"What are they putting in your coffee?" once was an insult, implying that one had a faulty grip on reality. Today's reality is that you're behind the times if something extra isn't in your coffee. And we don't mean milk or sugar.
Caffeine as an additive to fuel our fevered populace has now branched beyond the classic triumvirate of coffee, tea and carbonated beverages. Even candies and chocolates are now touted for their added caffeine punch.
Coffee itself is enjoying an upsurge following a plateau in the market that depressed prices. With overproduction and glut, the 1990s saw coffees scrambling to differentiate and diversify. Cold flavored-coffee beverages, such as Royal Kona's Iced Coffee Kona blends, crowded carbonated beverages in stores, while Mountain View Coffee's Righteous Bean, (Ruckersville, Va.), and San Francisco-based Jeremiah Pick's Java Of Evolution (J.O.E.) and other small roasters stressed their commitment to organics, sustainable farming and fair trade.
The craze of "sports" and "energy" drinks such as Red Bull and Sobe seemed to signal a pulling off of the gloves when it comes to charging up our drinks. Some of the more interesting recent developments include alcoholic beverages with the world's most popular stimulant added - Anheuser-Busch's launch of a caffeinated beer comes to mind.
Tea had the jump on jumpy beverages from the beginning. Its cultivation and use surpasses coffee's by millennia, and flavored teas spent a couple decades warming up the cold drink market for beverages with added kick. Herbal teas traded on a surge in interest in health. Of course, the discovery and subsequent promotion of cancer-fighting phytochemicals in tea really pushed the pekoe. Today, enhanced tea choices number nearly as many different kinds as there are carbonated drinks.
"Coffee drinkers are more sophisticated than ever before," says Bill Hay, founder and president of Mountain View Coffee Roasters (www.mountainviewcoffee.com). As Hay, a member of the Specialty Coffee Assn. of America, explains, "Organic, Sumatran, methylene chloride-free decaf, fair trade-certified - these types of consumer requirements now make up the mainstream, as opposed to the fringe, of coffee drinking."
Enter the next step brewing in fresh-roasted trends: coffee plus. A leader of the trend, Caffé Botanica, Eugene, Ore. (www.caffebotanica.com), boasts roasts with such infusions as calcium, echinacea and - to put the pep back in the decaf - ginseng. Touting its "wake up healthy" motto, the products are labeled simply "Strength," "Health" and "Energy."
The idea of a calcium-laced functional coffee makes sense in light of research on caffeine's ability to deplete calcium in the body. Ginseng was infused into the Swiss Water-method decaffeinated coffee to provide a source of stimulation gentler than caffeine for those sensitive to the alkaloid.
"We use a patent-pending method for infusing the organic coffee beans with naturally derived botanicals and minerals in a way that preserves the health benefit of the additive without adversely impacting the great taste of premium coffee," says Candace Sellers, CEO. "The herbs and minerals are actually infused into the beans during the roasting process. Our all-natural process captures the additives inside the beans, releasing them only when the coffee is ground and brewed."
Caffé Botanica has certainly started something. Fusion Coffee (www.fusioncoffee.com), Vancouver, B.C., is a new and fast-growing participant in the infused and enhanced coffee field. "People are always looking for something extra, something nutritional, something functional in their foods," says Jag Gujral, owner of the two year-old company. "Foods and beverages that are fortified and enhanced are a huge market. This market is growing so much, yet there's still room for more."
Sales of its coffees infused with ginkgo biloba, matcha, guarana, ginseng, white willow and yerba mate have been so brisk that Fusion has already expanded from retail to food service. "We have pre-measured portion packs, as well as bulk bags," continues Gujral. "Functionals are adding something new to the coffee market that hasn't changed much in the last five years."
Tea's Success Still Brewing
Meanwhile, as tea has vied with coffee for the top spot as Americans' favorite caffeinated drink over the last few years, it has shattered into a myriad of distinct beverage personalities.
Folk medicine long offered tea - beverages brewed from the camilla sinensis plant - as a healthful tonic centuries before science confirmed its potent wellness properties. Polyphenols, compounds found in tea leaves, are such powerful antioxidants the National Cancer Institute recognizes them as possessing cancer-preventive properties. The tea business certainly has brewed into something big. Sales of tea beverages has increased several-fold in the past few years alone, topping 5 billion dollars per year.
Health research, along with the hunt for taste adventure, opened the door to other colors on the tea spectrum. White tea may prove to be the next giant tea trend after green tea to change the face of the market.
"White tea comes from the flowering buds of the plant," explains Alex Reist, spokesman for Inko's White Tea (www.healthywhitetea.com). "The buds are covered in silvery fuzz for only a few days each spring and must be harvested at that time."
Celestial Seasonings, Boulder, Colo. (www.celestialseasonings.com), the largest manufacturer and marketer of specialty teas in the U.S., has three white tea varieties in its filter-bag line. Celestial is the grandfather of specialty teas, especially herbals.
Pace University, New York, released research indicating that white tea may top green tea in germ-killing power. "Our research indicates white tea extract can destroy in vitro the organisms that cause disease," writes Milton Schiffenbauer, a microbiologist at Pace, in a recent report on tea. The Pace study also found white tea neutralizes dental bacteria, and the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University reported that white tea performed favorably in animal studies in preventing bacterial DNA damage.
Driving the cold tea beverage business from its beginnings was the big push for better quality tea by a new generation of tea drinkers. Companies such as Honest Tea (www.honesttea.com), Bethesda, Md., and Arizona Beverage Co., New York, (www.arizonabev.com) popularized flavored teas as cold refreshment with ever-expanding varieties of tea-based beverages in attractive cans and bottles.
Chai, with origins in India, has recently gained a strong foothold. Generally brewed or served with milk, it is a fuller-bodied beverage than most teas, which is why it often shares billing with the premium brews at the coffeehouse.
Tazo (www.tazo.com), Seattle, is a chai beverage leader. Its Chai Latte is Starbucks' chai of choice. Tazo claims its tea products – the line is called "the reincarnation of tea" - carry calming and soothing properties.
In addition to ready-to-drink teas, the century-old teabag has been getting a makeover for the new market. Innovative Beverage Concepts (www.teaology.com), Aliso Viejo, Calif., developed radical new packaging for its Teaology line of green teas. Marketed as "modern technology in tea," the company calls its line "the first instant pocket-sized green tea beverage," referring to the travel-friendly wallets and sealed foil sachets that package the four-flavor line. Binh Tran, logistics manager, explains that the product can be mixed instantly with cold water.
Beverage makers clearly are only beginning to tap the potential of the vast tea market.