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Last updated: Wed. Jun. 25, 2014 - 07:44 am EDT

Hot or cold, tea is quickly becoming drink that’s cool

Embracing world's cuppa

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FORT WAYNE — Even though it's not on the order of Coke versus Pepsi, or Michigan vs. Ohio State, or even Madonna vs. Lady Gaga, somewhere out there is the never-ending debate on the merits of coffee vs. tea. Which is better and which is better for you? Is it the bean or the leaf? The pot or the kettle? A morning cup or an afternoon spot?

Elementary school history lessons recant the story of a rebellious band of American patriots tossing more than 300 crates of English tea into Boston Harbor. That was 1773 – the original establishment-defying tea party.

But no one date is credited with coffee making its foothold into the United States culture as the morning, and afternoon, and sometimes evening beverage of choice. Unquestionably, in America, at least, coffee is the most popular morning pick-me-up, with tea being in the distance.

But according to Lee Pomerantz, co-owner of the local coffee and tea shop Our Daily Brew, tea is mounting a comeback. And guess who's leading the charge?

Coffee giant Starbucks.

“Starbucks is making a big bet on the tea market,” Pomerantz says. “They bought Teavana (franchised throughout the U.S., with five locations in Indiana), and they're starting to open tea stores.

“We are the least-tea-drinking population in the world per capita,” Pomerantz says.

“I've traveled all over the world. Everybody in the world drinks way more tea than we do in this country.

“Coffee kind of became the American drink. It was in the diners. It's what you served.”

According to the Tea Association of the USA, Americans drank more than 3.6 billion gallons of tea in 2012. Fifteen percent was green tea, and most of the remainderwas black tea. When it came to hot vs. cold, 85 percent was iced tea.

In comparison, the United States consumed nearly 8.5 billion gallons of coffee in 2012.

Worldwide, however, there are more tea drinkers, according to a report from Euromonitor International. While Americans drink nearly three times as much coffee as tea, the numbers are nearly reversed in Russia (77 percent tea, 23 percent coffee).

And in the world's two most-populated countries – China and India – tea consumption dwarfs that of coffee. In India, 89 percent prefer tea over coffee, and in China, a staggering 98.9 percent favor tea.

Lee Lemon, the other co-owner of Our Daily Brew, says the younger set is showing more signs of drinking tea.

“There's a move that's going on and has been for a few years,” Lemon says. “It's picked up a little bit of a fad crowd with younger kids – teenagers and early 20s. Tea is starting to be the cool drink.

“When I was their age, I went out and had a cup of coffee with friends. They're going out, getting a cup of tea, or they're sharing tea recipes, or they're trading teas. Part of that is driven by the fact that our society's not as insular as it used to be; people get on the Internet and they start talking, and they're talking with people who are overseas, where tea's a bigger deal, and they start hearing about these neat flavors that you can't get with coffee.”

Both Lees – Lemon and Pomerantz – say that's the beauty of tea, that it comes in many flavors. Their store shelves about 170 tea flavors and variations, but it can blend as many as 350. If you don't see what you want, just ask.

Raspberry and cherry are two of the favorites.

“Coffee's got flavors, but when you brew up a cup of flavored coffee, most of the flavor is not there; it's still coffee,” Lemon says.

“Tea, you can almost hide tea's flavor behind a strawberry flavor, or a cherry flavor, which makes it more accessible, I think. There are a lot of teens and 20-year-olds who are introducing themselves to the market of tea.”

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