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Tea Brewing Basics:
How to Expand Your Coffee Business by Adding Tea...

By Karen Clutter

Increasingly as I work with a variety of national customers, I encounter the same question: how can we add tea to our menu?

Tea, both hot and iced, is becoming a beverage of choice for many health-conscious consumers. According to the Tea Council of the USA, tea is the second most popular beverage in the world next to water. Scientists believe tea provides heart health benefits in a variety of ways, including reducing the risk for hypertension, improving circulation, increasing bone health, lowering the chance of type 2 diabetes and even building stronger teeth. Tea has half the caffeine of brewed coffee and preliminary research suggests that the flavonoids in tea could play a role in reducing human cancer risk.

All these health benefits have only contributed to tea’s increasing popularity in the past decade. According to NPD CREST, the percentage of orders in restaurants that included hot tea increased by 5% in 2007 among high income and older consumers. Iced tea consumption also increased during this time by 3% overall. In the U.S., the Southern states saw the greatest increase in tea consumption over that period.

Some Surprising Tea Trends
I have noticed a couple of significant trends in the U.S. First, an increasing number of restaurants are offering iced tea to their customers, with extraordinary results. Consumers have embraced the idea of iced tea at the same time as NPD CREST noted a decline in consumption of carbonated soft drinks. One has to believe that the health benefits of tea are playing a role in its selection as a beverage of choice.

Sweet tea, once a Southern phenomenon, has now become a nationwide craze; largely due to its introduction as a menu option by some quick serve chains. Sweet tea is iced tea that may include up to one pound of sugar per gallon of brewed tea. Often the sweeteners are added after the tea has been brewed; however, Bunn does manufacture an iced tea brewer that will add sweetener as part of the brewing cycle.

Finally, it’s not surprising that specialty teashops have blazed onto the café scene. These shops offer a variety of specialty hot teas to discerning customers and represent a natural outgrowth of the specialty coffee phenomenon.

Finding The Perfect Teas
Adding tea to your menu can increase your profitability exponentially. One pound of tea leaves brews up to 205 glasses of iced tea. At an average cost of 3 cents/10-oz glass, it’s apparent that gross profits on iced tea sales quickly add up to big profits.

One retailer who took the plunge and opened a specialty tea café in Chicago in 2003 is Argo Tea. The company has grown to 12 locations in the Chicago area and also offers wholesale partnerships with distribution, foodservice, retail and hospitality companies.

Besides featuring a number of classic tea-based signature drinks like Chai and Bubble Tea, Argo’s cafés also offer unique tea beverages with ingredients such as lemonade, pomegranate juice and apple cider. For example, Charitea, a recent menu addition, combines red tea and cherry juice, with 10% of proceeds donated to a selected charity.

Each store offers customers a wide assortment of tea to consume by the cup at the café or purchase and brew at home. Besides black and green teas, Argo carries rooibos red tea from Africa; white and rare teas such as jasmine pearls; mate, a highly energizing South American drink; flavored black tea; and herbal and fruit teas, which are caffeine-free. According to the Tea Council of the USA, 95% of all the tea consumed in the U.S. is black tea, only 4% is green tea, 1% oolong and 1% flavored. Argo Tea customers have adopted green teas and herbal teas to the same degree as black teas, according to director of product development, Daniel Lindwasser. He says 12 and 16-oz serving sizes are equally popular with customers.

A retailer who wants to expand a menu to offer tea should follow certain rules when selecting tea, Lindwasser says. Tasting tea is a complex skill, much like wine tasting. There are some basic characteristics looked for when tasting tea and then there are those associated with where the product is from and the specific characteristics it should have. The taster will know if tea is stale - it will taste bitter and flat.

A taster should select tea that is fragrant and does not crumble under the touch. Tea leaves should not be broken. Tea blending, combining two or more types of tea to create a unique flavor, is an art form. “Good tea blending boils down to the creativity of the blender and the desired flavor profile,” Lindwasser says.

Storing And Brewing Excellent Tea
Keeping tea fresh is important, Lindwasser stresses. Tea goes stale primarily when exposed to air - it degrades rapidly. Moisture also impacts the quality greatly, so never store in the refrigerator or freezer. As a result, tea should be stored at a constant temperature, in airtight containers away from light, heat, moisture and strong odors, he adds.

To brew the perfect cup of tea, Argo Tea recommends using 1 tsp. of loose tea for every 8 oz of water. How long tea is brewed depends on what type of tea is being made, since different types of tea demand different brew times.

Below are the temperatures recommended by the Specialty Tea Institute for each type of tea:

  • Black tea - 5 minutes at 201-210?F (96.1 - 98.9?C)
  • Darjeeling tea - 3 minutes at 190-195?F (87.8 - 90.6?C)
  • Oolong tea - 4 minutes at 175-195?F (79.4 - 90.6?C)
  • Chinese green tea - 3 minutes at 170-180?F (76.7 - 82.2?C)
  • Japanese green tea - 1 to 2 minutes at 160-175?F (71.1 - 79.4?C)
Usually, a café or foodservice operation will provide hot water for tea in one of two ways: either boiling the hot water on a stove or producing hot water with a hot water dispenser such as Bunn’s H5X. The volume of tea served will dictate how the hot water is produced. It’s important to have hot water at the correct temperature when a customer orders tea.

While hot tea is generally steeped by the cup or pot, iced tea is prepared in larger batches. A typical 3-gallon batch of iced tea begins with 3-4 oz of leaf tea. This leaf tea may be loose or it may be in a teabag or pouch pack. Steeping time will vary depending on the size of the brew basket. A tea concentrate is brewed into a server then diluted with water either during or at the end of the brewing time. At what point in the brew that the dilution water is added is an individual choice, according to John Thing, Bunn product manager. Tea brewers with a delayed dilution feature allow the user to choose.

A Short History Of Iced Tea
It wasn’t always this simple to brew iced tea. Before 1978 when George Bunn introduced the first commercial iced tea brewer, operators used a variety of methods to brew iced tea. Sometimes tea concentrate was made in a coffee brewer then diluted with the ice and water, often resulting in tea that had been contaminated with coffee oils. Occasionally, tea concentrate was prepared by boiling teabags on the stove in a pot of water. Operators realized that iced tea was an enormously profitable beverage, but they were frustrated because it was difficult or impossible to produce a consistently satisfying glass of iced tea using the methods available.

New technologies have made it easier than ever to control the time, temperature and steeping elements in tea brewing. Some tea brewers have multiple brew functions so that a variety of beverages can be brewed from one system, saving space and an investment in equipment. Some brewers also have a digital display, a capability for multiple batch settings and a brew counter to keep track of batches so that inventory can be managed.

In addition, brewing equipment must fill with the proper amount of ambient temperature water to dilute the brewed tea concentrate and produce iced tea at a reduced temperature to conserve ice. The ratio of dilution water to brewed tea concentrate is generally 5:1- five parts dilution water to one part concentrate.

According to Thing, iced tea is generally more popular in warmer climates. “The further north you go, the less iced tea and sweetened tea you see served.” However, he mentions that sweet tea is growing in popularity in the U.S., even in Canada. “Tea is not slowing down in popularity, especially iced tea,” he adds.

Sweet tea is iced tea that has sweetener added, generally through an external source like a pump or bag-in-the-box. The sweetener can be granular sugar or a liquid-based sweetener. The recipe for sweet tea varies depending on the region of the country, usually a brix of five to seven on the sweetness scale. In the Southern region of the U.S., the brix might be above seven, Thing says.

New Options For Tea
For the retailer who wants to minimize an initial equipment investment, Bunn offers a combination iced tea/hot coffee brewer that can also brew hot tea. The Infusion Tea and Coffee Brewer (ITCB) allows for recipe management, so that the operator can control tea brewing.

A tea concentrate dispenser provides another option. Tea concentrates are made by brewing tea then preserving the concentrate until time to serve. The concentrate is then mixed with water, often in a special piece of equipment like Bunn’s Tea Concentrate Dispenser. Tea concentrate dispensers mix water with tea at ratios between 5:1 to 15:1 and use either a mechanical valve to mix the water and concentrate or a Venturi valve, which creates a siphon that pulls the product through to the mixing valve. Dispensers with Venturi valves do not require electricity, but work via a siphon and water pressure.

“We developed the tea concentrate dispenser at the request of operators who have limited space, but who want to provide iced tea for customers. Pre-packaged tea concentrates eliminate spoilage and waste because it’s possible to dispense a cup at a time, on demand,” Thing explains, adding, “There’s less of an investment in equipment too.”

Tea concentrates have come a long way since their introduction in the early 1990s. “Now you’re seeing flavored and sweetened teas available as concentrates. With a few exceptions, the same teas that are offered as fresh brewed are available as concentrates. Now it’s possible to obtain fresh brewed flavor from these concentrates and they offer a variety of viable alternatives for operators who are faced with other constraints.

A retailer who wants to add tea to the menu has more options than ever and now, more than ever, there are more reasons to take this step to improve overall profitability.

In her role as vice president, national accounts for Bunn, Karen Clutter works with national foodservice customers to address their beverage equipment needs. She can be contacted at: Karen.Clutter@bunn.com


Tea & Coffee - October, 2008
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