A man walks into a grocery store to buy some tea. He enters the aisle, coffee first, tea farther down. He’s pleased that the tea section has grown in the last several years. He notes that it’s now as long as the coffee section. A good sign.

He also notices that it is colorful. Pinks, reds, yellows and lots of pale blue. He glances at the coffee section with its dark modern colors and wonders why he was forgotten. The first box of tea he reaches for, green tea…has flowers on it. He puts it back. The one next to it is pale green, but with no flowers. He takes it, reluctantly, and heads out of the aisle.

No wonder men don’t buy tea. He stops and grabs a six-pack of cold beer. At the register he tells himself that the tea is for his girlfriend.

American tea companies don’t like American men

Tea marketing is the place that forgot about men. In American history, tea has long been the domicile of women. In the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, opening a tea shop or tea room was a sign of a woman’s liberty, equality, and a show of good business sense. It was a way for a woman to show her independence; it was fairly common in urban America. The nation has since had a hard time shaking that image off of its tea culture. How many local tea shops still revolve around this theme? There is little modern or relevant about it; it has remained virtually unchanged outside of the major metropolitan areas for nearly 100 years. Most of America still suffers from it. The modern, little old tea ladies with their high teas, flowery hats, and funny gossip, bless their hearts, don’t help. Traditions are great, but they are killing tea.

Sure, men drink tea. Men drink tea all the time, we know that, but are men really buying tea? To an extent, yes, but mostly no. The ease of buying tea online has made it possible, but there are still cultural issues. In a little experiment I did recently, I sat at a shared computer at work, pulled up the website of a major online tea company and set about ordering some tea. My day job is in a professional, sometimes dangerous, uncertain, and very male-dominated environment; there is a lot of testosterone floating around. The anticipated response didn’t take long. A buddy walked up, slapped me on the back and said, “Buying some tea for the wife, eh?” Typical. It wasn’t the tea, it was the design of the site. It is distinctly feminine.

I hate that American tea companies are not trying to sell me their product. I go to their websites, look at their boxes in the grocery aisle and I want to spend my money someplace else. I love tea, but when confronted in the store with trying to decide which of a dozen pretty little boxes to buy I’d rather go get some beer.

The tea industry needs to disassociate itself from the cultural norms which gave birth to it. Every single time I see another tea website with flowers, fancy letters, lace, wisdom, health, life’s journey, pink, purple, and pictures of old ladies in red hats, I lose a little bit more faith in the industry. I just can’t believe that stuff is popular; I just can’t believe that’s the way the industry wants it to be.

I got paid this week, I have a fat wad of cash in my pocket. I come home from work tired, sweaty, and stressed. While I won’t tell you what I do, my day job is often intellectually, emotionally, physically, and sometimes even morally complex. I want something to drink when I am on the way home, or come in the door. I choose tea for that, but when I work this hard for my money–why should I give it to companies that don’t show they want it from me?