Is tea the Unsung Hero of the beverage category?

Is tea the Unsung Hero of the beverage category?
Is tea the Unsung Hero of the beverage category?

From lattes to cold pressed, and sports drinks to mocktails, Beverages is one of the supermarket categories with the highest rates of innovation. Different flavours, formats and packaging solutions are constantly hitting the shelves, giving South African shoppers a plethora of options to whet their taste buds. One could literally have a different drink for each day of the year, and then some. But amidst all the fancy formats and fiesta of flavours, lies the humble teabag.

With centuries of heritage and time-honoured traditions, the simple ritual of tea-making has stood the test of time amidst each new wave of trends and products. It’s no surprise really that it’s a feature of many novels and historical accounts, songs, and even nursery rhymes – think ‘I’m a little teapot short and stout’ and ‘Polly put the kettle on’.

So what has given the simple teabag the ability to withstand an ever-changing landscape of beverages and lifestyles? Is it the ritual of making tea itself, which has an almost sacred appeal?

Someone who knows all about the virtues of tea, is Jonathan Kelsey – Master Tea Blender for Joekels Tea, who blend and pack household tea brands like Tetley and Laager Rooibos. Kelsey, whose tongue and taste buds are famously insured for R5 million, says that tea doesn’t always get the kudos it deserves. “Tea is engrained in many South Africans’ routines and memories, not just for the obvious reasons – like the fact that it has the ability to lift tired spirits and warm you up on a cold day. One of the obvious reasons for tea’s popularity, which is often overlooked, is the cost factor”.

Kelsey goes on to point out that, second only to municipal water, tea is the cheapest beverage available. “You’re looking at around 40c to 50c for a cup of Laager Rooibos, and around 25c to 30c for a cup of Tetley Black tea. With many households struggling more than ever to make ends meet, tea is a product that remains affordable for the regular South African. Rooibos also has the added advantage of being caffeine-free so it can be enjoyed by the whole family”.

Specialist dietician, Mbali Mapholi, has been campaigning for Rooibos tea for several years now, due to the natural health benefits Rooibos offers. “I partnered with Laager Rooibos to drive awareness around the benefits of drinking Rooibos, because it’s a product that all South Africans can access, and that has inherent health benefits. I am all about finding practical and affordable solutions for South Africans to improve their health, and Rooibos tea really ticks all the boxes.”

Each year, the South African Rooibos Council (SARC) invests significant resources into researching the benefits of Rooibos, with the results being published and shared with the South African public via press as well as their website, Looking through the list of benefits Rooibos offers, 40c to 50c a cup seems like a small investment.

In a sea of ready-to-drink products, tea also offers a simpler and more environmentally-friendly solution. Take Laager Rooibos for example – it’s packaged in cartons made from recycled cardboard, and the teabags themselves can be added to your compost heap provided it is churned regularly. If you’re really all about getting bang for your buck, you could even take the Rooibos teabags out of your cup and add them to your bath to soothe irritated skin or lie with cooled teabags on your eyes to reduce puffiness.

So what’s the best way to drink this multi-dimensional beverage? “However you like it!” says Kelsey. “That’s one of the great things about tea. We all like it a different way, and no way is the wrong way. Some like it so hot that it burns their mouth, others like it with ice and fresh fruit as an iced tea. Some will curse you for adding milk or sugar, and for others it looks more like milk than tea. I can tell you all about the optimal way to make tea, but there’s really no wrong way to drink it – just enjoy it!” At less than a Rand for 2 cups, we have to agree.