Tea is a popular ingredient that can be used in iced-teas, spirits, tonics, energy drinks and kombucha. The ready-to-drink (RTD) tea category is worth $4.5 billion a year globally and is growing. Last year Mintel reported: “79% of US adults drink tea, 60% drink RTD options, and 49% drink bagged/loose-leaf varieties.” Convenience, health claims and price are drivers for the rise in purchases of RTD options. The RTD market currently comprises: 57.7% black tea, 22.5% green and white tea and 19.8% herbal tea, according to IBIS world’s April 2017 report – RTD Tea Production in the US.
We look at some of the different types of tea that can be added to RTD tea-based beverages and what varieties can be found where:
China is known as the home of tea and has 2,649,840 hectares of tea planted. This accounts for 18.5% of the world exports. Varieties include: Black, White, Green, Yellow, Oolong and Pu-erh tea.
Zhejiang is the most famous region for Green tea, yet also produces small quantities of black teas. The region is hilly with a subtropical climate, located on the east coast of China, just north of Fujian which makes it ideal for the production of Long Jing (also called Dragon Well) and Gunpowder Green teas. Green tea is an ideal ingredient for energy drinks owing to its natural and impressive health benefits.
Anxi County is the tea capital of China, located in the southern Fujian region. It is known for producing a wide array of Oolong teas like Tieguanyin, a premium variety of Oolong with a floral and fresh flavour profile. Oolongs create a great base for RTD beverages due to its varied taste profile, ranging from light to full bodied and sweet and toasty notes.
India exports more than 12% of the world's tea, with 566,660 hectares under cultivation. The country is known for its Black tea production, particularly Assam and Darjeeling varieties. Darjeeling is often referred to as the Champagne of teas, owing to its light and delicate flavour. The tea is grown in the Darjeeling region in West Bengal in the foothills of the Himalayas. Indian terroir surrounded by Himalayan peaks, combined with Chinese genetics has crafted a complex and luxurious tea with flavours of honey and muscatel.
Assam tea is named after its region of production (Assam Tea Garden) and is the world’s largest tea-plantation area, covering over 216,200 hectares. It is grown by the sea, which gives the leaves a rich body and strong bright colour. The leaves are generally harvested twice a year from March to October (first and second flush).
India is also known for its Chai teas which are often made from Assam and Darjeeling Black tea, blended with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and clove. Chai tea is popular in the RTD category, acting as a bridge between new tea consumers as well as satiating the tastes of regular tea consumers being formulated into cold brews, shakes, coffees and even chai flavoured kombuchas.
Altitude plays a part in the flavour of the tea. In Sri Lanka, tea is planted between 3,000 - 8,000 feet. The effect of altitude can play an important factor in the flavour of tea with the higher the altitude, the more delicate and refined the flavour. This may appeal to more discerning tea drinkers who enjoy a softer and rounded flavour profile. However, altitude, location can ultimately have an effect on price. Cost can also be influenced by the variety, harvesting method, yield, the market demand and which cycle of the harvest.
Ceylon Black tea is one of Sri Lanka’s most common tea which is used as a base around the world for Earl Grey tea and other fruit infused teas. White Ceylon and Green Ceylon are also produced in Sri Lanka. The green variety is mainly grown in the Uva Province and the White is cultivated from either the Green or Black tea plant.