Coffee or tea? For many Filipinos, their choice is always the first one.
It's not much of a surprise, given the fact that centuries of Spanish colonization introduced us to "tsokolate" and decades of American rule made us love espresso, americano, decaf, cappuccino, instant -- you name it. Coffee beans are also more widely cultivated in the country, with each region offering a unique variety of aromatic beans.
Tea has never been a mainstay in Filipino kitchens, with households regulating it as medicine or herbal remedies instead of as an actual beverage brewed for enjoyment. However, there have been shifts in the past decade. While the tradition of tea is still more prevalent in Western and East Asian cultures, the brewing of loose leaves and drinking from dainty teacups is rising in popularity here in the Philippines.
In this article, we explore the local tea culture (or lack thereof) and discuss the inevitable rise of a tea-brewing nation.
The Lack of a Local Tea Culture
The rich history of the Philippines dating back to pre-colonial trades with the Chinese may offer a glimpse into our tea culture. After all, it can be argued that the Chinese were the ones who introduced tea to our ancestors. However, even though the Chinese traded and eventually settled in the country, tea failed to flourish.
As mentioned above, much of it can be attributed to the chocolates and coffee that the Spaniards and Americans brought with them. If it weren't for the tea's health benefits and ability to provide quick remedies to certain discomforts and illnesses, tea wouldn't gain ground in the country.
Perhaps it was the divisions between the locals and the Chinese that kept tea from becoming a daily part of the lives of Filipinos. Tsokolate and coffee were easily adapted by the natives and until now, they're still the hot drinks of choice.
Today, tea is still often regarded as a medicinal beverage rather than a part of Filipino cuisine. It’s also keen to note that aside from grocery tea bags, there were limited options in the country and loose-leaf teas were quite expensive.
The Rising Popularity of Tea in the Philippines
Despite coffee’s and tsokolate’s unwavering popularity, it’s unfair to say that tea is not rising up to the Western hot drinks. For instance, Euromonitor states that Filipino consumers have been increasing their intake of fruit/herbal tea and green tea, especially those who are focused on their health and wellness.
It’s not just the tea with health benefits too. As more and more local tea shops open all over the archipelago, tea is also becoming more widely embraced by Filipinos. Milk tea shops often attract long queues and tea salons have started sprouting up to offer exquisite leaves to real tea connoisseurs. It's also easier to brew your own tea at home, especially with shops like Curated.PH offering tea accessories such as tea press cups, teapots with infusers, tea strainers, and many others.
Clearly, there are still some gaps to fill between fans of bottled iced tea, tea for health, milk tea, and the luxury tea that salons have to offer. While ladies who lunch are the expected market, the millennial and Gen Z crowds are also surprisingly snapping up tea products. It may be a result of millennials traveling a lot and exploring other cultures. When they come home, they look for a similar experience as to the one they had in Europe, Japan, China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.
Whatever the reason, it is undeniable that there is a rising tea culture in the Philippines that goes beyond iced tea (which isn't even real tea) or the good old salabat. With various tea blends and tea accessories becoming widely available, it won't be long before loose leaf tea becomes a staple in every Filipino kitchen.