This month we had the opportunity to appear in Fresh Cup Magazine, a trade publication for specialty coffee and tea professionals. The topic? Right up our alley, of course: Quality bagged tea, and why serving tea in sachets results in a delightful combination of superior tea and convenience. Read the text in full here, or view the digital version of our article on this link.
Reclaiming the Convenience of Single Serve Tea
By Naomi Havlen
Pity the poor tea bag. Once beloved and regarded as ingenious upon its accidental invention approximately 110 years ago, the mention of tea in a convenient, ready-to-be-steeped package has become the anathema of self-proclaimed tea purists around the world. "Tea bags are gross—loose is the only way to go" is the sort of righteous proclamation you can find saturating tea blogs.
What's a well-meaning tea company to do if it wants to offer consumers the convenience of pre-packaged tea, paired with the highest-quality tea available in whole-leaf form?
Go ahead and scoff at our idealism, but at two leaves tea company™ we accept this challenge with pleasure. Since 2004, our company has been peddling real, whole-leaf tea in pyramid-shaped sachets made of cornstarch-based nylon to anyone who will listen. Who else to better demonstrate that you can take an extraordinarily good cup of tea with you, when you're heading out the door to take a hike or go for a bike ride, than a bunch of tea fanatics who live in the mountains of Colorado?
Our story is a simple one: Owner and founder Richard Rosenfeld was traveling the world for his housewares importing business and spent plenty of time in Southeast Asia, where doing business over a cup of tea is the usual order. He liked what he drank during those business meetings but had a difficult time finding tea he enjoyed when he got back to the States. While paper tea bags of inferior tea are ubiquitous, whole-leaf tea in its loose form isn't the best choice for someone who's always on the go but still wants to consume plenty of his favorite beverage, let alone prepare it properly.
"I was bringing loose teas back home, and I rapidly realized how difficult it is to brew a good cup of tea, even from good loose tea," Rosenfeld says. Yet, he couldn't turn to the substandard tea sold in paper tea bags.
Tea bags weren't always so scrutinized. Tea and coffee sop merchant Thomas Sullivan of New York first successfully marketed paper tea bags in 1904; he meant for the loose tea to be removed from the small pouches before steeped in hot water, and yet his customers found that the tea would still steep, and quite neatly, when dunked directly into hot water, bag and all.
It was, it turns out, just another convenience-minded invention—like microwaves and Post-it notes—that helped shape the quick-moving consumer society of today.
To be sure, tea bags deserve their fair share of a bad rap. Those small paper envelopes contain fragments of tea leaves—often referred to as "dust tea"—that quickly steep strong tea but abandon all promise of a cuppa made from tea leaves left whole, allowed to unfurl at leisure with a full, multi-toned flavor profile.
Enter the pyramid shaped tea "sachet." ("Tea tetrahedron" sounds decidedly nerdy; I suppose it makes sense that it never caught on.) This larger portable packet of tea was relatively new technology when Rosenfeld decided to begin his own tea company. He first met sachets in the 1990s in Japan, where tea was prepared and served in these pyramid-shaped bags. With such a package to hold larger tea leaves, the tea expanded fully when placed in hot water, infusing a cup with a more nuanced, layered tea taste. Not unlike wine, it's tea that presents your tongue with top and middle tasting notes, and a finish to round the whole cup out.
"The thing we tend to forget—from consumer to producer—is that it's all about the tea inside the bag," Rosenfeld says. "There's so much marketing noise around, and people get so wrapped up in packaging."
The pyramid bag is a concept whose time has come. "There has been a revolution in tea packaging in the past 10 to 12 years," Rosenfeld says. "There hasn't always been this kind of focus on tea quality. Some major companies have launched ranges of tea sachets and then discontinued them. I believe it's because the tea inside the sachet wasn't good. Consumers are really looking for a better cup of tea."
The upscale variety of the tea bag broke through a new barrier recently at the 2012 North American Tea Championship, where the "Packaged Single Service Tea" category was added to the annual competition. According to the organization's sales and marketing director, Kim Jage, "We believe that single-portion packaged tea is evolving and is no longer viewed as an impediment to a good cup of tea."
Mike Spillane, an industry veteran, North American Tea Championship judge and president of loose-leaf purveyor The G.S. Haly Company, says while loose leaf is still his first choice, pyramids are his preferred tea-bag option. "They present a greater selection, and you have a higher chance of getting a specialty tea because it holds whole leaf, unlike the traditional flat-packed tea bags," he says.
Jage admits she's had a good cup of tea that was brewed from a tea bag or sachet, and she's had a bad cup of tea brewed from loose leaves. Quick, somebody alert the blogosphere.
But all sarcasm aside (at least for a moment), sourcing the highest-quality whole-leaf tea from gardens around the world for a sachet full of tea is no less complicated than finding quality loose-leaf tea. The pyramid bag is a symbol of quality in its own right, and Rosenfeld says he has watched plenty of tea drinkers convert from loose tea to sachets over the years. "People who are absolutely dedicated to loose tea have begun grabbing sachets of our tea when they're on the go—as in, 'It's what I drink when I'm traveling,'" he says.
Early on, Rosenfeld thought his business might be loose leaf only, but an employee of his who was a former barista continually said, "Loose tea clogs the pipes." He laughs at that memory now, but he says it's utterly true—American convenience-driven consumerism will lead people to drop $5 for a cup of coffee, but it's harder to get people to linger in a tea shop with a large staff, where a wide selection of loose tea is properly prepared. "There is absolutely a home for loose tea if you can serve and produce it well," Rosenfeld says.
For all of the rest of us, there are whole-leaf tea sachets. Bottoms up.