Whether it’s replicating the coffee shop experience in our kitchens, or hooking up on Zoom for a shared cuppa and a chat, the hot drinks category this year is all about home comforts, writes Jim Manson

So many things were different after 24 March, the day Britain went into lockdown. One of the less commented upon changes was the sudden disappearance of all those coffee shop transactions from our bank statements and Apple Pay summaries. Scrolling back to February provided an instant reminder for many of just how expensive our coffee habits had been (anyone else have a similar ‘Whoa!’ moment?). 

But the coffee shops’ loss turned out to be the health food retailers’ gain, as Melanie Beard, co-owner of the Best Health Food Shop (with five stores in Sussex and Kent), explains. “It’s easily the biggest trend we’ve spotted in the hot drinks category this year – all those people who have been trying to replicate the coffee shop experience at home. So, we saw a really significant uplift in sales of coffee during the lockdown, as everyone grew more desperate for their morning latte. Part of that sales boost was the fact that people were buying some of these coffees – particularly coffee beans, which we sell in dispensers – for the first time. And some were health store newbies.”

Daily grind
Grumpy Mule is the shop’s biggest selling coffee brand, ‘probably outselling everything – including all instants, ground coffee and beans – by four or five times’. Another star performer has been the milk alternative Oatly Barista. “Sales literally went through the roof, we couldn’t get enough of it,” Beard says. More customers were asking for coffee beans too, she adds. “They’re normally a slower sell, because they require a bit of time and effort. But in lockdown lots of people fancied themselves as master baristas!”.

The ‘coffee at home’ trend goes wider than the health food trade, of course. A joint survey by Alpro and coffee market specialist Allegra confirmed ‘surging demand’ for delivery and at-home coffee consumption, while Waitrose reported a 31% increase in sales of coffee beans and a 24% rise in sales of coffee grinders and presses. 

It’s too early to say whether permanent changes in habits are being forged, but the likelihood that more of us will be working from home, at least part of the time, could see health food retailers hanging on to part of this uplift in retail sales. 

The big sleep
While coffee has been the most visible beneficiary of the ‘COVID effect’, tea – especially herbal varieties – has also been having a moment.   

Beard again: “A constant feature of the past few months has been high demand for sleep teas, with Pukka’s Night Time and Celestial’s Sleepytime selling particularly well. I think that was very much a reflection of the stress and anxiety that a lot of people were feeling. So, after people had initially come in looking for products to boost their immune system, they were then coming in to buy products that would help them with anxiety, stress and sleep. The summer heat just seemed to aggravate the situation around sleep.”

Loosen up
At Best Health Food Shop, loose teas are a speciality. “If I’m honest, that’s partly because I’m a bit of a tea fiend. And I’ve finally been able to source some really good organic herbal teas – something that’s been harder than I thought. One company, called Tealicious, looks particularly interesting. Although loose teas are a bit of a niche, they look lovely in big jars, and they draw people in. I’m a big advocate for them because you get bigger taste and less waste. And with a bit of knowledge you can use them medicinally, of course, creating your own blends.”

“In lockdown lots of people fancied themselves as master baristas!”

Best known for its vegetable crisps, Nim’s is also doing interesting things in the loose tea space. The company recently extended its ‘fruit-forward’ Edible Teas range with a new loose-leaf offer. Made in the UK at the brand’s allergen-free facility in Kent, Edible Teas are naturally vegan and made from a nutritious combination of air-dried fruit and vegetables. Billed as a ‘drink and snack in one’, Nim’s promises that when steeped in hot water ‘vibrant, natural colour fills the pot and intense aromas fill the room’. Available in variants including Apple & Beetroot, Orange, Lemon & Pineapple, Pineapple & Kiwi and Watermelon & Lime, a single portion delivers close to a half of an adult’s vitamin C requirements. 

Think healthy 
Herbal teas have long secured the top slot in the hot drinks category for most natural products retailers – a reflection of their customers’ heath-focused priorities. One organization playing an increasingly key role in promoting tea’s multiple health benefits is the Tea Advisory Panel (TAP). Its website is quickly becoming the go-to resource for the latest information on research into tea and health, and covers issues ranging from wellbeing to heart health, beneficial gut interactions to tea and sophrology (an Eastern-influenced self-help discipline). As well as fully referenced articles, there are lots of videos featuring prominent nutritionists and health professionals. 

One of the subjects TAP has examined is new research into the anti-ageing properties of green tea. A study of 3,000 people showed that green tea drinkers scored significantly higher on the Successful Ageing Index. Commenting, TAP’s Dr Catherine Hood says: “The authors suggest that the mechanisms might be related to the high levels of polyphenols, such as epigallocatechin 3-gallate, which are found particularly in green tea.”

Sales of decaf teas, which traditionally have a strong following among health store shoppers, rose 6% over the last two years, adding £30 million to the category value. Bryan Martins, marketing director for Clipper Teas at Wessanen UK, says: “Decaffeinated tea consumption is on the rise for a number of reasons: growing awareness of the natural benefits of good sleep; increased appeal with a younger and more health-conscious demographic and rising demand for specialist teas that can support a healthier lifestyle.”

Taking the health proposition up a notch, Theenk Tea is offering a 21-day herbal programme to support brain function and mental wellbeing. It’s built around a specially formulated box of 63 pyramid tea bags, drawing on 12 herbal nootropics, adaptogens and stimulants, divided into three functional blends for mornings, afternoons and evenings: Morning Glory, Afternoon Madness and Evening Delight. 

Even in ordinary times, the words ‘let’s talk it over with a cuppa’ are wonderfully soothing, but in 2020 they seem especially cathartic. And this is the thinking behind English Tea Shop’s zeitgeist-y Say Something range, launched at the height of the lockdown. Created to ‘celebrate special moments’, the range comes with four upbeat themes: Lovely Motherly, The Perfect Grade, Because You’re Amazing and The Greatest Sips. In what is claimed to be a first, the range offers consumers the chance to add a voice or video message and send it via a QR code to their chosen person. “The opportunity to say thank you to someone special has never been more important than it is today, and there isn’t a better way to show your gratitude or simply show how much someone means to you than with a box of specialty tea packed full of health and functional benefits.”

Clean sheets
With International patents pending, and the involvement of leading beverage companies, global innovation specialist PA Consulting is confident it has ‘reinvented the tea bag’. Since 96% of tea consumed in the UK is bagged, and the majority of bags used by mainstream team brands contain up to 20% plastics, there is now an acknowledged problem with tea bags. 100% plastic-free, sustainable and compostable, ‘tea sheets’ are being billed by PA as the ‘biggest disruptor to this traditional part of daily life in decades’.


Clearspring Organic Japanese Loose Teas

Tel: 0208 749 1781
E-mail:  [email protected]

Clearspring’s Organic Japanese Loose Tea range is being launched with a packaging design refresh! The new look mirrors the brand’s recently updated Tea Bag and Matcha range. It features a strong design style which is crisper and cleaner giving the range strong stand-out on shelf, whilst maintaining its deserved premium-quality look. The range features popular and authentic traditional Japanese tea flavours including Sencha, Genmaicha, Kukicha and Hojicha. The range is sustainably grown, non-GM, includes no artificial ingredients and is suitable for a vegan and kosher diet. 


Barleycup Caramel  

Healthy Food Brands
Tel: 01403 786460
E-mail: [email protected]

New to the UK market and made in moments, Barleycup with Caramel is a perfect alternative to a hot drink made from roasted barley, rye and chicory to deliver a naturally caffeine free hot drink. With the addition of caramel, it offers a deliciously mild, sweet flavour as well as providing a source of dietary fibre. Vegan friendly and suitable for all the family. Enjoy on its own, with milk or a dairy alternative. Enjoy this warming winter drink on those cold wintery days and nights. Available now!


Of The Earth Superfoods Organic Hot Chocolate Range

Alara Wholefoods
Tel: 0207 255 9725
E-mail:  [email protected]

Summer has come and gone and those humid days have been replaced with biting nights. Snuggle down and warm up with Of The Earth Superfoods Hot Chocolate, available in four different flavours: Original, Chilli, Maca and Turmeric. Packed choc(k)-full with nutrients, flavonoids and antioxidants, all of our hot chocolates are made with Peruvian cacao powder and banana flakes, meaning it not only makes a deliciously smooth and creamy hot drink, but is sugar free too! Simply stir 1-2 tablespoons into a mug of warm milk of your choice for an indulgent warm treat. RRP £5.99 for 180g.


NutraRelax Herbal Remedy Tea

NutraTea Ltd.
Tel: 0203 146 7171
E-mail: [email protected]

NutraRelax® is an expertly formulated herbal remedy tea that has been specially formulated to support optimal relaxation and help maintain a healthy sleep. This unique herbal blend contains 100% active botanicals that have been sustainably sourced including Lemon Balm, Liquorice and Hawthorn Berry to support your mental and physical well-being. Each herbal tea bag is natural and free-from flavourings, oils and excipients to provide the purest herbal tea that can be reused throughout the day. This delicious herbal tea provides a convenient way to promote sleep onset and maintain mental calm in cases of tension and stress.


Qi Organic Matcha powder

Herbal Health Ltd
Tel: 01580 713613
E-mail: [email protected]

Our Premium grade, handcrafted Matcha is produced using traditional methods. Providing over 10 times the nutritional value of regular green tea, our velvety smooth powder is vivid green in colour giving you an assurance of its quality. We are an independent, family-owned artisan tea brand established for over 20 years and our ethical, naturally healthy range is Vegan registered. We trade directly with our growers and enjoy sharing our savings with our customers, you won’t find this quality Matcha, at this price from anyone else! Retailing at just £8.99 for 40g, get your stock now and discover the quality for yourself, contact [email protected] for a free sample and POS


Organic Traditions Lattes

Kinetic Natural Products Distributor
Tel: 08450 725 825
E-mail:  [email protected]

Organic Traditions Beet Latte with Fermented Beet and Probiotics and Chocolate Latte with Ashwagandha and Probiotics offer 1 billion heat stable Bacillus coagulans probiotics per serving, delivering healthy live probiotics to promote optimal gastro-intestinal and immune health with every sip. The addition of acacia gum prebiotic fibre creates an all-in-one pre and probiotic blend. Dairy free blends made with coconut milk and coconut palm sugar, the beet latte offers beet juice and root powders, fermented beet powder, and ginger dual extract, whilst the chocolate latte features CO2 supercritical dual extract of ashwagandha and cinnamon, nutmeg powder and cardamom powder.


Rio Amazon Teas

Rio Health Products Ltd.
Tel: 01273 570987
E-mail: [email protected]

A tropical treat from the Amazon… 100% natural and full of flavour, these infusions will help you to feel as good as they taste.  The Rio Amazon teas range offers a wide choice including fruity infusions, energy boosters and blends packed with benefits. Plus, these high-quality botanicals are sealed in all-natural teabags, so you can sip away, guilt-free! Here are some of our South American Teas you can enjoy from the comfort of your home: Cat’s Claw, Damiana, Espinheira Santa, Graviola, Pata de Vaca, Pau d’Arco, Quebra Pedra, Tayuya and Yerba Maté. Discover more on www.riohealth.co.uk



Tel: 0758 620 6382
E-mail:  [email protected]

THEENK TEA is a 21-day herbal tea program designed to naturally support a healthy brain function and mental wellbeing. Each box is packed with 12 herbal nootropics, adaptogens and stimulants divided into 3 functional blends for mornings, afternoons and evenings. THEENK TEA is the first product of its kind on the market and it’s been developed to support one of the most important organs in the human body – the brain. It’s designed to maintain balanced energy levels, improve focus, relieve stress and help achieve a good night’s sleep. All ingredients are natural and our packaging is 100% plastic-free!