National Restaurant Association

National Restaurant Association

Tea exhibitors whet palates of Show-goers

Dan Richards

May 23, 2005

The market for premium coffee may be rising, but several tea exhibitors at the 2005 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show believe their segment is "exploding." 

The Republic of Tea is using its booth at the NRA Show to market its new 16.9-ounce glass bottles of teas, which come in flavors such as ginger peach. Republic of Tea is not selling this product at retail stores and company "minister of travel" Stuart Gold believes tea should be treated like wine, and is thus marketing the product that way. Gold refers to the different "varietals" of tea the company offers, and says it allows operators to "sell a non-alcoholic beverage at an alcoholic price." The Republic of Tea also markets such products as tea oil and tea honey. 

At The Metropolitan Tea Company, senior tea master John Chaffey sees enormous potential in high-end loose-leaf tea. While his company sells about 100 types of tea by the bag, it sells about 500 types of loose-leaf teas, mostly to independent tea shops, high-end restaurants, hotels and spas. Chaffey believes tea drinkers are becoming more educated about the drink, and its potential health benefits, and are demanding higher quality tea. "Everything is basically selling," he says. "Tea is extremely hot." Chaffey sees especially high potential in a ground-up Japanese green tea called Matcha. Although operators pay a higher price for Matcha, he says the tea produces a higher yield because the entire leaf is ground up. Chaffey believes Matcha-based drinks may become the drink of choice for coffee drinkers since these teas provide increased awareness without a "come-down" effect.

Ahmed Rahim, the CEO of Numi Organic, believes that in addition to growing awareness of tea quality, tea drinkers are becoming more aware of the source of their tea. He started his company about five years ago with his sister and sells only whole-leaf, organic teas that are certified as Fair Trade. At this year's NRA Show, Numi is touting its line of flowering teas -- bundled tea leaves that "flower" when placed in hot water -- which Rahim says enhances the experience of drinking tea. Numi markets its teas to high-end markets, where consumers are "unafraid to pay for quality."

Mighty Leaf Tea Company believes the demand for high-end tea will expand beyond beverages. The exhibitor offers a larger pouch of tea mixed with lavender and salt that users can place in their bath for a relaxing, tea-enhanced aromatic experience. CEO Gary Shinner envisions this product taking off at spas and hotels, possibly even being included for sale in a hotel mini-bar or as a complimentary gift for guests. The spa pouch comes in the same artisan-crafted pouch as all of Mighty Leaf products, according to Shinner.