Consumers favour ‘new’ teas for mind & body

The pandemic and the sanitary restrictions, with less travel and much working out of home have generated increased demand for cups that bring additional benefits and invite new discoveries. By Barbara Dufrêne.

The arrival of Covid-19 in the West by early 2020 not only heavily impacted the supply chain for food from other continents but has also brought about significant changes in lifestyles. Looking at the hot brewed cups and in particular the teas and herbals, which many consider as necessary to ensure a smooth daily routine, one can see an overall move towards demand for additional benefits and attractive novelties.

Many consumers are exhausted, frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed by the current pandemic, which has created a completely new societal scenario, depriving them of their usual everyday life and imposing important changes and stringent and mostly unpleasant constraints. The imperative recommendations issued by governmental authorities focus on keeping their populations safe. This has created isolation, huge stress and anxiety. One way people are seeking relief is by turning to food and drink, both through indulging and through purchasing products with new benefits and remedies and cups that are brewed with more exotic products.

The new Lipton Feel Good collection offers a range of blended teas and herbal infusions.

During the months of lockdown, getting appropriate retail supply was not always possible. In the meantime, more online purchasing has become available, which fosters the introduction of new cups as well as the promotion of more traditional ones that remain fully attractive. They all claim to be good for your body and mind and soothing for mood and soul. They promise to boost your energy, to sooth and refresh, to relax and to balance, and to enchant your palate with new taste notes, from new plants and new recipes, etc. The focus is on a multi- facetted response to the intense consumer craving for the best possible ways out of the continued pressure and squeeze created by the pandemic’s restrictions, constraints and closed doors.

Boost, sooth and relax 

There is a wide range of traditional botanicals that offer such benefits, sometimes marketed blended with teas, sometimes as pure herbal infusions. The sales messages fully take the ongoing pandemic into account, responding to the current stressful and hectic ways of life, recalling and prominently underlining their powerful benefits that some consumers may have forgotten or not yet been made aware of. The ‘big’ brands have addressed this need by responding to the urge for ‘feeling better’ and ‘helping to cope’. In this range one finds many Western plants such as mint, verbena, chamomile, thyme, linden, lavender, black current and rosehip, among many more. There is also the caffeine-containing mate from South America, the soothing caffeine-free rooibos from South Africa together with spicy ginger, curcuma and lemongrass from South-East Asia.

The Lipton Feel Good selection is building on this consumer need with an attractively labelled range of 25 colourful blended teas and herbal infusions. The Tetley range of functional teas and their range of super teas also ties in with the continued trend for health and wellness. Both product lines assist the consumer with handling stress and coping with the many challenging complications the pandemic has created.

Purple tea from Kenya

The taste profiles range from floral to spicy and whilst on the market for decades, these cups have become more widely attractive as catering to the increased stress of the pandemic ridden consumers, who are now more inclined to discover these beneficial cups.

Seeking added benefits & new tastes

Whilst one expects the presence of familiar flavours to appeal to those consumers who prefer traditional and mainstream teas, other consumer segments are keen to seek attractive new, and premium cups, which offer bold colours and specific intense flavours, with trends towards spicier, more bitter sweet, more intensely earthy, and more single flavour than blends.

The 2022 forecasts from beverage industry market experts quote the exotic botanicals hibiscus and moringa, together with new teas such as purple tea and premium puer teas, which rank high, as well as the various matcha cups that continue to be a top favourite:

  • Hibiscus flowers — brew cups with bittersweet taste notes and a deep purple red colour. Supply is widely available as hibiscus is cultivated in many African countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Senegal as well as in India, and other South-East Asian countries also export. Traditionally reported to have diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects, recent Western studies demonstrate a blood pressure-reducing benefit, which is a traditional claim well acknowledged by the producing countries’ domestic consumers.
  • Moringa leaf powder — is stirred into deep green cups, with a vegetable taste and a pleasant mouthfeel. Harvested from beautifully shaped, fast-growing and high leaf-yield offering tropical trees, the big leaves are dried and powdered for export mainly. In India, the main producer, but also in Africa, domestic consumers harvest the leaf like a garden vegetable and consume the flowers, the seeds and the bark. Reputed for its high nutritious value, high vitamin and oligo element content, with reported anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, the tree is locally venerated as miracle tree and called tree of life.
  • Purple tea — brews delicate lilac-coloured cups with smoky and slightly astringent taste notes, inviting the sipper to relax and indulge in the scent. This colourful and attractive cultivar, named TRFK 306 (for Tea Research Foundation of Kenya) is the result of a joint research project, run by the Tea Research teams of Kericho, Kenya and Tocklai, Assam, India. Released in 2012 after more than 20 years of selective crossbreeding of two Camellia sinensis varieties, the var. Irrawadiensis and the var. Assamica, expectations were high when launching this new cup. It has taken some time to gear up commercial cultivation and to promote this new cup, brewed with delicate deep purple-coloured slender long leaves. Created with the remit to offer increased AOX capacity through a high content in anthocyanins, these premium cups from Kenya’s Nandi Hills are now becoming more widely available.
  • Puer & dark teas from Chinapuer teas from Yunnan and other dark teas from Hunan, Hubei, Guangxi and Sichuan, with their manifold preparations and processing, either raw and coming as young or as aged, ripened industrially or naturally in a vintage cellar, either compressed or whole leaf, either cakes or bricks, have been gradually introduced to the West since the early 2000s. Puzzling and fascinating the consumers, their reputation as an intensely healthy cup, with a wide range of benefits being reported in the domestic market has not yet been fully acknowledged in the West. Intrigued and attracted by highly exotic terroir and origin stories, the health benefits and soothing as well as stimulating properties of these many premium cups fit well with the new requirements in the pandemic- stricken markets. The potential for consumption increase seems huge, despite prices on the rise, which will become more acceptable with appropriate and in-depth product information.
  • Matcha and other powdered teas have become highly successful in North America, skillfully promoted by Japan’s leading supplier and manufacturer Ito En. Although the most premium of these colourful and tasty cups require special accessories and skills for the whisking up of a frothy creamy delight, there are now also more convenient preparations as well as ready-to-drink products available. The feel-good effects are impressive, as the powdered leaf brings more plant material to the body than the brewed cups. The matcha craze remains ongoing; new product formulations in line with improved manufacturing technology cater to greater consumer awareness and more sophisticated consumption habits. Europe is catching up and demand continues to grow, with new factories springing up in the origin countries.

Powdered green tea from Korea and hojicha from Japan.

There is clearly a wide range of available options for introducing new enhancing cups, be they new from the scratch, such as the Kenya purple tea, or newly arrived in the West such as moringa leaf powder and many of the Chinese dark teas, or newly arranged, blended, reformulated, renamed and appraised in more depth. The outlook seems favourable for bringing many more colourful and tasty cups, which help consumers mind and body feel better in these very stressful times.

  • Barbara Dufrêne is the former Secretary General of the European Tea Committee and editor of La Nouvelle du Thé. She may be reached at: b-dufrê[email protected].

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