coffee is not the only competition the humble cuppa faces these days. Consumer interest in flowering and loose-leaf teas from China is blossoming as Brits develop a taste for the exotic.

“We are seeing educated urbanites aged 30 to 45 showing an interest, as well as older loyalists,” said Fortnum & Mason food buying director Darren Williams. “Coffee had its boom 10 to 12 years ago with the start of espresso-based drinks, and we’re now starting to see people go back to loose-leaf tea.”

Twenty-nine of the 45 house blends sold by Fortnum & Mason contained China teas, while about half the retailer’s single-estate or ‘rare tea’ products were Chinese. There had also been a recent surge in interest in decorative flowering jasmine-flavoured teas, Williams said.

His comments were echoed by Chinese tea importer Lishi Tea, which claimed its UK sales had rocketed by 140% over the past year as more consumers set aside their traditional cuppa in favour of more exotic and luxurious flavours.

“We’ve taken a little bit longer here in Britain to let go of our traditional way of drinking tea but it’s happening quickly now,” said Lishi Tea co-founder Alex Boyd, who sells teas including Pu’er, Wulong, Qimen and Lapsang. “Young people are aware of the health benefits of Chinese tea.”

There had been a massive increase in consumer interest in loose-leaf tea, agreed James Grayland of Dorset-based Wan Ling Tea House.

Sales at his business, which sells tea from China and India, were up more than 100% year-on-year, he claimed.

However, while many shoppers were aware of the flavour benefits of loose-leaf tea compared with teabags, they were unwilling to compromise on convenience, said Mintel food and drink analyst Alex Beckett, highlighting NPD opportunities.