Lords and ladies do it. Counts and earls do it. So do kings and queens. Now businesspeople are turning away from dinner or lunch meetings and taking clients to tea. "Instead of meeting at a coffee shop, like Starbucks, which is kind of static and cold, meet at a place that leaves an impression," says Maria L.C. Salomao, owner of Armada Global, a communications firm in San Francisco.
You can find afternoon tea service everywhere from teahouses to hotels. Whether you prefer superformal English tea and crumpets or a more informal, earthy kind of place, tea is hot. "People I bring usually sit back, take a deep breath and say, 'Aaahhh. This is so great,'" says Salomao, 34. "Instead of being wound up, it's like they're sitting in their living room."
Tea's international flair plays a big part in the phenomenon, says Steve Luttmann, director of marketing and brand development for Lipton Cold Brew Iced Tea. "It's the biggest beverage after water worldwide," says Luttmann. "It's part of every culture-tea breaks down barriers. It helps people connect."
And it's helping more people than ever before. "Though [taking tea] was formerly an elitist activity, now it's becoming commonplace," says Christina Bond, tea expert and founder of Taking Tea, a New York City etiquette consulting firm. "It's a type of connoisseur's delight." With about 2,300 different types of tea and worldwide consumption going from $2 billion to $4 billion in the past decade, this 5,000-year-old custom is seeing new life in 2001. "Tea brings a sort of ambient social overtone to doing business, and it's less caloric and less expensive [than dinner or drinks]," says Bond. "It's going to be a fast-growing trend."