Six Notable Specialty Tea Trends for 2012

BAt World Tea Expo, we always strive to stay one step ahead of emerging trends, so we can deliver a relevant event to participants that fuels business growth. Accordingly, we’re pinpointing quality tea, growth in tea retail, cold brew green tea, green tea popularity, Matcha lattes and tea-enhancing wares as six of the key tea trends for 2012.
World Tea Expo, the largest and most prominent B2B event for the industry, is taking place June 1 – 3 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and all of these trends will be covered – as well as numerous other hot topics. At the event, attendees can: taste cold-brewed green tea and the latest Japanese Matcha lattes; gain current knowledge regarding tea retail growth, supply chain transparency and FDA regulations; learn how to capitalize on tasting trends; and taste for themselves whether or not the newest tea ware on the market does in fact enhance the flavor of tea.

Trend No. 1. – Quality Tea on the Rise

The tea industry is educating tea consumers about quality, thus improving their palate and desire for better tea. We’re still a bit behind here, but many retailers and manufacturers are making progress, and consumers are increasingly looking to buy better teas; they want to know what makes certain teas high quality rather than relying on the manufacturer’s word or enticing packaging. At the same time, industry members continue to discuss and ask one another, “How do we internally define quality,” and that is great. We are scrutinizing our own product; we are asking what Fair Trade really means; and we are asking if products calling themselves ready-to-drink [RTD] tea should contain a minimum of tea total dissolved solids, or if tea-flavored sugar water should be allowed to call itself tea. We are also seeing big tea buyers take notice of the high-quality winning teas from the North American Tea Championship, a professionally judged tea competition. A win here means that a third party professional has assessed quality, and that is making a significant difference for manufacturers when closing major deals.

Trend No. 2. – Tea Retail Continues its Upward Trend

The tea retail trend hit a nice stride in 2011, and it will continue to move up quickly in 2012. Last year, for example, tea retailer Teavana launched its IPO and Canadian-based DavidsTea opened two retail stores in N.Y.C., adding to its line-up of 69 locations. Most recently, Teavana acquired Canadian –based, Teaopia which has 46 stores. And Starbucks Coffee Company hired tea-retail expert Charles Cain as its new vice president for Tazo tea merchants and operations, which leads to much speculation regarding Starbucks’ plans to launch tea retail outlets. At World Tea Expo, the industry is set to discuss the future growth of tea retail – and what will happen in 2012 – in a session called “Will Tea Ever Be as Big as Coffee?” Right now, in the United States, there are currently more than 25,000 coffeehouses and around 3,500 tea retail locations.

Trend No. 3. – Green Tea Grows in Popularity

Green tea is moving ahead of flavored and blended herbal teas, in terms of popularity. No doubt due to its association with health and the preferences of ageing Baby Boomers and conscious Millennials, green tea is experiencing a growing consumer base, and that will continue this year. According to Packaged Facts’ Tea and Ready-to-Drink Tea in the U.S., 4th Edition, green tea is currently the No. 2 top flavor for U.S. tea product introductions (the No. 1 spot is blended teas). Among households purchasing loose leaf tea, green tea edges out herbal and fruit/spice teas with black tea as No. 1. The study notes that green tea is the No. 1 selected specialty tea product selected by customers at restaurants and retail establishments.

Trend No. 4. – Tea-enhancing Tea Wares

Glassware maker Reidel creates some of the finest wine glasses and decanters, and it’s said that these special glasses make a significant difference in the taste of vino, bringing out the depth, flavor and balance. And now, as the general populous continues to build a sophisticated palate, innovators are emerging and looking at ways they can enhance the tea drinking experience on a more sophisticated level. In fact, one stellar example of tea-enhancing tea ware is the 2012 World Tea Expo Best New Product Award winner 1660 London, for its 1660 Tasting Cups. The company won the top prize in the category of Tea Ware. These cups are each shaped to enhance the drinking experience of green, black, and fragrant teas.

Trend No. 5. – Cold Brew Green Tea

Cold brew green tea is expected to be big in 2012. Last year, Japanese manufacturer Yamashiro Bussan Company launched the first cold brew green tea at World Tea Expo. This year, branded cold-brew green tea takes the stage, including Swirl Tea, by Breezy Springs LLC. Breezy Spring products are already sold in Whole Foods Markets and Publix Supermarkets, to name a few. Swirl is a trendy new concept that combines premium green tea with convenience. Its unique, slender tea bag goes into a water bottle for brewing anywhere. It also uses all natural ingredients, is naturally decaffeinated, zero calories, and contains no sugar or gluten. We predict that with Swirl Tea’s cold-brewed green tea on grocery store shelves, there will be a larger consumer base and awareness for this product category in 2012. Imagine the delight consumers will have when they realize they can enjoy green tea without worrying about over-steeping it or water temperatures causing the tea to taste like burnt grass. Swirl Green Tea – Cold-Brewed On The Go!, by Breezy Spring LLC, won a 2012 World Tea Expo Best New Product Award in the category of Tea as an Ingredient.

Trend No. 6. – Matcha Lattes (Real Ones)

Unlike the poor quality Matcha lattes that have “crashed and burned” in the past, there are now superb product offerings in the market. All of these use real and high-quality Japanese Matcha, blended with minimal sugar but packed with flavor, such as AIYA America’s Matcha Zen Café Blend. Matcha lattes are already wildly selling in Canadian foodservice establishments, and we suspect the time has come for American restaurants to catch on in 2012. They are easy to make, require no additional equipment, taste delicious and are packed with the nutritional benefits of Matcha. They’re certainly a wonderful alternative to over-roasted coffee after a lovely dinner.

Tea Growth in 2012 & Beyond

On the whole, tea continues to grow in the marketplace, and many companies – like 2012 World Tea Expo exhibitor finum by Riensch & Held – are nurturing an urban tea culture, where consumers are discovering full-leaf specialty teas. finum offers a range of products, including stylish drink ware in combination with unique filtering components for tea. The company agrees that more young people are drinking tea because they like it, because it suits their image, because it fits into their life style. “They are of course health conscious,” says Christian Justus, CEO of finum, “and tea must blend into their social and ecologic environment – in the office, at a party on the street.” The company is trying to make it easier to prepare good, high quality tea to the standard that the Chinese and Japanese are accustomed to.
Yes, tea is on the rise. And according to projections from Packaged Facts, in their study Tea and Ready-to-Drink Tea in the U.S., 4th Edition, tea retail market growth will edge up from approximately 6.6 percent in 2012 to 8.7 percent in 2014, reaching $8.3 billion in that year. World Tea Expo presenter David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, notes, “The horizon for tea indeed looks bright. Factors spurring continued overall growth of the tea market include: the success of refrigerated and RTD tea; the acquisitions of Honest Tea and Sweet Leaf Tea that will continue to expand the distribution channels for these and other organic and specialty brands; the rapid expansion of specialty tea retailers such as Teavana; increased emphasis by Starbucks and other coffeehouses on their tea offerings; the sustained promotion of tea by the big restaurant chains, led by McDonald’s; the proliferation of tea rooms and other tea offerings at foodservice; the continued recognition by consumers of tea’s healthy properties and their switch to tea from carbonated soft drinks.” Sprinkle will present, “Understanding the Retail Shopper of Tea Products” Saturday, at World Tea Expo.
Kim Jage is the sales and marketing director, World Tea Media, a division of F+W Media. To learn more about these trends and other hot tea topics, register for World Tea Expo at

Suggested Reading