Sep 2nd 2010 Issue
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The Role of Health in Selling Tea

Charles Cain - Sep 2nd 2010

The science of tea

The flavor of tea

The beauty of tea

The culture of tea

I made a pretty controversial statement in a recent article. When discussing the health benefits of tea I stated that I didn't care much about the health benefits of tea. I heard from a few people who were horrified by what they saw as a form of "tea blasphemy", so I wanted to elaborate a little on my opinion and how this topic plays into the growth of the Specialty Tea industry.

If polled, I would expect the vast majority of Americans to agree strongly with the statement "tea is very good or me". At the same time, a small percentage of Americans would agree with the statement "tea tastes very good." Most people drink crummy tea. Marketing the health benefits of tea to people who already know it's good for you but think it tastes bad is unlikely to change behavior and grow the industry.

When I try a new tea, what excites me is not the expected impact on my health, but the combination of sensory enjoyment and intellectual stimulation. "How does this tea taste and why?" My indifference to the marketing hype around the health of tea is not because I don't care about my health. I am at the gym more than six hours each week. I love fresh produce and lean meats. I almost never consume any form of desert or junk food. Tea is a part of my lifestyle, and it DOES offer some very unique scientific benefits. I've taught classrooms of people and written articles about the health benefits of tea. It just doesn't drive my behavior, ESPECIALLY not as I choose between the different types of tea. I've read the REAL scientific analysis, and most of what is said about the benefits of one tea vs. another is either anecdotal or flat wrong!

I'm not disregarding the idea that tea is exceptionally and unusually good for you. My statement is an intentional overreaction to those that have co-opted tea as the "next-big-thing-miracle-cure-for-what-ails-you". Aside from the fact that it's explicitly forbidden by the FDA, I'm intellectually offended by those who sell particular teas as being a cure for allergies, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc. I've talked with the owners and sales people of these companies. In many cases they don't begin to understand the science behind their claims. They are simply taking advantage of the buzz and the short attention span and quick-fix mentality of the average American.

Here's my thing: if the primary objective is health benefits, then why not take a supplement pill that gives you the health benefit equivalent of a couple gallons of green tea in a single pill? I do NOT believe that the future growth of the Specialty Tea industry is best served by using health as the primary sales pitch. Good tea tastes great! Health benefits will get Americans to try things, but they only stick with what feels good. Coffee drinkers and wine drinkers love it when new findings come out that support their existing habits, but it's not those findings that turn people into coffee or wine drinkers, and it's not those findings that drive people to pay more for higher quality products.

I respect those who make daily choices based primarily on their health, but they are too few to build a business upon. Give me good tea and I can build a successful business selling to everyone, not just those willing to sacrifice for health.

Adagio Teas