teas. More like it hot too—with hot tea sales skyrocketing 17% in the last five years. Though I'm noticing cold brew tea (a technique developed for coffee) is gaining popularity. 

Will Millennials push tea into the same heights of appreciation enjoyed by wine, coffee, beer and spirits in the United States? It's a time of huge flux in the tea industry—only the strange dance between countries of origin and the new American romance will show.