Friday, June 26, 1998 Published at 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Business: The Economy
Storm in a teacup
London's auction is not everybody's cup of tea
The auction, which has set the price of tea for more than 300 years, has been overtaken by technology and the increasing globalisation of the tea market. Rival auctions have sprung up around the world and more and more buyers are using new methods of communication, such as the Internet, to trade tea.
But it has been in steady decline in recent decades. Now less than 8% of the tea drunk in Britain is sold under the hammer.
Tim Clifton, chairman of the Tea Brokers' Association, said that Monday was a sad day for the London tea market, signalling the end of yet another grand British tradition. "One of the reasons it is particularly sad was that it was a very nice weekly gathering of the trade where we could swap views with each other."
However he said that the move did not threaten the international vibrancy of the tea market. "I don't think it will affect the growth in ... tea sales. The rise in private sales by telephone, e-mail and the Internet has been apparent for some time. It is merely a closing of a declining method of sale," he said.
But as world-wide communications have improved, so the auction has become increasingly superfluous.
The emergence of the Internet has facilitated instant electronic trading and left the auction looking an increasingly outdated way to buy and sell tea.
As tea has come increasingly popular around the world, and shipping more advanced, major producers have also set up their own auctions in their own countries.
This has lead to a demise of the British tea industry. Where once tea clippers docked at bustling wharfs, tea warehouses now lie empty.
Britain may have lost another fine tradition with the demise of the auction, but tea drinkers are unlikely to notice any difference to their favourite cuppa.
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