Industry Viewpoint: Why It’s Wrong to Use the 'Specialty' Descriptor for Exclusive Tea

Photo by: Oksana Kuznetsova / Bigstock.com

Editor’s Note: In a recent World Tea News interview, Ramaz Chanturiya, co-founder of the Tea Masters Cup, noted, “I must confess that I don’t really like using the word ‘specialty’ in relation to tea. This concept is too closely related to coffee. I think that exclusive tea deserves its own definition.” As a result, World Tea News asked Chanturiya to share his insights on the topic (see below article). In addition, industry expert Nigel Melican offers his counterpoint on the term specialty tea (click here to read his opinion).

It’s common knowledge that a human organism must consume about two liters of liquid per day to function properly. Most of this liquid enters the body in the form of drinks – and the remainder with foods that we eat during the day. Unsurprisingly, various beverage industries (tea, coffee, juices, soft drinks and even alcohol) compete intensely for a place in this liquid lineup.

This competition takes place on many fronts; one of its key aspects, in my opinion, is communication with the consumer. If we examine common industry practices, we will notice that each competing industry is trying to build its unique approach and message. This is true especially of the flagship segments of particular markets. Here, each industry’s task is to show the pinnacle of its achievements and to give consumer the opportunity to express their individuality within those market segments. Fine wine, craft beer, specialty coffee, etc... All competitors of tea use their own unique concepts when working with their target audiences.

Following the successful introduction of the “Specialty” / “Speciality” marketing strategy by the coffee industry a few years ago, increasingly often I hear people using the same label for exclusive teas. Is this a good practice? If you are a tea seller in a consumer market, then, from a tactical point of view, this choice is understandable, because it is convenient. But strategically, this is certainly a serious mistake for the tea industry.

A Mistake
A comparably bad strategic mistake has already been made by the tea industry relatively recently, about 30 years ago, when the very meaning of the word “tea” began to erode. At the time, unfortunately, there was no resistance from tea-producing countries, and the consuming countries took the same position we are seeing today: “It’s so convenient!” And now, all over the world, anything that is brewed like tea, i.e., Camelia Sinensis proper, is called “tea.” I think that this mistake has also contributed to the subsequent economic devaluation of tea.

The use of the terms “Specialty” / “Speciality” as descriptor for exclusive types of tea solves only the problem of the moment: distinguishing such teas from mass-consumer varieties. However, this labeling does not allow consumers to personalize their choices within the tea world and even, as it were, undermines the integrity of the tea market as such. Whether we like it or not, by using a label borrowed from competitors we willingly or unwillingly communicate with a “foreign” target audience, thereby casting doubt on the value of our own product.

One of the key arguments in favor of the “Specialty” / “Speciality” descriptor is that there are no other words with the same or similar meaning... But, colleagues, let’s not forget that people have the power to shape the meaning of words.

Focus on the Message
What solution has Tea Masters Cup been envisioning since its earliest days? In our opinion, we should, first of all, focus on the message that we direct at people who buy exclusive tea. In doing so, we must take into account the exclusive tea’s entire chain of movement, from leaf to cup. In short, our approach can be described as follows:

  • The person buying exclusive tea seeks a perfect and unique product. The very desire for such tea makes this person stand out from the general mass of consumers. Such people, as a rule, are perceived by those around them, and see themselves, as true connoisseurs of tea, almost as professionals in the tea business.
  • What does it take to make an exclusive tea? Here you can list many different requirements,but the main thing is that you need a professional who carefully and at the right time will harvest the right leaves / buds and will then process them correctly.
  • What does it take to deliver this exclusive tea to the consumer? We need a professional who will carefully transport, package, and sell such tea in a specialized store.
  • What does it take to enjoy exclusive tea? Again, you need a professional who understands multiple tea varieties and knows how to “open up” the tea, extracting maximum pleasure,aroma, and taste from it.

By Professionals
Note that a professional is involved in each of these stages. Thus, exclusive tea is, first of all, a tea grown, plucked and processed by a professional, delivered, packaged, and sold by a professional, prepared by a professional and consumed by a person who enjoys the feeling of being close to professionalism!

What word can convey all these aspects of professionalism to us, making the idea understandable in many languages? This word is “Master.” Exclusive tea is Master’s Tea.

The concept “Master’s Tea” should become the foundation of a modern communication strategy, one that will allow advanced consumers to feel their uniqueness and to join the world of tea professionals – tea masters!

Master’s Tea Union
To promote this communication strategy, Tea Masters Cup has launched a new movement – Master’s Tea Union. It is an open community whose goal is to bring together and coordinate all tea supply chain participants interested in the global development of the top segment of the tea market. The success of this movement will depend on the massiveness and coordination of market participants throughout the entire tea supply chain, starting from farmers.


Ramaz Chanturiya is chairman of the Tea Masters Cup. He’s been involved in the tea industry since 1991. Over the years, while running a family tea company, he has acquired expertise in every stage of the tea production chain – from leaf to cup. For the last 20 years, he’s been specializing in providing various services to tea market participants. Since 2001, Chanturiya he's been the head of Rusteacoffee – a non-profit association of all the largest tea companies in Russia and the CIS countries. Chanturiya – along with his brother David Chanturiya – founded the Tea Masters Cup, a framework of international competitions for tea industry professionals. To learn more, visit TeaMastersCup.com.