“We've made a major stride into the future of beverage and the evolution of our brand,” said Max Rivest, CEO and co-founder at Wize Tea, the world’s first coffee leaf tea company.
Five years ago, the Vancouver-based firm (originally called Wize Monkey) had five dry coffee leaf flavors and retail placements across Canada and the US. It had already received the Best New Product Award at the 2015 World Tea Expo and Best Mission-Based Product at the 2017 Natural Products Expo West show, along with multiple prizes for innovation.
In 2020, however, it decided to retrench after its rapid expansion to refocus on the Canadian market and the launch of its ready-to-drink iced tea, which is lightly caffeinated with 4g sugar per can.
“The seasonality and niche aspect of dry tea was difficult to survive off of on its own, and we knew that we needed to make the coffee leaf concept easy to deliver and more consistent for consumers to create a healthy habit,” Rivest added.
Following a feeling
The idea for Wize’s low-sugar, antioxidant-rich iced tea all started with a caffeine overdose and a graduate school project in France.
“I overdosed on coffee in 2013 working and studying intense hours,” Rivest told Food Navigator-USA, adding that the timing coincided with an assignment for his entrepreneurship class with fellow student and Wize co-founder Arnault Petitvallet.
“We discovered a study about the health benefits of the coffee leaf and found out that coffee farmers were discarding excess leaves in the nine-month off-season,” he explained.
“We had a hunch that if we took traditional tea crafting techniques to the coffee leaf, we could make something really tasty.”
And so, they set out on a mission to “think outside the bean” and create a sustainable better-for-you beverage brewed from upcycled coffee leaves. Health benefits from the leaves’ mangiferin, chlorogenic acids, ECGC (the miracle molecule in green tea) and theobromine compounds have been shown to confer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and metabolism-boosting effects.
In search of a coffee leaf supplier, a three-month backpacking trip through Nicaragua led them to Enrique Ferrufino and the Sabio Coffee estate (sabio translates to wise in English). Ferrufino, a third-generation coffee farmer, was immediately taken by idea and signed on as the third Wize co-founder.
Now, Wize is preparing to add a fifth iced tea to its second line – a collection of colorfully-branded cans filled with a “clean, refreshing pick-me-up” infused with grapefruit, lemon, mango and sparkling mango flavors (ingredients: water, brewed arabica coffee leaves, sugar cane, lemon juice, carbon dioxide, natural mango flavor; 20 calories, 4g sugar per can).
“Our first sparkling product has been an absolute hit, so it feels like we're naturally tapping a vein for healthy sparkling beverages that aren't just water,” Rivest added. “I believe we'll follow that feeling and see where it takes us.”
Wize has just moved into Toronto retailers and plans to expand into the US market year beyond online sales through Amazon.
Extending the season
Having Ferrufino as co-founder means that Wize has been able to create a vertically integrated company from “earth to cup” that extends the growing season and income for the Sabio Coffee estate and its workers (coffee beans are only harvested from around December to March or early April, so farmers can only make an income for three to four months of the year, whereas coffee leaves can generate income all year around and are less resource intensive).
“Every can of iced tea generates two minutes of off-season employment, so it's hyper direct and measurable,” Rivest explained.
“In fact, since 2016, we've generated over 100,000 hours of off-season employment for his workers. It's not some fluff marketing bogus; it's as tangible and real as it gets.”
Earthy, slightly sweet, and not as bitter as regular green or black tea, coffee leaf tea has the body and full flavor of black tea without the bitterness, according to Wize Tea.
Interested in low- and no-sugar beverage trends?
Tune into our FREE webinar on July 26 at 11am CT hosted by Mary Ellen Shoup and featuring:
- Manos Eleftheriou, US Managing Director, Green Cola
- Ben Goodwin, Co-founder & Formulator, OLIPOP
- Eran Blachinsky, PhD, MBA, CEO and Co-Founder, Better Juice
- Howard Telford, Head of Soft Drinks, Euromonitor International