Is the future of tea functional?

Brits love a morning, afternoon and evening brew. In fact, we drink 36 billion cups of the stuff every year. But tea is evolving along with the rise of conscious consumerism and now customers want something more from their brew – something functional.

As Urvashi Agarwal, founder of JP’s Originals speciality teas puts it, “With the rise in functional drinks and an emphasis on wellbeing, further expedited by the pandemic, consumers have been seeking out drinks which not only taste good but ‘do’ good too. The days of a Tetley teabag, filled with dust and encased in a microplastic bag, are going out and instead whole leaf teas in biodegradable pyramids are the favoured choice.”

The face of tea is changing, and consumers are no longer just seeking taste. Simon Salter, co-founder of DIRTEA mushroom blends shared his thoughts, “I believe we are moving towards a more conscious drinking generation where tea plays a pivotal role from sunrise to sunset and every sip of a functional tea offers a panoply of benefits. Aside from being delicious, sipping DIRTEA mushrooms allows you to have greater focus, less anxiety, and feel more natural energy with no dips.”

But according to Subra Eassuwaren, founder and chief sustainability peep at Greenypeeps, this is not a new phenomenon. Estimates say that four billion people or 80% of the global population use herbal medicinal products as a primary source of medical care. She explains, “Fed by social media, there has been a growing preference for natural “cures” and alternative medicines. There has been a conviction that has become more widespread that many allopathic medicines are too strong or have too many side effects. This has accompanied a mood of distrust towards institutions.”

The Covid effect

The pandemic undoubtedly had a huge impact on the way in which consumers look at health, and inspired a newfound appreciation for the power of plants and holistic methods.

“The move toward plant-based diets and wellness were accelerated during the pandemic for several reasons. The already growing distrust of traditional treatments and medicines was deepened. Consumers turned towards easy to consume remedies that they could get from the comfort of their homes”, Subra explained.

Simon mirrored these thoughts, “People want to feel better and improve their immune health and in doing so they are looking for something more than just a westernised pill for a quick fix. If companies like ours can simply educate the unquestionable benefits these exciting tea experiences bring as an alternative approach we are onto a winner. Functional Mushrooms are packed full of all the minerals, compounds and nutrients the body needs in order to be fully empowered.”

Subra continued, “The pandemic has only increased our desire for clean, healthy food. The fact that many herbal functional blends were more exotic was an advantage as more consumers proved themselves to be ready to explore new flavours.”

“At Greenypeeps, this has been proven by the popularity of our mood teas. We have seen increased sales of our special tea blends that are made up of several herbs that are hand-selected for their taste and proven functionality,” says Max.

The pandemic increasing awareness of health is something Urvashi also identified, “The pandemic was an eye-opener to many when it came to wellbeing. Anxiety was at its historical high, with economic uncertainties, limited contact with loved ones and the fear of becoming unwell, leading to issues with sleep. Our Sleep Deep blend has been our bestseller and has even been hailed as ‘so good that it has cured me of my lockdown insomnia’”.

Why indie retailers should capitalise on functional teas

Covid-19 has inspired a deep dive into teas that do more than just pair perfectly with a scone, and independent retailers are in a prime position to capitalise on functional blends.

As Urvashi explains, “Functional teas with whole leaf ingredients can be marketed by retailers with ease due to consumers seeking blends that can support their evolving physical state. Energy, digestion, and sleep are all common problems that people are seeking to address.


“There has been a huge shift from picking up a Lucozade for energy to seeking healthier functional alternatives. Our Power Up was formulated with exactly this in mind: energizing, promoting laser focus, fighting inflammation whilst having the possibility of being enjoyed hot or cold.”

Getting in touch with what consumers are looking for and engaging with the huge variety that tea has to offer will enable you to expand your offerings and customer base.

As Subra explains, “By stocking exciting new brands with a fresh line of blends and unique sustainability credentials, independent retailers will be able to connect with the current needs of customers as they look for fresh lines that are not only planet positive but are also pure and beneficial for the consumer.”

Simon insists that indies are the perfect incubator for a functional tea revolution, “Independent retailers have, I believe, a remit to help their customers unearth new discoveries like Mushrooms.

“Where there is a lack of education of what is we should be feeding our bodies, DIRTEA is pushing the envelope of the importance of Mushrooms and independent retailers are the platform to springboard this.”

According to Urvashi, “Tea, in general, is so incredibly underrated with the nuances ignored. It’s not about dunking an old bag into a mug with milk, sugar and hot water. It’s an experience - steeping your tea pyramid in your cup (with fresh water boiled to the correct temperature) for a timed 3-4 minute brew. A dash of milk can be added to taste and then enjoyed.

She concludes, “Retailers should promote the quality tea brands promoting traditional and functional teas either in loose-leaf or plastic-free pyramids. Let’s bring back the enjoyment of tea drinking!”