Cultural back ground plays a dominating role in tea drinking habit and tea buying preference. Amount my friends, both Asians and non Asians, Asians are accustomed to drinking tea, and prefer loose tea leaves regardless of the intensity of their knowledge of tea. And because of that reason, in areas where most Asians resides, there are individual tea shops specializing Chinese loose leave tea. Lower grade loose leave tea is also widely available in Asian grocery stores. Unlike American grocery stores, even specialty food stores like Trader Joe's and Wild oats, you can only find tea bags. Any how, from my experience of trying to introduce Caucasian friends to tea drinking, they are in awe when I made Kung Fu tea for them, however it's not enough to inspire them to start buying loose leave tea. Convenience is the main factor in choosing tea bags over loose tea leaves. They love it when I buy for them. Go figure... I love sharing good things in life.
There was one embarrassing incident years ago. I took a date to Ten Ren Tea, he asked me which tea has the most anti-oxidant effect. While I tried explaining to him that drinking tea is an appreciation of the tea, flavor, aroma, vessels and artisan presentation combined as a whole, he looked at the prices, it was in the $50 range, his enthusiasm was immediately diminished. I was embarrassed. Well, you can guess what happened to my date after that. HA
It is my firm believe that in making choice of anything in life, knowledge will ultimately drive us to make better decisions. It's the fact that education helps us advance in career, so it should hold true if we have the inquisitive mind to learn about tea and in turn it will steer us to choose the tea that's suitable for us instead of base on convenience.
Tea being such a delicate yet complicate drink, that requires a sufficient amount of time and knowledge to identify good tea, and particularly bring out the best of a tea leaf in an infusion. Majority of American, Asian or non Asian do not have the motivation, inquisitive mind nor the time to cultivate the pleasure of tea drinking. With all the hypes of health benefits associated with tea drinking, mass available supermarket tea bags are what's only known by consumers. Something that took thousands years to perfected will not be immediately adopted by a young country like US. Even the Europeans have been drinking tea since the 17th century, have yet to grasp the spirit of tea drinking like Chinese do today. The way Americans consume tea will remain focused on tea bags of lower grade leaves for many years to come. Surveys show only 5% of tea sales compare to 95% coffee at any coffee houses in America. I was also amazed of the number of attendees at the Tea-expo at Las Vegas in March of 06, 3500+ was considered a great turn out compare to last years attendee.