US Tea Market – Tariffs and Trends

U S T e a M a r k e t T a r i f f s a n d T r e n d s



Firsd Tea was invited to give a keynote presentation at the 3rd Annual China International Tea Expo. We were asked to speak about the US tea market. Below are a few of the key charts that came out of that presentation and subsequent developments in the US tea market.

Source: US Census Bureau

While global tea imports into the US declined for 2 straight years, imports from China increased in volume and value in 2018. The slight increase can be attributed more to imports of higher value teas, especially green teas in 2018. At the same time, imports of black teas have declined.

Source: US Census Bureau
Source: US Census Bureau

These import numbers do appear to coincide with rising consumer interests in green teas. In this Statista survey (below), respondents prefer green tea. Given that 85% of tea consumed in the US is black, there may be a mismatch between what consumers want and teas actually being offered.

Source: Statista

Other data further suggest that US consumers are certainly capable of adding more teas to their lives.The US is one of the top importers of tea. But compared to other nations, US per capita tea consumption is still quite low. On any given day, only half of the US is drinking tea, and most aren’t even drinking a cup a day.

Source: Statista

On paper, Americans don’t have much economic reason to avoid tea. Tea is still very affordable, and US per capita disposable income has risen for the 5th year in a row.

Source: Statista


It does appear that real and threatened tariffs have slowed the inflow of some Chinese teas. If the tariff holds, low cost, commodity teas that lack any distinctive character may get sourced from alternative countries. However, many organic and other premium and specialty teas are still likely come from China. A few trends may contribute to this continued flow of distinctively Chinese specialty teas.

Source: US Census Bureau

Organic sales now comprise 6% of all food sales, and the number continues to rise.

Additionally, private label (ie store brands) are taking market share from national brands. These store brands are shifting strategies from low-price, low-quality selections to more natural, premium, and sustainable alternatives- the kinds of quality teas that China is known for and that Millennials prefer.

Source: Statista
Source: Statista

From a marketing perspective, these data points raise some very valuable questions to explore:

  1. Product: Where are the opportunities and unmet needs in terms of responding to consumer desires and fostering new/more desire?
  2. Placement: How will the play between store brands and national brands shape the tea landscape?
  3. Positioning: How will tariffs, trends in organic, sustainability, premium, etc. affect the growth of the US tea market?

Please CONTACT US to find out more about Firsd Tea and the US tea market:

Jason Walker
Marketing Director