Business World


A Broader Term for Tea

Before my involvement in the industry, tea was a straightforward, uncomplicated product. It came in the form of a teabag, was a suitable alternative for caffeine-addicted coffee drinkers and had three main variations: green, flavored and “regular.” But as the popularity of tea increased (along with consumer’s desire for more information), the category of “tea” become more and more vague.

In my curiousity, I looked up the definition of tea, to find its primary meaning to be: “a shrub (Camellia sinensis of the family Theaceae, the tea family) cultivated especially in China, Japan and the East Indies.” Therefore, “tea” would encompass both Orthodox and CTC, green, white, oolong and black varieties; in teabag and loose leaf form.

Before we all nod our heads in agreement, it is important to note the second definition of “tea” I discovered, which stated: “an aromatic beverage prepared from leaves by infusion with boiling water.” So does this now mean that all herbs, flowers, plants, etc steeped in hot water to create a beverage could be considered tea? As you may have learned through articles in Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, there are other bushes, plants and shrubs, that when steeped, create a palette pleasing taste and supply a host of nutritional benefits. South American mate, for example (see pg. 24, April 2010), does not stem from the camellia sinesis plant. Is this just another form of tea? Would this be considered mate tea? I guess it depends on which definition of tea one decides to acknowledge. In this issue, we also discuss the new trends of Red Bush, or Rooibos tea (see pg. 52). Also coming from a completely different plant, how could we categorize such a product?

While personally I believe camellia sinesis has earned the right to call itself the one true “tea,” while the others can claim the term “infusion,” I believe this is still a valid, if not controversial, debate. How can “infusions” then market their products efficiently? Should they not be able to use the term “tea” on the packaging? If we cannot get our definitions straight within the industry, how will we ever expect the consumer to understand the differentiation?

Despite categorization or classification there is still a place for all “teas” and “infusions” on the market. The key is knowing how to promote them.

Alexis Rubinstein

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Tea & Coffee - May, 2010

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