4 Tea Industry Themes to Watch from World Tea Expo

One booth at World Tea Expo captured themes in tea in a neat organic package (or two). Ito En showed matcha in its many forms, from shots to ceremonial, from tea bags to culinary and from convenient cans to ice steeped cold brew RTD. Ito En allows today’s tea consumer to incorporate matcha into all aspects of his or her daily regimen, said Rona Tison, senior vice president of corporate relations. While matcha might seem to have had its due in the spotlight, Tison sees much runway for growth. Matcha is but one trend Ito En taps. Emerging themes it has mastered and we spotted at World Tea Expo include matcha, tea on the go, the ceremony of tea, the lift of labels and the essential function. Here’s how these themes looked and what people were saying at World Tea Expo.

Matcha still strong

Japanese matcha from Ryutsu Service Co., Ltd.
Ryutsu Service Co. showcased matcha in this colorful packaging.
Matcha’s superfood halo has helped the Japanese specialty maintain itself as a top trend in tea and beyond for a couple of years now, Ayako Shimokobe, a Dobashien Co. tea instructor, said. It showed up on the show floor in traditional and crossover products such as in Onnit's Matcha Chai Latte mix.

Tea on the go

Solo Tea mug at World Tea Expo
The Solo Tea mug is launching stateside after experiencing success in France.
Making tea convenient and a part of everyday life arose as retail strategy, discussion about the future of tea and on the World Tea Expo exhibition floor as both new tea formats and accessories. As industry holds tight to camellia sinensis, speaker Charlie Cain noted the consumer doesn’t care if what is in their cup is  tea or tisane.
Cusa Tea at World Tea Expo
Cusa Tea hopes to prove instant and premium can come across in one convenient, on-the-go package.
Even in South Korea, coffee culture has steamed ahead of traditional leaf. Teazen’s Mia Kim, international marketing manager, says the company is making changes to win back young consumers. “Tea is a lifestyle. It should be closer to my life.” Teazen offers fun tea activities, tea capsules for espresso machines and creative blends with inviting flavor, all while highlighting its traditional tea products. Meanwhile, innovation makes clean “instant” tea possible as seen with new product launch Cusa Tea.

Ceremony of tea

Japanese tea ceremony at World Tea Expo
Dobashien shared Japanese tea ceremony with World Tea Expo attendees.
The Goging Gongfu tea set by The Tea Spot has been a surprise success that celebrates tea tradition.
With all the talk of attracting millennials, most agree celebrating the ceremony of tea is key. It’s part of the terroir, the story and the more beyond the leaf that attract millennials, Maria Uspenski of The Tea Spot shared. Story attracts millennials, so tapping the history of a product (even if presented in a convenient package) connects. Dobashien's Shimokobe agreed, saying students are finding their way to Japanese tea ceremony from the matcha trend, but also through interest in kimono and anime.

Label lift  

While certifications aren't top of mind for most tea brands, their importance rises among consumers and it’s showing in sales. Some note fair trade is becoming the most important certification. One ingredient supplier concurred. It’s consumers making these demands, asking deeper questions as they grab their cuppa. And it’s not just millennials in L.A. and Brooklyn. Middle-America retailers at World Tea Expo pointed to customer questions about fair trade as the top, if not among, the top questions they field at retail and educational events. Teas with claims such as Non-GMO Project Verified, USDA Organic, Certified B Corporation and Fair Trade USA are growing at retail while sales of teas without such labels have fallen in the 52 weeks ending March 19, 2017, according to Schaumburg, Illinois-based SPINS, a natural products data analysis company. This trend plays out for both dry and ready-to-drink teas. Even if it isn’t a top focus for the company, organic makes the sale when it comes to International Tea Importers' Waterfall Tea Company bagged offering. H.N. Chiu of Summus based in Hong Kong notes that quality and organic are high values for the company, but it is also focused on gaining (or regaining) next-generation tea drinkers in convenient and fun ways. “Tea is for fun, not so serious,” he said. Meanwhile, the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network launched and showcased the first teas bearing the Certified Elephant Friendly seal. The certification focuses on elephant welfare in tea-growing regions.