Why is tea served in takeaway coffee cups?

Antonio Salles
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December 15, 2023
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There’s no denying the popularity of takeaway coffee. As of 2023, an estimated 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day. However, according to the Tea Association of the USA, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world next to water.

Notably, tea can be found in almost 80% of all US households. In the UK, an average of four millilitres of tea was consumed outside the home per person between 2020 and 2021. In light of this, many in the beverage industry ask why tea continues to be served in takeaway coffee cups. 

The answer delves deeper than initial appearances may suggest. This seemingly simple choice is intertwined with a rich tapestry of historical and cultural intricacies surrounding how tea and coffee are consumed around the world. 

I spoke to José Soto of Cafe Delirante about why tea is often found nestled in the familiar confines of takeaway coffee cups for on-the-go consumption.

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Understanding the historical roots and cultural shifts of tea

The history of coffee and tea consumption is a fascinating tale of cultural and historical nuances. Today, coffee tends to be more popular in the US, while tea takes centre stage in many Asian countries.

As with most consuming countries, coffee was introduced to the US in the 17th century. According to historians, the first mention of coffee in the US dates back to 1668 when either the British or the Dutch brought beans to New Amsterdam (now known as New York). Coffee houses began opening along the East Coast, mostly in New York and Boston. Back then, however, tea was much more popular than coffee – largely thanks to British colonial influence.

The Boston Tea Party protest in 1773 was a turning point. A group of Americans tossed 342 chests of British East India Company’s tea into Boston Harbor as an act of protest against high taxes on tea. As a result, many Americans turned to coffee. 

Research shows that today, people in the US consume three times as much coffee as they do tea. Conversely, Russia’s ratio is nearly reversed, with a higher tea consumption than coffee. These patterns underscore the diverse global landscape of beverage preferences shaped by historical, cultural, and geopolitical factors.

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Takeaway coffee: Exploring preferences compared to tea

On a global scale, more green coffee is produced than tea: around 8.5 million metric tons compared to just 4.7 million metric tons of tea. That said, it’s essential to consider the brewing ratio for each. 

For example, it takes approximately two grams of tea to make a cup. Coffee requires around 10 grams for the same volume. This means the brewing process influences the quantity consumed. It is estimated that three cups of tea are drunk for every cup of coffee.

Geopolitical and cultural factors are evident in the distribution of preferences for coffee and tea worldwide. Coffee holds sway in the Americas and continental Europe, while tea is preferred in most of Asia and the former Soviet Union. 

Italy’s espresso also exemplifies the evolution of coffee consumption. Invented in the early 20th century by businessman Luigi Bezzera, espresso caters to the fast-paced urban lifestyle that emerged with industrialisation. Workers and city dwellers needed a quick energy boost, and an espresso offered a solution.  

In contrast, tea has deep roots in elaborate ceremonies and rituals in cultures across China, Japan, and various South Asian countries. This emphasises a slower paced lifestyle, which allows participants to appreciate the aesthetics of tea preparation and consumption.

In Argentina, coffee’s historical introduction by Spanish colonists, coupled with local production, laid the groundwork for its popularity. The fast-paced lifestyle and social appeal of coffee shops further cemented its position, while affordability due to local production and strong marketing solidified its dominance over imported tea options.

José, who has worked at Cafe Delirante for some time, explains that coffee dominates the beverage scene in Argentina. “This preference can be attributed to the caffeine-driven lifestyle embraced by the fast-paced Argentineans,” he says. 

“Moreover, cultural influences play a significant role, with most of the population having strong ties to Italian or Spanish heritage, both of which are known for their deep-rooted coffee traditions.” 

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Takeaway coffee cups: What about to-go tea?

Faced with the rise of coffee, tea companies have had to adapt their marketing strategies. During the early 1900s, tea companies targeted women with campaigns emphasising the health benefits for pregnant women and mothers. 

Despite these efforts, however, coffee continued to dominate. This further reinforces how health perceptions have played a role in shaping beverage preferences. “Breaking free from stereotypes associated with tea requires strategic marketing efforts,” José says. 

“Emphasising the diverse flavours, health benefits, and the ritualistic aspect of tea consumption can make it more appealing to a broader audience. While maintaining its subtle and serene image, the tea industry can explore modern and vibrant packaging to attract takeaway consumers seeking a refreshing and convenient experience,” he suggests. 

Traditionally, tea has been associated with relaxation and contemplation. Sitting down to enjoy tea allows individuals to savour its flavours, aromas, and textures, promoting a more meditative and reflective experience. 

When ordering tea in a coffee or tea shop, it becomes natural that customers usually sit down to enjoy the beverage and rarely have it to go. This is why most coffee shops opt to use takeaway coffee cups for tea. 

To replicate a porcelain tea cup, takeaway cups would need to be broader and shorter in design. Additionally, they’d need to feature fold-out handles, as temperature sensitivity also becomes critical for those savouring black tea. Alternatively, businesses can invest in double wall takeaway coffee cups, or ripple wall cups. Both provide adequate heat insulation and are comfortable for consumers to hold. 

At MTPak Coffee, we can help you find the takeaway cups that suit your customer’s needs. We offer a range of sustainable takeaway coffee cups made from renewable materials such as recycled kraft paper with an environmentally-friendly PLA lining.

Strong and lightweight, our range of cups is the ideal choice for roasters and coffee shops looking to reduce the impact on the environment and communicate their commitment towards sustainability. Our range includes double or single wall cups, compostable takeaway coffee cups, as well as coffee cup sleeves.

Our recyclable takeaway coffee cups are available in five different sizes: 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 12 oz, 22 oz, and 24 oz. We can also help you fully customise your takeaway coffee cups or coffee cup sleeves with details of your business, allowing you to communicate the cup’s recycling qualities to customers.

Images courtesy of Cafe Delirante

For more information on custom takeaway coffee cups, contact our team

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