Tea talk

The tea has evolved from its Asian roots and the status of being the only iced beverage at backyard barbecues. Thanks to marketing-savvy brands that target millennials, the versatile drink is thriving. The liquid is also being re-appreciated for its health benefits and the vast possibilities of flavor combinations. This has boosted its cool factor up to the level of wine and coffee. Here are the top trends for the year.

Tea is a hip thing in China.

China, which is the largest tea exporter in the world, is undergoing a cultural change. Thanks to pioneers like HeyTea and the Guangdong brand that inspired the cheese-tea phenomenon, tea is no longer the beverage of your parents. Shanghai opened the largest Starbucks roastery in the world last year. This reflected a global coffee craze that was sweeping urban youth. HeyTea, which had a similar marketing and branding style aimed at China’s social-media-savvy millennials, was right behind it.

Businesses in China only began to realize the power of the millennials a year or so ago. Jenny Zheng of Little Fluffy Head in Los Angeles tells JWT Intelligence that no one in the industry had ever done this type of marketing before HeyTea.

The Chinese malls are flooded with boutique tea brands that cater to the needs of young consumers. These include interior designs suitable for Instagram, natural ingredients, fun branding, and the ability to stir up excitement.

The millennial strategy is also being adopted by mass-market imported teas that have been in China for years. Lipton, for instance, collaborated recently with independent Chinese fashion designer Angel Chen to create a streetwear-inspired fashion line, which was then spread via social media by a local A-list celebrity.

Cheese Tea Experimentalists

Startups such as Boba Guys, based in California and New York, have been leading the charge to transform the bubble tea culture. The cheese tea craze also hit the United States at the end of last year, and it operates on the same principles. Zheng believes there is still a lot of work to do to explain the strange flavor to Westerners. This is why her brand experiments with toppings. Its creme brulee topped with Oreos is sweeter and more popular than the other cream and cheese options.

She says that this concept is new to most Americans. “It sounds bad, so we have a hard time entering this market.”

Boba Guys, a San Francisco-based company, introduced oat milk by Oatly, a high-quality alternative to whole milk. In the milk tea market, options like organic and vegan dairy milk are being presented.

Tea and Tech

The tea bag is no longer the last word. Co-op Food, a UK-based company, is launching plastic-free tea bags in 2018. But it’s not only environmentally unfriendly. Smart kitchen startups promise to deliver appliances that will brew the perfect tea with an app or algorithm. Teamosa is one of the most active companies in the market. It was launched on Kickstarter at the end of 2017 and boasts that it can “customize strength and flavor for every brew” – ensuring each cup is made to perfection. Teforia is its only competitor and folded last year after receiving press attention with its $400 smart tea infuser. Teforia acknowledged that it did not have the money to “educate” the market. Only time will tell if these gadgets take off.


In the tea industry, health and wellness are a constant influence. Kombucha, a fermented beverage, is one of the most popular drinks this year. Some brands have become more creative, while others have made it more mainstream. Martin Papp of Papp’s Tea in Beijing has been promoting raw kombucha not only as a healthier alternative to alcohol but also as a tasty mixer with alcohol. Martin Papp has created cocktails like kombucha-tequila that include a hint of lemon juice, osmanthus, and red dates, a favorite of traditional Chinese medicine.

Papp believes that kombucha is the preferred soda replacement in many countries because it contains fewer sugars and calories and has an abundance of probiotics. He says that as Chinese consumers move to healthier and higher-quality products, the unhealthy cheese cream teas will be revealed.

The use of herbs and botanicals that are beneficial to health is another trend in this field. They can be used as active ingredients or simply as an alternative to alcohol. Google’s 2017 beverage trends report highlights turmeric, an anti-inflammatory, rose hips that are rich in vitamin C, and earthy matcha. These have been steadily increasing in popularity over the past three years. Tea Bar, Portland, Oregon’s fourth location, uses all three ingredients. It sources them from local family farms and grinds or whisks them fresh on demand.

Pure techniques

This technique has been used for cold-brewed coffee and juice, but now it is being applied to tea. The smoother taste is appealing to drinkers. Not only are they available as ready-to-drink, but distributors like Joyride Coffee in New York City are experimenting with the processes and flavors. Joyride Coffee will introduce cold-brew and nitro-infused matcha teas to their keg lineup this year. They claim to be the first company to use the method. Specialty tea buyer Danielle Hochstetter told World of Tea that while brands like Boba Guys had introduced nitro-infused teas a few years ago, nitro varieties are likely to continue gaining momentum in tea boutiques.

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