The specialty tea industry, or tea from a single origin, is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. tea industry, according to the Tea Association of the USA, New York.

Virginia Dare


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The specialty tea industry, or tea from a single origin, is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. tea industry, according to the Tea Association of the USA, New York. However, it is important to not confuse fastest growing with the biggest segment, according to Joe Simrany, president of the association. This happens to be ready-to-drink (RTD) tea, which has been posting double-digit growth in recent years and will continue to flourish thanks to aggressive efforts by the leading soft drink companies. Some recent RTD tea innovations include brewed tea that is blended with superfruits, contain milk and spices, or is slightly carbonated.

Almost no “real” tea (grown from the Camellia sinensis) is grown in the States. Imports of black, white, green and oolong have been growing in volume at an annualized rate of 3% to 5% during the past 10 years. Black tea accounts for the majority of imports (81%), followed by green tea (17%). Together oolong and white tea make up about 2% of tea imports.

Tea consumption has long been linked to numerous health benefits, including claims that tea protects against heart disease, stroke, cancer, and more. What makes tea good for the body is its high level of antioxidants, some of which are called polyphenols, flavonoids and catechins, and all of which take on the free radicals in the body and prevent them from harming healthy cells.

A recent study showed that just three cups of tea a day could slash the risk of breast cancer in young women. The chances of developing a tumor dropped by around 37% in women under 50 who drank tea at least three times daily. But older women who consumed similar amounts did not see any benefit, the study found. Researchers think the anti-cancer properties of tea may have a more potent effect on the types of tumors that tend to grow in younger women. (Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 2009; 18(1):341–5)

Given that tea is the most common beverage consumed in the world, it makes an attractive candidate for breast cancer prevention.

Innovative opportunity

Research published in the journal Food Chemistry (Volume 112, Issue 3, Pages 614-620),  indicates it is viable to add green and black tea at a concentration of 2% to 4% to yogurt.

“The present work is considered as the first report demonstrating that the presence of green and black teas at 2% to 4% did not influence the fermentation of yogurts and the survival of characteristic microorganisms in yogurts during a six-week storage period,” wrote the authors, led by Imène Jaziri from Tunisia’s Institut National de Sciences Appliquées et de Technologie (INSAT). “Addition of green or black teas in the process milk used for making yogurts is recommended because tea is a natural herbal product with a wide range of beneficial and nutritional properties; this makes this new yogurt a functional food,” they added. “Furthermore, at a concentration of 2%, which is approximately the strength of a common cup of tea, this may improve the taste of yogurts without having an inhibitory effect on the starter bacteria.”

The authors report that for all tea concentrations used, the starter culture counts reached one billion after six hours of fermentation. Moreover, no effect on lactic acid levels was observed after addition of the teas.

“As a result of these mentioned observations, all the five experimental yogurt formulations fulfilled the legal requirements in terms of acidity and levels of viable starter organisms during the whole storage period, with no significant differences among the various treatments,” wrote the researchers. “Therefore, tea phenolic compounds in yogurt products will be able to keep their antimicrobial and antioxidant activities and could even constitute novel natural colorants and be considered as ‘functional’,” they added.

Other innovative tea applications include frozen desserts such as ice cream, frozen yogurt and water ice. To learn more about tea-formulating opportunities for dairies, visit March's Ingredient Technology.