Turning over a new leaf
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
CHANGE IS BREWING Harney & Sons’s
pyramid-shape pouches hold longer tea leaves.
Tea’s Got a Brand New Bag
By FLORENCE FABRICANT
Published: September 13, 2006
THE tea bag, a clever enough idea at first, went terribly awry somewhere along the way, at least in the view of people who love to savor their tea. Now it is in the process of large-scale reinvention, and some of those who currently shun it with almost ostentatious disdain are very likely to be won over.
At age 100 or so, the old bag is increasingly being filled with fine whole leaf tea, the kind connoisseurs brew in their teapots, and the bag itself has been redesigned in shapes that are not only elegant but constructed to allow those flavorful leaves to show what they’ve got.
With tea sales in the United States now four times what they were a decade ago — about $6.2 billion annually, according to the Tea Association of the USA, a trade group — the American tea drinker seems ready for a change for the better.
The change, some say, is overdue. Look closely at a conventional tea bag in your cupboard or in the paper cup from the local deli. Chances are that instead of leaves it is filled with indistinguishable bits, the detritus left after tea leaves are sifted and graded. The tea industry calls it dust, and the beverage it makes is likely to be rusty-looking and often bitterly tannic. But it no longer has to be, nor is it necessary to brew a whole pot of tea to achieve something better tasting.
Perhaps the surest sign that the tea world is changing is this: Lipton, the world’s largest tea company and a division of Unilever, will start selling tea bags containing long leaf teas in supermarkets nationwide next month.
Instead of paper, the leaves will be enveloped by nylon mesh bags in a delicate pyramid shape.
Lipton is following the lead of American businesses like Harney & Sons, Mighty Leaf, Adagio and the Highland Tea Company, which for several years have sold tea bags filled with high-quality full-leaf teas, ones with complex, often floral, herbaceous, spicy or fruity nuances.
Smelling a trend, new companies, like Revolution Tea, Numi Tea, Two Leaves and a Bud, and Tea Forté, have formed expressly to sell fine teas in tea bags. Harrisons & Crosfield, from England, and the luxury Parisian tea purveyors Le Palais des Thés and Mariage Frères have also introduced tea bags.
“We decided to put some of our teas in tea bags because that’s the way most people drink tea,” said Wanja Michuki, the president of the Highland Tea Company, in Montclair, N.J., which sells fine teas from Kenya, the leading exporter of tea worldwide.
James Wong, a Unilever vice president and general manager of Lipton, in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said the company’s research showed that “every consumer is becoming a gourmand.’’
“They want long leaf tea, but they can be intimidated by buying and brewing it,” he said. “We saw an opportunity to simplify it, making it convenient and accessible, and it’s appealing to new consumers as well as tea lovers.”
Lipton’s new line, called Pyramid, took the company two years to develop. It offers six varieties of long leaf tea, all but one flavored with bits of dried fruit or other seasonings. Only Black Pearl, a black tea blend, is unflavored.
“Consumers have reacted positively to the flavorings,” said John Cheetham, Lipton’s Royal Estates tea master, who selects and blends teas. “And we have Black Pearl to appeal to the purist.”
Good tea is like good coffee, a luxury to be savored. It's also very hard to find. Starbucks has some abomination they call tea, but you have to hunt down boutiques to get a real cup of tea. Ridiculous. If you're lucky, you can go to Juan Valdez in the city and get a decent cup, and Chock Full of Nuts is still on 32nd and 6th in the park. But tea, real tea, is nearly impossible to find in a normal restaurant.
Yes, I like whole leaf tea, but it does become tiresome to make when you just want a cup of tea for your Pop Tarts.
posted by Steve @ 12:15:00 AM