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Specialty Tea Is Brewing into a Piping Hot Category

Although it can sometimes seem like coffee’s younger sibling, the tea category has been stepping up and making a name for itself in creative and interesting ways.

E-commerce startup Vahdam Teas, an Indian company that cuts the supply chain down by selling fresh teas online, recently received $2.5 million in Series B funding from Fireside Ventures, reported Tech Crunch (Oct. 1). The investment will be geared toward growth in the U.S. and other global markets.

Vahdam, Teabox and other online tea companies are aiming to redesign the way people consume and buy tea by massively cutting the time between picking and drinking. The process usually takes 9 to 12 months as product is kept in warehouses. Now, the new standard is freshly-kept teas that can go from plantation to home in as few as 10 days depending on harvest time.

This is due to temperature-controlled storage and the efficiencies of e-commerce. For consumers, these digital tea sellers offer not just fresher teas, but an easy way to buy a premium selection that may be otherwise tough to find.

Boba Guys, a chain of bubble-tea cafes, started as a San Francisco area pop-up in 2011 and now has 12 stores across the U.S., reported The New York Times (Sept. 14). Plans are to add three more by the end of 2018.

The company already made its own infusions and syrups to go with the tea leaves they imported from China, Taiwan and Japan, but now Boba Guys is making the tapioca pearls used for bubble tea from scratch as well.

It turned out that the industrial machinery used by factories in Taiwan, which produce most of the tapioca pearls for bubble tea, also known as boba, was expensive, so Boba Guys decided to open a tapioca-pearl plant of their own earlier in 2018. US Boba Co., an 18,000-sq. ft. factory in Hayward, CA, is a joint business venture with Fanale Drinks, a bubble-tea supplier.

The rising tide of cold brew is spilling into the tea category as well, with Cooper Tea Co. recently introducing a cold-brew tea concentrate specifically for the commercial foodservice industry. At Cooper Tea’s Colorado microbrewery, the tea steeps in cold water for hours before being packaged into shelf-stable, 32-oz. miniature milk jugs. The process is meant to help produce a more smooth flavor profile.

B.W. Cooper’s Organic Cold Brew Tea 11:1 Concentrate does not require any on-site brewing or specialized equipment, and retailers just need to mix the product with water to make 1-, 2- or 3-gal. batches. The cold brew tea is USDA-certified organic and is minimally processed, only made up of black tea and water. Barry W. Cooper, the company’s founder and certified tea master, selected the teas used in the proprietary blend.

Keep an eye out to see how other specialty tea companies will react to Vahdam Teas, Boba Guys and Cooper Tea Co.’s latest innovations in the category.