Today’s exclusive preview from The Grocer’s 2013 Top Products Survey reveals that the long-term decline in tea drinking has accelerated over the past 12 months.

A year ago, we reported a 3.3% overall drop in volume – this year it is down 6.1%. The figures may well prompt a few questions – and possibly national newspaper headlines – about our love affair with the cuppa going off the boil. To which I say nonsense – Britain has been a nation of tea lovers for more than 300 years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Tea and coffee

Yes, the market is contracting – but think back to the summer heatwave for one of the reasons why this year’s decline has been particularly steep. I don’t know about you, but at a time when ice cream manufacturers were fighting to meet demand, I didn’t reach for the kettle too often.

That said, there is a case for arguing that tea product innovation has, until recently, lagged behind other hot beverages – and that mainstream tea sales may continue to fall (though I’d be surprised if, barring another heatwave, the fall is as steep in 12 months’ time). But there are reasons to be optimistic about the category.

Two key trends have been tipped to help to drive the tea market forward: health & wellbeing offered by drinks such as green, fruit and herbal teas; and growing demand for more interesting black teas.

Such drinks already have a small retail presence, but have really blossomed in foodservice: cafe chains have expanded their tea ranges and shown far greater interest in the category - a year ago, Starbucks acquired US tea retailer Teavana for $620m.

“Retail is catching up with what is happening in the out-of-home market,” Twinings MD Jon Jenkins told me this week. “Not so long ago, if you were out and about, you could get a wide range of coffees but only standard tea. Now many establishments offer a wide range of quality tea.”

Jenkins added that he expected retailers would give more space to premium products in future, and that the market was set to see continued innovation in 2014.

His words – and those of other players – have given me plenty of confidence in the drink that is so much a part of our national identity.

In Britain, everything may stop for tea, but tea ain’t stopping for anything.

Over the next three days you can enjoy further samples from our Top Products survey – included in this week’s bumper 192-page issue of The Grocer.