A very important date: plates of cake and lashings of hot tea. Photo: Tamara Dean
The Sydney University campus is hardly Wonderland, but that was no concern for a group of students simply wanting to bond over their love for tea.
"We wanted to do a mad hatter's tea party for a long time. We had scones, cakes, sandwiches, and of course many, many cups of tea," said the president of the university's Tea Society, Amy La. "We sipped peppermint, jasmine, and Adelaide tea, which is a fruit-flavoured black tea."
The party is the latest on a lengthy list of events by the Tea Society, whose membership has ballooned from 200 to 500 in three years. Each week they gather to learn about different teas, their history and brewing methods.
"One member grew up drinking Persian tea, so together we tasted it with orange blossom water and rose water," the agricultural science student said. ''We've done it for Taiwanese bubble teas and traditional afternoon teas.''
One of history's oldest drinks is experiencing a resurgence in popularity among young people, with companies offering unusual blends and organic options in sleeker packaging.
In June, 19-year-old Adam Wilkinson - whose beverage of choice is English Breakfast - began the University of NSW's first Tea Society with 160 founding members.
''All the different teas, their histories and rituals keep it interesting,'' the medical science student said. ''We've invited a tea expert to give us regular tea talks. There are so many types like red, white, herbal teas to focus on each week.''
Social researcher Mark McCrindle said the continual supply of unusual flavours and blends through shops such as the T2 chain kept young people's interest alive.
"Tea also creates a social atmosphere. And you don't need a barista like with coffee, it's empowering because people can sample, experiment and make their own blends.''
David Lyons from the Tea Centre chain has observed young people flocking to his stores in larger numbers over the past couple of years. ''They come in knowing they want high antioxidant teas without the chemical flavourings."
Sales of fruit, herbal and green teas to be consumed at home have grown by 5 per cent each year, an IBISWorld report showed. "This is largely driven by purported health benefits such as antioxidant properties," it said. Sales of fair trade tea surged 2225 per cent to nearly $10 million between 2006 to 2011.
Tea blender Corinne Smith from The Rabbit Hole has gauged the level of interest in organic and fair trade tea through a tea stall at Bondi Markets.
She noticed her older customers tended to be female while there was a greater gender balance among youths. ''I think they get bored easily and tea has amazing paraphernalia."
This finding was a key reason why she decided to open an organic tea bar within a year. "It's no longer just about the caffeine fix but about looking after their health. Tea fits into that."