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Fine French tea must not be locked in a golden ghetto.

Looking at numbers only, tea in France is doing well. Imports keep growing slowly but surely. More and more "salons de the" are opening. In Paris some particularly high profile salons have recently opened in prestigious locations. Also numerous articles on tea are regularly published in general audience press indicating a continuing consumer demand for tea information.

However, a closer look yields a different picture. There are actually two separate tea markets in France. First there exists a fringe of consumers supplied by specialty tea stores (such as Betjeman & Barton, Mariage Freres, Palais des Thes, Maison de la Chine etc.) by gourmet outlets (Hediard, Fauchon, Grande Epicerie du Bon Marche, etc.) or by the many coffee boutiques that sell fine tea. This quality oriented market is assuredly expanding in France but is still very small, numbering no more than a few-hundred thousand.

The companion general public tea market is disappointing On the average, French people drink less than 200 gm per year per capita, an insignificant amount compared to England or Ireland. France remains a coffee country. Tea's image is that of a woman's drink or a sick person's beverage, with all the restrictive connotations these impressions carry. This subconscious imagery is omnipresent in everyday life. In bars, teabags are put away together with herb teas - a symbolic location.

In France, tea is quite often consumed in specialized service outlets called "salons de the." Novels could be written about such places which should more aptly be termed pastry salons. Tea served in these establishments is too often of mediocre quality.

In truth, it is virtually impossible to have a cup of drinkable tea in a public place such as a bar, cafe, or hotel in France. Old teabags, unfiltered water, teabags steamed by the steam spout of the espresso machine, steeping time not monitored - everything that can be thought of it seems is being done to discourage the tea consumer. Although most often, surely, tea is being poorly made in good faith: tea will be left in the teapot because "It is better when it is strong" or because "That's how the English do it and their tea most assumedly be good," also of course, tea will be served religiously with lemon.

Low consumption, ignorance of tea by the general public and loyal consumers alike, a stereo-typical image, the gap between an upper class, stylish resonance and a disappointing reality. Tea in France is the victim of great misunderstanding.

This misunderstanding is also found at sales level. Most tea sold in France is in teabags. It is not in our interest to condemn teabags, whose advantages are well demonstrated, but tea found in most teabags in France is of low quality. It is usually a sad offering of broken leaves and almost always in a soupy blend of origins.

Without doubt there must be a correlation between the high incidence of inferior quality teabags in the French tea market and the general public's acculturated lack of tea knowledge and general misunderstanding of tea.

Such a situation generates two problems. Under these conditions, firstly, the consumer becomes accustomed to drinking mediocre tea in an extremely narrow range of tastes, particularly so since it is always of black tea. Secondly, consumers do not gain respect for tea and consequently are not alert to taking care in its preparation - not caring or knowing about how much tea to use or how to put it in the teapot, how long to steep it, etc. Consumers cannot even find out about the wonderful variety of leaf grown in the world!

So, both French tea markets grow separately - on the one hand, a narrow market for educated and demanding consumers, and on the other hand an unenlightened mass market - without any linking bridges. Instances of their separateness are legion; on the quality market, tea origin is always specified: such and such Darjeeling garden, such and such region of Ceylon, what have you. On the general market, tea origin is purely anecdotal or there will be a "breakfast blend" of one brand or another without any content information at all. The consumer will never know whether it is tea from China, Assam, Kenya, or elsewhere On the quality market, there are practically no tea bags; on the mass market, one is given less and less alternative.

Can such a situation where there are two independent markets - a quality market and a quantity market, each with its own logic - last? Doesn't this bleed the dynamism needed to increase tea consumption in France?

At the Tea Drinkers Club (Club des Buveurs de The), we defend the idea that tea is a noble product which must be respected; origin must be acknowledged, bulk tea honored, preparation rules followed. Our experience tells us that tea can only gain new drinkers if consumers are brought to respect it. This is how tea can lose its unfavorable or restrictive imagery in the general public's mind.

We believe that everyone will gain by the quality game. Quality tea must not be locked up in a ghetto of educated consumers. It deserves better than that, and so do the people that choose to drink it.
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Title Annotation:marketing quality tea in France
Author:Mentre, Marc
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:Fabled French region inspires fresh concepts in specialty products.
Next Article:Colombian coffee in France: a case study.

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