Pimp My Tea

China’s CNTV assigned a reporter to visit Los Angeles last week to describe the tea industry in America.

The serious video report, hilariously but aptly titled Pimp My Tea, includes an interview with International Tea Importer (ITI, Inc.) and Chado Tea Room Founder Devan Shah, a visit to the American Tea Room in Beverly Hills and conversations with tea drinkers.

In America “the tea is infused with all sorts of interesting flavors” explains the reporter as the camera pans pouches labeled Macaroon (cacao bits, rooibos, coconut, licorice) and Toasted Fig (pu-erh, figs, dandelion roots, coconut flakes and fennel) or Brioche, advertised as “aromatic as a French patisserie” with almonds, cinnamon and safflower blossoms.

To a purist, concoctions like Chamomile Lemon and Dry Desert lime seem quite ordinary beside Carrot Curry and Beef Cabbage, Spinach Chive and Broccoli Cilantro “tea.” The blends described above no doubt appear to the Chinese exactly like the garish, gaudy and extravagant embellishments gangbangers use to transform 1970s caddies, a vintage Ford Fairlane or Lincoln Continental into pimpmobiles.

The Chinese treasure several blends such as Jasmine green tea but for the most part consumers there seem content with tea processed much as it was a 1000 years ago. In America the blends featured in most shops were developed within a few months of launch. They appear and disappear with the season.

Source: CNTV Culture Express

Synchronized Real Time Tea Blending


Motovotano Founder James J. Mackness, Seattle, Wash.

SEATTLE, Wash. — Mixing tea ingredients is easy. Keeping them stable and evenly dispersed is not.

“Inclusions” is the technical description for the flower petals and bits of fruits and nuts, rind shavings, spices, tiny peppers and candy added to modern tea blends. Sales of these specialty teas are brisk with marketing that invites consumers to constantly try new formulations.


Example of a large, difficult to blend inclusion.

Color and texture are critical to the appeal of these teas. New recipes increasingly call for odd shaped bits of botanicals of varying densities that make consistency a challenge.

Take for example maple sugar flavored black tea, a hit here in the Great White North that eluded blenders for decades. On exiting a commercial “V” blender the mix seems well dispersed but the sugar quickly settles during the packaging process and in transit separates into a sticky dense layer of maple underlying tea with no maple taste.

TEABIZ_NEWS_Equiplment_EpanieMachine_380pxSynchronizing combinations of precisely weighed ingredients during the bag-making process is a promising development by Epanie, a South Korean manufacturer of an innovative tea bagging machine. Motovotano, a Seattle firm founded by tea industry veteran James J. Mackness, is the first company to use the equipment in North America. The pyramid-style filling and bagging machine blends gourmet tea in real-time.

The pyramid has established itself as the go-to format for high quality blends. But large inclusions such as flower buds that delight the eye are difficult to apportion. Improvements in its design by Epanie over existing pyramid and traditional filter paper sachets allows for larger tea leaves and for those leaves to unfurl and brew properly for superior taste. Bags can be made of nylon, non-woven commercially compostable or certified biodegradable materials.

TEABIZ_NEWS_Equiplment_EpanieBin_380pxMotovotano’s Epanie Pyramid Teabag machine utilizes eight servo-motor controlled weigh bins holding either a single inclusion or pre-blended mix that can be flavored. In a recent demonstration Mackness first blended several ingredients with similar density and volume in a traditional V blender. He then placed this mix in the Epanie machine along with several difficult to handle inclusions such as Calendula flowers and a spice with an intense flavor profile. A control panel instructed scales to tip the precise weight into each bag before it was sealed.

Click here for a video demonstration.

Mackness showed how the machine lets formulators cup on the fly. Pausing production to drop a bag into a hot cup of water instantly revealed the color and infusion time and most important, the flavor imparted by the inclusions. After a sip, using a touch-screen panel he then adjusted the scales in the individual bins to deliver slightly more (or slightly less) of one or more ingredients.

Digital touch screen controls.

Digital touch screen controls.

“Traditional tea bag production pulls from single batch blends, which does not produce as consistent or flavorful a product,” said Mackness. “The Epanie delivers a consistent flavor profile and uniform appearance because each ingredient of the blend is apportioned by weight into the bag,” he said. The 1200 pound machine will bag up to 85 pyramids per minute, each containing up to 20 grams of inclusions.

Mackness said the machine is ideal for artisan tea blenders.

Flying Bird Botanicals founder Scout Urling agrees. The small family-run business in Bellingham, Wash., has developed recipes based on ancient herbal knowledge and wisdom. Organic ingredients, many of which are large and odd-shaped, are sourced in the Pacific Northwest. “Our intent is to provide products of comfort, therapy and efficacy all while creating a delicious cup of tea,” said Urling. “The new tea bags allow for the convenience of bags and the efficacy of loose tea,” she said.

Tasting formulation on the fly.

Full of goodness.

Motovotano promises to make the physics of blending tea less daunting and the process of creatively pairing tea and ingredients more fun. The company is seeking boutique teas, and restaurant, hospitality and grocery chains interested in private label product. Inland Packaging, Inc. is the manufacturer’s exclusive representative. To learn more about blending tea in real-time visit www.motovotano.com or email: james@motovotano.com.

Teavana Fine Tea + Tea Bar Opens in NYC

Teavana Fine Tea + Tea Bar

Teavana Fine Tea + Tea Bar opens Thursday in Manhattan’s upper east side.

MANHATTAN, New York  — Starbucks unveiled a comfortable, tea-focused Teavana Fine Tea + Tea Bar that dazzled local and national press Wednesday night.

The shop is a prototype for 1,000 North American locations, according to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. The Teavana tea bar is devoid of any Starbucks branding and does not serve coffee. However, Starbucks outlets in Atlanta are currently selling Teavana tins, a new line of Verismo capsules featuring Teavana chai and Teavana blends are replacing Tazo Tea on coffee shop menus at a price increase of about 50 cents per cup.

TEABIZ-LOGO_TeavanaFineTea+TeaBar_120pxTea Biz reporter Linnea Covington arrived at the pre-opening to discover a trendy store front at East 85th & Madison (in a residential neighborhood near Central Park), with a comfy, sophisticated ambiance and immense selection of loose leaf tea.

The shop is super sleek, though with muted purples, oranges, and greens, it almost like a yoga shop, according to Covington. There is a giant wall of tea in short canisters and a service area that is sleeker than a Starbucks with food behind a glass counter, like some pizza parlors display their by-the-slice pies.

It feels more like a to-go place, though the “leather” chairs are comfortable, she writes. The menu includes many loose leaf teas and a selection of sweet, consumer-friendly drinks.

TEABIZ-Teavana-lines of tea on the ceiling-by Linnea Covington_320pxThe most unique thing about the space is the tea ceiling, observes Covington. There are tubes filled with a hundred types of loose leaf tea in clear beams stretching across the lighting fixture, she said.

A half dozen carafes are displayed on a long light panel in the bar. Prepared teas are priced from $2.95 for 12 oz. to $4.95 for 16 oz. and rare teas are $6.95 for a teapot. Flights of teas are offered to encourage sampling.

Drink selections include Maharaja Chai, Youthberry + Wild Orange Blossom, Gyokuro Imperial, a Matcha Latte and Golden Monkey Black tea. Customers seeking dry tea weighed in pouches are separated from tea drinkers to speed transactions. There is cafe seating at tables and in thickly padded lounge chairs.

Charles Cain, left, heads Concept Development for Teavana's new stores.

Charles Cain, left, heads Concept Development for Teavana’s new stores.


Tea selections. Photo by Teavana.

Food is an important new addition with small plates, salads, flatbread sandwiches and pastries. A breakfast menu lists Chicken Sausage + Spinach Strata $5.95 and Bacon, Egg + Cheese Flatbread for $5.95 with Honeyed Granola $3.25 and Cage-free Hardboiled Eggs with tea-smoked salt $2.45.

There are sweets like Earl Grey Profiteroles and Lemon Thyme Macarons. Tea time for two is $14.95 to $17.95.

The store is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lighting, music, menu and mood are adjusted as the day progresses.

TEABIZ-Tea-inspired_SmallPlates_240pxDinner items include Mushroom + Kale Flatbread at $8.85 or a Four Cheese Flatbread with Parmesan, Provolone, Asiago and Fontina at $6.95. Fresh tossed salads include Glass Noodle Chicken Salad and Butternut Squash Couscous Salad $9.95.Click here to see entire menu: front and back.

By Linnea Covington

Wall display

The tea lounge is larger than Teavana’s 350 mall locations and designed to encourage customers to see and touch and ask about the tea. Dry tea is displayed next to the carafes while customers across the room are encouraged to sniff a tin from the tea wall. Wooden shelves with glass partitions show off the tea and teaware.

The neutral gray walls are accented with colorful display shelves with merchandise in gift boxes stacked on modern curved blonde wood tables. Tea wall tins were upgraded but retain the same bright color coding devised by Teavana to identify categories of tea. Wait staff is dressed in black caps and charcoal aprons with an orange Teavana logo.

By Linnea Covington

Teavana founder Andrew Mack and Naoko Tsunoda, Director of Tea Development.

“Americans have always have drunk tea,” said Naoko Tsunoda, Teavana’s Director of Tea Development. “At Teavana, we bring a higher quality of loose leave tea because customers are getting more sophisticated palates.”

Investors placed a $1 billion bet on tea retail in the past year, acquiring brands like Teavana (Starbucks) and Australia’s T2 (Unilever) following a 2012 round of venture capital investment in Canada’s DAVIDsTEA (Highland Consumer Fund) and private investment in Chicago-based Argo Tea (Terzian Enterprises).


CEO Howard Schultz. Photo by Teavana.

Earlier this summer Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told investors that “we are leveraging all of our unique internal assets – including our knowledge in creating best-in-class retail experiences and handcrafted beverages –  to create a premium tea experience for our customers, just as we have done for coffee.”

On Thursday Schultz told CNBC’s Jim Cramer that Teavana will “leapfrog internationally” with locations in Asia within the next couple of years.

The tea bar will establish a new breakfast occasion that is not based on speed of service, Schultz explained. Tea needs to be nurtured, taught and sampled, he said. Teavana’s higher average sale ($40 per transaction) means tea bars can emphasize service and spend more time with each customer, customizing tea, for example, or demonstrating merchandise.

Tea is a $90 billion global industry, twice the size of coffee that we strongly believe is ripe for innovation.”Tea is not a distraction, this is part of our core strategic plan,” he said.

“I love this concept and think it can drive long-term growth,” exclaimed Cramer.

The new format is likely to accelerate development of retail tea in the U.S. and globally where the growing affluence of the middle class and familiarity with tea combine to welcome America’s unique take on tea.

TEABIZ-TeavanaTeaBar_Exterior_320pxThe number of tea and specialty coffee outlets in the U.S. is static at 30,000. Coffee shops currently outnumber retail tea outlets 7.5:1. There was lots of churn and a net loss of 500 to 600 specialty coffee shops in the mix since 2009 due to consolidation and attrition. Led by chains, the number of tea retailers increased during the recession to approximately 4,000, according to the Tea Association of USA. The association reports 1,800 tea rooms in 2004. That count is comparable to the 1,650 specialty coffee shops operating in 1991. At that time most coffee shops were small chains and independents, much like tea retail today. In 1992, twenty years after its founding, Starbucks operated only 165 stores, with a growth rate comparable to Teavana.

A rapid influx of investment changed the game and by 2006 Starbucks was building 2,571 stores a year.

Raspberry and apricot cream scone.

Teavana pastries. Scone sell for $3.75.

A similar pattern is expected in specialty tea. Thousands of new tea shops are not going to suddenly appear. After all, more than half of the nation’s 4,000 tea outlets are small ventures, grossing less than $350,000 per year per store. Specialty tea merchants and tea rooms together grossed $1.43 billion in 2011, according to the Tea Association of the USA.

DAVIDsTEA is approaching 125 stores in the U.S. and Canada and Taiwan’s Ten Ren Tea operates 81 stores in seven countries with 23 shops in four U.S. states and six stores in Canada. Argo has opened 40 U.S. shops, earned $25 million in 2012 and plans to build 20 stores next year.

Teavana hot drinks include Coco Caramel Sea Salt Latte.

Teavana hot drinks include Coco Caramel Sea Salt Latte.

“By selecting only the finest premium loose leaf teas and botanicals to be sold in Teavana mall stores, Teavana has built a strong reputation among tea enthusiasts and introduced casual tea drinkers to new experiences in tea,” said Cliff Burrows, Starbucks group president, Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Teavana. “We are excited to work together to help create new and innovative ways to delight tea drinkers and continue growing the overall tea category in a variety of ways. The Teavana Tea Bar is a critical first step for us to meet the needs of tea drinkers everywhere by providing a place where tea enthusiasts and casual tea drinkers alike can learn about, enjoy and share in the tea experience.”

TEABIZ-Teavana-tea wall 04-by Linnea Covington_320pxStarbucks Chief Financial Officer Troy Alstead describes tea “at the core, in the heritage of Starbucks” yet tea represented only 8 percent of store sales in 2012.

“It was part of the original name of our company, Starbucks Coffee, Tea, and Spices, and yet it’s been a category that we have not put enough focus into.  We have a fantastic brand in Tazo, but we recognize we have opportunity both through our stores and through the CPG channels and globally to really reignite what tea means to us,” he said in a video interview with Motley Fool CEO Tom Gardner.

Teavana service bar offers the store's entire selection of loose leaf tea.

Teavana service bar offers the store’s entire selection of loose leaf tea. Photo by Teavana.

“Tea is wonderfully complementary to coffee. If you think about the U.S. consumer, coffee is about that morning experience. It’s get up and go, it’s moving fast, it’s on your way to work, it’s on the way to taking the kids to school. Coffee is more of a morning experience in the U.S.,” he said. “Tea is a slower, Zen-like experience for people. It tends to skew to the afternoon. It skews to the evening. It skews to the weekend.”

Will tea retail surpass the $41 billion earned globally at coffee shops?

Wall Street welcomed the expansion but Starbucks traded flat at $80 per share. Analyst Brian Sozzi, CEO of Belus Capital Advisors told Forbes that Teavana is unlikely to grow as large as Starbucks coffee.

“The bottom line is that in this day and age of frantic tech-driven lifestyles, people want to run on 100 milligrams of caffeine, and they will trade taste to make that happen,”said Sozzi.

Linnea Covington contributed photos and on scene reporting.

Need to Know (Oct. 21, 2013)

What you need to know to start the week.

  • Canada Coffee & Tea Show
  • World Tea East

Retail News

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Canadian consumer demand for coffee and tea continues to climb as evidenced by market research and the enthusiasm of attendees at the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show.

The show, managed by Fulcrum Media, attracted a big crowd Sunday to the Vancouver Convention Centre on the city’s spectacular waterfront. The venue shifts from Toronto to the West Coast annually. There were a dozen tea vendors among the 78 exhibitors on the show floor.

Sessions include “The Importance of Tea Training” and popular workshops like Le nez du thé (The Nose of Tea) and an advanced, hands-on tea blending class Sunday. The show continues today with a report on growth in the Canadian tea industry that Tea Biz will cover.

A session on making mixed drinks with tea drew a big crowd. Shabnam Weber with Tea Emporium, Toronto explains the basics.

Tea Emporium’s Shabnam Weber explains the basics of tea and spirits.

“Raise your Spirits” was a lively workshop and floor demonstration led by Shabnam Weber with Tea Emporium. The demonstration was sponsored by Spirits Canada. Shabnam taught the basics of mixology with samples for all in the crowd.

Specialty beverages in bars and restaurants made with tea are gaining popularity and are simple to make, she said.

Sandy McAlpine, president of the Canadian Coffee Association, said there are 8,500 coffee shops in the country of 34.8 million with 65 percent drinking coffee the previous day. Per capita consumption is among the highest in the world at 5.4 kilos (12 pounds) per year. About 50 percent of Canadians drink their coffee at home with 36.7 visiting retail shops for “mainstream coffee” and 6.3 percent drinking specialty coffee, with another 5 percent drinking their coffee at the office.

The food service mainstream coffee is critical to restaurant success and valued at $3.3 billion with specialty coffee exceeding $900 million in sales. Daily incidence of coffee drinking is 2 percent higher than tap water and well above the 36 percent who reported drinking tea the previous day.

McAlpine marveled at the rapid growth of single-serve coffee which had “virtually no role at home five years ago.” Single cup offerings now account for more than 40 percent of value and nearly 16 percent of volume with no sign of slowing, he said.


Michael Menashy, Tea Sparrow.

Michael Menashy had already signed a dozen subscribers to his Tea Sparrow online tea club by mid-afternoon. The Vancouver-based service currently offers 59 crowd-sourced teas narrowed from more than 780 submitted. The program launched last November and is approaching 500 members. Club members receive in the mail branded tea in several categories: green, black, rooibos and single-estate which is re-packaged. Club selections are from well-known suppliers such as Rishi Tea and TeaSpot. www.teasparrow.com

Key Café presents an interesting option for ancillary revenue. Clayton Brown explained that house owners can safely leave their house keys with local cafes via a secure online verification system useful to AirBnb vacationers and by local property managers. Café owners get a flat fee for making the keys available and benefit from increased traffic as individuals retrieve their keys. “The conversion is about 25 percent,” Brown explained, but the sample size is small (five cafes). Subscribers control access to their keys from a computer or mobile device and can let somebody into their home remotely from work or the beach.www.keycafe.com


Greg Lui, Black Tusk

Greg Lui with Black Tusk Trading in Vancouver displayed the company’s award-winning Majestic Earl Grey, an authentic Jasmine Pearl and his latest creation, “Cold Comfort” a blend of Echinacea and Japanese sensha, rosehip, lemon grass and hibiscus. www.blacktusk.biz

Coffee vendors predominate with all the major expresso equipment on display. Alfa Cappuccino, a distributor was demonstrating the Reneka R-80 Barissima 2-group multi-boiler espresso machine with with Aroma perfect and Micro Sieve and the latest in programmable features.

Vladimir Martinov demonstrates the latest Reneka Espresso machine from Alpha Cappuccino.

Vladimir Martinov demonstrates the latest Reneka Espresso machine from Alpha Cappuccino.

Models of the French-made machine sell for $19,000 to $24,000, according to sales representative Vladimir Martinov.

The Metropolitan Tea Company in Toronto is one of the largest tea suppliers in North America servicing 7,000 specialty retailers with a vast selection of teas and tea utensils and tea ware, according to Chris Clark. www.metrotea.com

Sara Kadowaki of Sara's Caddies describes her favorite tea with Sameer Pruthee of Tea Affair, Calgary. Sameer likes Japanese Sencha, he says, Sara likes Chai.

Sara Kadowaki of Sara’s Caddies describes her favorite tea with Sameer Pruthee of Tea Affair, Calgary. Sameer likes Japanese Sencha, he says, Sara likes Chai.

Tea fans gathered for an evening cocktail party where one topic is always style and flavor favorites. Sameer Pruthee of Tea Affair noted his desire for daily Sensha and Sara Kadowaki of Sara’s Caddies, a supplier of fine Japanese tea, admitted a fondness for Indian chai.

Learn more at www.coffeeteashow.ca

World Tea East

ATLANTA, Ga. – The tea retail community is gathered at the Georgia Convention Center for the third World Tea East. The event, which continues through Tuesday, attracted several hundred attendees from as far as Brazil and South Africa, but most were regional retailers. There were 35 exhibitors.

George Jage, Group Director of F+W Media’s The Beverage Group, said that “World Tea East got off to a strong start despite the challenge of a NFL football game being held next door. With only 25% of the registered buyers braving the traffic and parking complications, exhibitors were pleased with the first day results,” he said.

Leading tea retailer, Teavana, had several people on the floor and engaging with many of the top suppliers, reports Jage.

The event is known for a quality educational program that includes a two-day New Business Boot Camp. Popular activities include tastings of the prize-winning tea from the North American Tea Championship.

Presenter Jane Pettigrew said academic and training sessions were well attended. Her class had 17. She reports vendors commented on “good interest and sales” and said that 30 attended the boot camp “some of whom have a great deal of knowledge and have travelled quite a bit to origins.”

Highlights include:

  • A workshop by Jonas Feliciano and Elizabeth Friend, analysts at Euromonitor International, on global tea branding revealed over-saturation in the tea industry has led manufacturers to change the context in which tea is being consumed, rather than driving incremental tea demand. The trend means packaged tea sold in modern retail shops is growing at the expense of unpackaged tea sold in traditional markets. To differentiate premium tea from commodity, manufacturers stress functionality and convenience. They predicted growth of tea-themed shops as the next wave in modern chained cafés, using the third-place benefit to draw tea-drinkers out of their homes. The U.S. is now the world’s fourth in value at $2.1 billion, trailing China $9.5 billion; Japan $4.7 billion and Russia $3.7 billion.
  • “Vino Teano & Tea Lagers” a session featuring wine- and beer-enhancing tea sachets led by Capital Teas founder Peter Martino and his colleague Nkaiso Akpabio, vice president of retail operations.
  • Japanese matcha supplier AOI announced the company was awarded a Food Safety Certification (FSSC) 22000, a new global food safety standard for food manufacturing from the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), recognized by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union (CIAA). Learn more: http://www.aoimatcha.com

This year’s event was co-located with the Atlanta Foodservice Expo, a tradeshow that features kitchen equipment, technology systems, restaurant services and foodservice tools. The impact of the co-location with the Atlanta Foodservice Expo was highly apparent with a lot of chef coats in the aisles at World Tea East and in the NATC Winners Tasting Circle tasting the best teas of 2013,” according to Jage.

Tea Biz incorrectly reported that during the show Devan Shah, founder of International Tea Importers was awarded the Cha Jing Award for Lifetime Achievement. The Award ceremony was postponed until May 2014 where it will be held a World Tea Expo, Long Beach, Calif.

Friday Roundtable: Ready for the Weekend?

Here in the U.S., many of us are heading into Columbus Day weekend. It has me thinking about how our tea drinking habits change from day to day. During the week, if you work in an office, your tea preparation facilities may be limited (or you have developed some innovative systems which we’ll have to talk about another day.) As you approach longer days at home, you may be looking forward to making use of teaware that is part of your home routine.

Of course, given that many of you are in the tea business, you may be heading into a weekend that will be busy with vacationers, tourists, and people with some extra time (and hopefully money) to spend heading into your shop.

I know that my tea drinking becomes far less utilitarian once I reach the weekend. I have some extra hands around the house to help with the kids and fewer activities to be rushing kids to. I take the opportunity to bring out the yixing and enjoy the beauty of the many, many infusions of a good oolong.

How does YOUR tea drinking routine change between the week and the weekend?

Friday Roundtable: Water, water everywhere

Welcome to the Friday Roundtable, where we want to hear about your tea experience. Each week we present a topic that affects us all as tea business owners and tea consumers. Let’s talk tea.

This week we’re thinking about water. The importance of water cannot be underestimated when it comes to tea preparation. Too hot and you’ve boiled your greens. Too cool and you’ve left the complex flavors sitting in your pile of tea leaves. Too many minerals in the water and you’ve dulled the taste. “Dead” water, that’s been boiled multiple times, is also said to ruin the taste.

There are many questions we could have asked about this topic. For example, we could have asked you to confess to your propensity to microwave your water (shame, shame). Instead, we wanted to ask about how you ensure you have the best quality water.

Some tea makers will only utilize bottled water, an expensive prospect for heavy tea drinkers. There are purifiers in pitcher form like Brita and PUR. There are advanced models that are plumbed into your pipes. Newer versions, like Brondell’s H20+ Cypress, aim to reduce the plumbing challenges by sitting on the countertop and connecting to the faucet.

I’ve tried all of these methods. How about you? What is your preferred way of obtaining high quality water for your tea?