http://www.businessworld.in/SEP0406/market.asp Generation-X is all about trends. With the coffee culture catching up, there is a sudden rise in the number of coffee shops, especially in urban India. Today, there are around 500 Barista and Café Coffee Day outlets across the country. And the loser in the hot beverages segment has been good old tea. In 2003, consumption of coffee was about 20 per cent less than that of tea. Since then, however, there has been a gradual decline in tea consumption. Last year, it went down by 5 million kg from 239.31 million kg the year before. Now the tea industry is fighting back. It has opened two flanks against coffee. First, it is trying to counter the cafes with swanky retail outlets, the so-called tea bars. Second, it is coming up with a variety of flavours for those who want something different from the standard stuff. Notice the array of specialised teashops in bookstores or even in coffee shops. Take Cha Bar in Oxford bookstore, an Apeejay Group initiative, or Tea Centre, a stand alone store in Mumbai, or Passion Tea’s ‘Passion My Cup of Tea’. They are all driven by the single goal of ‘making tea drinking a special occasion’. Priti Paul, director, Apeejay Surrendra Group, which owns Cha Bar, explains: “We are primarily a tea drinking nation. With the changes in lifestyle, we no longer offer the same beverage when guests come over or we go out. So, we need to make tea drinking an an occasion by itself.” Says Dilip Singh, manager, Tea Centre: “We wish to give customers a pleasurable and classy experience, hence a special shop and over 200 variants, which one won’t find anywhere else.” More importantly, tea companies are fighting back with more variety, better ambience and more style. You just need to read the menu at the Char Bar in Oxford Book Store. It has 67 varieties of tea on offer. There is even a ‘cutting chai’, the staple tea you get on the streets of Mumbai. The sudden shift in the tea-selling environment has changed the way companies look at their tea business. Be it Tata Tea, Brook Bond or Lipton, all are trying their hand at variants. “The no-mess way of drinking tea is becoming more popular,” says Sangeeta Talwar, executive director (marketing), of the Rs 486-crore Tata Tea. The company is planning to launch tea bags with Indian and fruit flavours. With flavoured tea, teabags, tea vending machines, iced tea and special tea bars, companies are focusing on reintroducing tea as a trendy social beverage, making it an urban contemporary experience away from the dhabas. Much of this increases the ‘fun quotient’ of tea, helping it connect with younger people. More importantly, it also helps push up margins. So, the same cuppa, which would cost you Rs 5 from a roadside chaiwala, comes for about Rs 50 in plush new teashops. Whether it is enough to take on the might of coffee, especially after the Starbucks of the world come in, is not clear. But, for now, it is giving tea much-needed appeal among the Gen-X. So which is it? Tea for me.