A STAND at the entrance of a Teavana tea store heralds the arrival of Monkey Picked Oolong Tea. “According to legend, Buddhist monks trained monkeys to harvest the youngest leaves from the tops of wild tea trees,” the placard explains. Behind the checkout counter, the line-up of tins on Teavana’s “Wall of Tea” (pictured) reads like a hymn to exoticism: Maharaja Chai, Imperial Acai Blueberry, Sweet Asian Pear, Zingiber Ginger Coconut Rooibos. In recent years the specialty tea industry in North America has exploded. DavidsTea, a Canadian retailer founded in 2008, now has 130 stores across North America. Earlier this year Capital Teas, a regional chain based in Annapolis, Maryland, received a $5m investment to double the number of its store locations. And Starbucks, which acquired Teavana in 2012 for $620m, operates 366 Teavana outlets and plans to open 1,000 more within the next five years.
America and its northern neighbour now boast levels of tea consumption usually associated with the tea-drinking cultures of Britain, China, and India. According to Packaged Facts, a consumer-goods research firm, tea sales have risen by 32% since 2007. Tazo, also owned by Starbucks, remains the largest specialty tea brand in America, but other big chains—not to mention countless independent tea boutiques, lounges and startups—are also capitalising on tea’s new-found popularity. World Tea News forecasts the emergence of 8,000 tea-specific retail outlets in America by 2018 (in 2003 there were only 1,000). George Jage, founder of World Tea Expo, which held its 12th annual trade show in May, expects tea sales in America to surpass those of coffee by 2017.