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If we do a quick Google search with the words tea or infusion, we will get thousands of results in which to get lost in names and properties: butter tea, eucalyptus chamomile, butterfly or panda excrement infusion (wow), cardamom, turmeric, moringa, beans or manure.

So far we will agree that not all of them sound appetizing. But the fact is that when it is offered to us – more and more frequently – in hairdressers, massage and wellness centres, psychologists' waiting rooms, restaurants, physiotherapists or even in private medical centres, no one is disgusted by them.

Nor do we ask too much about what will be inside that concoction with a succulent aroma that, we are assured, will calm us down or activate us, drain us, detoxify us or, simply, give us an indefinite sense of well-being.

And the fact is that in our mind and body something is really activated when we drink an infusion; something that for a while, at least for a few moments, will manage to ward off all our evils. Because, at the very least, all these preparations shine for their great power of suggestion.

The Great Tea Market

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, although this is largely due to China, its country of origin and largest consumption. In Spain, the Covid pandemic gave a good boost to the consumption of tea and herbal teas, coinciding with a time of enormous concern for health and well-being.

In figures, and according to the EMR (prepared by Expert Reports, one of the leading market research and business intelligence companies), the tea and infusion sector reached a value of 150.32 million euros in 2021 and expects to continue growing by up to 4.5% from 2024 to 2032. Only two years earlier, Allied Market Research estimated that, globally, this industry was valued at €2,247.84 million.

Trends also in nutrition

According to Whole Foods, the top food trend of 2024 will be plant-based food, i.e. plant-based foods made from real plants, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and real seeds. The consumption of herbal teas is fully part of this trend, which augurs a huge growth in supply.

The question is whether we know exactly what's inside that bag of X grams of herbal tea that we buy in the supermarket or are offered almost anywhere. How do we know that what we're drinking is really plant-based? On this subject, Natalia Restrepo, founder of the Macrobiotic Institute of Spain and nutritionist at the SHA Wellness Clinic, believes that "right now there is a huge confusion between natural, organic, vegan and healthy, everything is put in the same bag. There are products that are natural, you buy them at an herbalist and you think you're healing, or that they're organic and you're eating well, but maybe those organic products come from the Caribbean." In order for you to have drunk such a healthy infusion, an airplane has crossed the Atlantic and contaminated the largest of them.

All the benefits

Regarding the supposed salutary virtues of infusions, which according to propaganda inseparably accompany the intake of these products, it is also advisable to exercise incredulous caution: "Of course there are medicinal plants and everything will help you, but if you think that with a cup of tea you eliminate all the inflammations and on top of that you eat a pizza, I'm telling you, no. Because there's no such thing as potagia magic."

And the nutritionist points out: "In addition, the same thing happens with infusions as with vitamin complexes. I have patients in the office who tell me they're taking folic acid, vitamin D and I don't know how many other things and it's like... how about eating right and sunbathing? Teas and infusions participate in something similar, they produce a placebo effect. Do I drink a relaxing tea and I'm fine? No, you still have to work fewer hours and sleep more."

Tea and caffeine

Among the trends published by Whole Foods also included the multiplication of products based on clean caffeine, which is extracted without the use of harsh chemicals. This type of caffeine is often found in green tea and is considered a milder stimulant (and also, more sustainable, 10 points for clean caffeine).

Because although there are still many people who drink tea to avoid caffeine, the truth is that there is caffeine, no matter how much we call it theine. Veronica Hegar, tea sommelier and founder of the Tesuko brand, explains it well: "There is really no difference between caffeine and theine. In the case of coffee, caffeine is released much faster, which is why we notice that peak of energy when we drink it on an empty stomach, for example." Veronica also highlights the importance of origin, extraction and import method in determining the quality and price of a good tea, whose sales, by the way, have increased by 50% in her company since the pandemic.

Tea in haute cuisine

Herbs and their infusions have also attracted the attention of haute cuisine. When it comes to beverages, Esther Merino is one of the people who knows the most about trends in our country. Young Talent in Gastronomy in 2020 by the Basque Culinary Centre, she is also a consultant and beverage developer, and has worked in restaurants such as the Alchemist in Copenhagen (two Michelin stars).

Well, all the cocktails and fermented drinks that Merino develops contain tea, which he has turned into a kind of personal brand. "It is an ingredient that gives greater complexity to the flavor, organoleptically it provides qualities that no other product provides. In Spain and Mediterranean countries we have a good culture of herbal teas, chamomile..., but with tea we don't have a habit of consumption, as is the case, for example, in Denmark." Even so, he warns, "human beings are not stupid, when they taste a quality tea they don't want to drink anything else." But that takes time. And a lot of marketing.

  • nutrition