After water, tea is the second most consumed beverage globally. But tea drinking historically has lagged in the U.S., even though it may hold the Asian secret to longevity and good health.
As July 4 approaches, one can't help but reflect that a tax on tea in the Colonies was the impetus for our rebellion from Great Britain in 1776. In Tea Lover's Treasury, author James Norwood Pratt relates this story: En route to sign the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote his wife Abigail that he asked at a tavern, "Is it lawful for a weary traveler to refresh himself with a dish of tea, provided it has been honestly smuggled and has paid no duty?" The landlord's daughter answered sternly: "No sir! We have renounced tea under this roof. But, if you desire it, I will make you some coffee."
American attitudes are changing. An aging U.S. population with disease prevention on its mind, including some 77 million baby boomers, has embraced beverages such as tea as part of a holistic lifestyle. Many believe the antioxidants, botanicals and herbs not only quench their thirst but aid their hearts with anti-inflammatory benefits, improve immunity, aid digestion, provide energy, detox their systems and help them relax.
"Look for the emergence of a new category of tea products: tea-infused waters and tea energy drinks," predicts Joseph Simrany, president of the New York City-based Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. "In addition, look for tea-infused alcoholic and malt beverage specialties."
Herbs and botanicals
Sales of single-serve ready-to-drink (RTD) teas, energy drinks (containing ginseng, ginkgo biloba and guarana), carbonated soft drinks and juices carrying functional claims drove the market to $23 billion, according to "Functional and Natural Ready-to-Drink Beverages in the U.S.," a report by Packaged Facts (www.packagedfacts.com).
Such beverages provide a convenient delivery system of herbs and botanicals, making them easier to consume than supplements and certainly more enjoyable. But processors face a number of challenges when using botanicals. An efficacious dose of some botanicals can taste bitter, so those off notes must be masked; regulatory questions about health claims must be considered; and sourcing from reliable suppliers is of utmost importance since most botanicals are grown outside the U.S.
It's also notable that a new wave of beauty-enhancing cosmeceutical (or beauty from within) botanical products are focusing attention on looking younger without Botox.
Increasing demand for botanical remedies is both a national and international trend. In fact, the global herbal supplement and remedies market is expected to reach $93 billion by 2015, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts Inc. (www.strategyr.com).
"One of the most persistent myths promulgated by the media and other parties is that the herb and dietary supplement industries are not regulated," writes Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of American Botanical Council (www.herbalgram.org) Austin, Texas, and editor of HerbalGram.
"While people can argue whether federal and state regulatory agencies adequately or uniformly enforce all existing laws and regulations, an objective view of the situation leads only to the conclusion that the industry is indeed regulated. Consider the many authorities for the regulation of herbs and other dietary supplements and their ingredients -- from Good Manufacturing Practices to limits on products' claims, and much, much more."
While health concerns, especially childhood obesity, are taking some of the effervescence out of carbonated soft drink (CSD) sales, sodas with botanical ingredients are still growing. "Premium sodas made with herbs and spices and sweetened with cane sugar or agave continue to gain market share," according to Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Datamonitor (www.datamonitor.com), New York.
One example is Joia, launched last June by Minneapolis-based Boundary Waters Brands (www.joialife.com). The four varieties of Joia each include a fruit, an herb and a spice. They are Lime, Hibiscus & Clove; Pineapple, Coconut & Nutmeg; Grapefruit, Chamomile & Cardamom; and Blackberry, Pomegranate & Ginger.
Sipp Eco Beverage Co. (www.haveasipp.com), Uwchland, Pa., makes five varieties of soda, including Lemon Flower, a mix of lemon, sweet elderberry, tarragon and agave nectar.
Tizane claims to be the nation's first line of premium organic botanical beverages, having debuted in 2008 from Island Infusions, LLC (www.tizane.com). Varieties are Hibiscus (hibiscus flower, rose hips, anise seed, spearmint leaf, lemon balm and blue agave nectar), Lemongrass (lemongrass, hibiscus flower, anise seed, lemon balm, eucalyptus), and Jasmine (jasmine flower, hibiscus flower, linden leaf and flower, and blue agave nectar).
"Tizane botanicals take you to a new destination in taste," says co-founder and CEO Charlie Pucciariello. "They bring out the full flavor, aroma, color and nutrients of the botanicals in their true, natural state. Plus Tizane beverages aren't teas, so they're totally caffeine-free."
But teas and botanicals are a natural match. The Republic of Tea (www.republicoftea.com), Novato, Calif., blends the two in Super Tea Boosters, which can be blended into liquids rather than dissolved like most instant powders, providing more antioxidant value. The finely ground herbal supplement gives an antioxidant boost to juices, smoothies, yogurt, milk and more.
Varieties include: Tropical Hibiscus (Nigerian hibiscus blossoms infused with natural pineapple and lychee) with an ORAC value of 769 per half-teaspoon serving; Açaí Green Super Tea Booster (green tea and açaí) with an ORAC value of 1,429 per serving; and Double Dark Chocolate Maté Super Tea Booster (organic Brazilian roasted maté and organic dark chocolate) with an ORAC value of 893.
Botanicals are having an impact in foodservice, as well. At San Francisco's The Ice Cream Bar, which opened in January, all soda flavors derive from botanicals. "It's where people got flavor before artificial flavorings," says owner Juliet Pries, who counts 24 house-made extracts (bergamot, rosewood, sassafras) and more than 75 tinctures at the bar.
"Restaurants might serve dandelion leaves instead of regular greens," she says (dandelion is said to help with detoxification, as are burdock and milk thistle), "or chamomile in desserts to replace the traditionally relaxing chamomile tea at the end of a meal."
Companies are turning toward herbs and botanicals to add function and flavor in restaurants and bars. According to the MenuMonitor database from Chicago-based Technomic Inc. (www.technomic.com), in the fourth quarter of 2011 the top herbs and spices used in non-alcohol beverage menu descriptions were ginger, mint, cinnamon, peppermint, lavender, sage, lemongrass, cardamom, salt and basil.
Many of those non-alcoholic beverages were teas, but some were carbonated soft drinks and juices. For adult beverages, the top herbs and spices were mint, ginger, cinnamon, salt, basil, sage, black pepper, anise, nutmeg and peppermint.