It notes in its 2015 State of the US Tea Industry market review that sales of tea in the US in 2015 grew around 4-5% overall, and is expected to continue to grow at a compound annual rate of 5-6% in the next five years.
One of the major drivers of this growth is specialty tea, sales of which the trade group says are increasing 8-10%.
“Consumers, particularly Millennials, are becoming more engaged with products as they find delight in the discovery of new and differentiated flavors, ethnic or new cultural offerings such as craft selections,” according to the trade association. “Specialty tea sits in the bullseye of their target.”
Specialty teas, which are loose leaf teas and botanicals blended based on different cultures around the world are “riding along the same lines” as the third wave coffee and craft beer movements, which took off in the early 2000s, agreed Jeffrey Champeau, brand marketing manager at tea marketer Rishi.
He also noted that consumer interest in specialty teas is driven by their desire for products that offer appealing flavors but also added function and health benefits for the mind and body.
Turmeric and matcha are rising stars
Within the specialty tea category, Champeau sees significant growth potential among organic teas as well as those made with turmeric and matcha.
“Turmeric is certainly one of the hottest trends of the past one or two years in the tea market, at the food market overall really. It is so interesting because it’s a root that is related to ginger that’s growing all over Southeast Asia,” where the population has made herbal tonics, teas and concoctions with for thousands of years.
“It’s so cool to see the consumer market rediscovering this ancient wonder,” he added, noting that Rishi is making turmeric available in its new Turmeric Ginger Chia Concentrate, which “is a microbrew botanical elixir made with turmeric and ginger and lemon and is used as a versatile mixer” for refreshing tonics and cocktails.
Consumers particularly are drawn to the ingredient's energizing but naturally caffeine-free properties as well as its anti-inflammatory benefits derived from the curcumin in the ingredient.
Matcha continues to gather steam
“Matcha is the other really hot trend in tea right now,” Champeau said, explaining that it is a stone-ground powdered green tea.
Matcha is different from other teas in that people consume the entire tea leaf, rather than just an infusion from the leaf. As a result, Champeau said, “you get all of the energy, all of the antioxidants, all of the benefits of green tea” from the beverage.
Calling matcha to the “espresso of tea,” Champeau added that the beverage is “an awesome energy booster” and ideal for people looking to wean off coffee.
Nourishing tonics on the horizon
While turmeric and matcha are leading the pack for now, Rishi always is watching for the next big thing in tea. In this regard it has its eye on two emerging trends: season blends and savory, nourishing tonics, Champeau said.
He explained that at Rishi’s headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisc., the staff in the training and herbal research labs constantly experiment with new ingredients.
This winter the staff created a blend inspired by the Italian digestivo Amari, which showcased saffron from Afghanistan, cardamom and different aromatic herbs. The blend was a warming, soothing after-dinner tea ideal for cold winter nights after heavy meals, Champeau said.
He also noted that Rishi is working on “nourishing tonics” made with powdered mushrooms as the base.
“You can brew it like tea … or it could be a soup stock” that consumers can sip on similar to how increasingly popular bone broth is enjoyed, he said.
The company’s innovation illustrates that specialty teas can at once be based on ancient wisdom and tradition, and still meet the evolving trends that tempt today’s modern consumer.