Gourmet and Specialty Teas

By Lori Ranshaw
In June 1, 2015
Tea Leaf

Kenyan Black Tea

Specialty teas are increasingly becoming popular with consumers. Today’s consumers wish to be better informed on the benefits and varieties of specialty teas that are available in the marketplace. Being well-informed allows consumers to enjoy specialty teas even more!

What makes a particular tea a specialty or gourmet tea? Purveyors of fine teas would consider gourmet, or specialty tea as that segment of the tea industry that produces high quality, single-estate, loose-leaf teas. Fair Trade/organic teas, rare tea types such as white teas, and some uncommon flavors of tea are also considered specialty teas. Another popular name for specialty teas is Artisanal Teas. The Ranshaw Group offers our customers many types of premium loose tea and loose tea blends, as well as bagged teas from Kenya, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, and China.

In the last decade, specialty tea has grown substantially. Bagged and loose-leaf tea products abound in natural food and gourmet stores, but are now rapidly penetrating the market in other distribution channels such as restaurants and specialty retail stores. American consumers are very receptive to this trend. The emerging specialty tea segment exhibits similar characteristics that existed with natural food and specialty coffee channels as they climbed from niche markets to the larger mainstream markets.

The rise in American consumption of specialty tea has given birth to a loyal community of tea consumers, as a fusion of diverse global cultures and flavor preferences becomes more entwined into the larger culture. Consumers also place a high value on stress reduction, product purity, and exotic brewing accessories. Health conscious baby boomers (approximately 76 million) have a large impact on specialty tea market and are exploring the specialty tea not only through brewed tea and neighborhood cafes, but also through tea-based skincare products.

Consumer interest in tea is being driven in part by current scientific findings that link tea consumption with improved health. In fact, recent survey data indicates that the health benefits of tea are the number one market driver for consumers. New, exotic flavors and attractive packaging are also luring consumers into purchasing more tea.

Coffee and tea both began as rarities for the rich, evolved into commodities for the masses and are gradually becoming artisanal offerings – the choice of connoisseurs.

Types of Tea

All teas are produced from a plant named Camellia senensis. Thus, tea varieties vary only by three factors: the region it is grown, the time of year it is picked, and the processing method. Teas generally fall into the main categories of white, green, black, and oolong tea. Herbal teas are made from an infusion of leaves, fruits, barks, roots or flowers of nearly any edible non-tea botanical but do not contain any Camellia senensis. Herbal teas are often referred to as “herbal tisane” in Europe to differentiate from traditional teas.

Black Tea. Black tea is a type of tea that is more oxidized than other teas. It gets its name because of the color of the oxidized tea leaves. It is generally stronger in flavor and can retain its flavor for several years, making it an important article of trade for many years. It accounts for over 90% of the tea sold in the Western Hemisphere. Black tea is often blended with other various plants to enhance its flavor.

Green Tea. Green tea is the most popular type of tea, due to its popularity throughout Asia. It undergoes minimal oxidation. Many varieties of green tea exist and differ substantially due to variable growing conditions, production processing, and harvesting times.

Green tea originated in China nearly 4,000 years ago, making it the oldest tea known. It then spread to Japan and other Asian countries. For years, only the wealthy could afford to drink this expensive beverage, but by the 1400’s, commoners were drinking tea throughout Asia. Only recently has green tea become popular in Western cultures, as black tea has been the most preferred tea for many years. Green tea extracts are not only used in various beverages, but in dietary supplements and cosmetics.

Primarily grown in China and Japan, green tea leaves are picked, then dried and heat-treated in order to prevent fermentation of the leaves. Heat-treatments vary according to country. In China, the tea leaves are roasted in a hot roasting pan, while the Japanese steam the leaves. Once the moisture is removed, the leaves are rolled and dried again before brewing. Japanese green tea is darker in color and has a grassy flavor, whereas Chinese green tea has a yellow tint and a toasted flavor.

White Tea. Grown and harvested in China mostly in the Fujian province, white tea is a lightly oxidized tea. It is also grown in Eastern Nepal, Taiwan, Northern Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India. White tea comes from both the buds and leaves of the Chinese Camellia senensis plant. They are left to wither in natural sunlight before being lightly processed, thus preventing further oxidation. White tea gets its name from fine, silvery-white hairs that appear on the unopened buds of the tea plant. The tea itself is a pale yellow color.

White tea has only been produced for about two hundred years. Before then it may have been categorized as black tea because it is not initially heat-treated like green tea. Like black and green teas, white tea shares many of the same chemical properties and health effects. However, white team contains the most antioxidants.

Oolong Tea. Oolong (also known as wu long) tea is another delicious and popular tea that is often served in Chinese restaurants. Oolong teas are similar to green teas and undergo similar processing steps. They differ in that after the tea leaves are picked, they are intentionally bruised by shaking. While these leaves dry, the bruised edges turn red in color and the surface of the leaf becomes yellow, due to both fermentation and oxidation. After this fermentation, the leaves are pan fired, thus creating a semi-fermented tea. Chinese oolong tea only achieves a 12-20% fermentation, while the Taiwanese oolong tea is fermented long enough to achieve 60-70% fermentation. The difference is that Chinese oolong is lighter in color and milder in flavor, and the Taiwanese oolong is stronger flavored and darker in color.

Blended Tea. Tea blending is the process of blending different tea leaves together to produce a unique flavor, aroma, or health benefit. This mainly occurs with black tea that is blended to make tea bags but can also occur with such teas as Pu-erh where leaves are blended from different regions before being compressed. The purpose of blending is to create a well-balanced flavor using different tea origins and characters. This also allows for variations in tea leaf quality and differences from season to season to be smoothed out.

Herbal tea blends may have an enjoyable flavor of fruits and herbs, especially when mixed with other flavorful loose teas. Herbal tea blends are usually caffeine-free, which appeals to many consumers.


For more information on our specialty tea offerings, contact us at 214-548-7570 or email mike@theranshawgroup.com.

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