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Chai comes to Britain.

Hot or iced, fruity or spiced, Chai could be the next craze in the UK, Jane Pettigrew heard about the new trend from Geoffrey O'Brien of Davinci Fine Foods Ltd.

The April issue of Tea and Coffee Trade Journal included a "Question of the Month" page about chai as it is being drunk in the U.S. at the moment and asked if it will eventually entice coffee drinkers away from their preferred beverage. Well, it looks as if U.K. consumers may also be tempted to try this new approach to tea, thanks to Davinci Fine Foods. The U.K.-based Davinci Fine Foods are exclusive importers of Davinci Gourmet syrups and of Tazo and Ghirardelli products. The close contact between the various companies and regular visits to the U.S. (particularly to Los Angeles and San Francisco) allow Geoffrey O'Brien to see what's happening there ahead of others in the trade here. He is, therefore, able to relay to U.K. retailers and foodservice operators information about the latest trends.

About two years ago, Davinci became aware that chai was creating a new trend in the American tea market and appearing on the menu of coffee bars and other catering outlets. And most small towns in the areas of North America that O'Brien visited had their own individual local chai manufacturer. Clever marketing of the new beverage as a "chai latte," with a topping of frothy steamed milk, meant that those who were unfamiliar with the spicy, milky Indian-style tea immediately understood what sort of drink it was. Most U.S. fashions appear sooner or later in the U.K. and at the beginning of 1999, Davinci felt that the time was right to introduce the product here in the U.K.

When O'Brien telephoned me at the end of 1998 to talk about how tea drinkers in Britain might react to the idea of chai, I had to admit that I really didn't know and suggested that perhaps the average Briton is still too conservative to try tea that is brewed and drunk in any but the traditional British way. But then there is probably no such thing as an "average Briton," and so just about anything is possible.

Chai is currently available in two forms - liquid concentrate or powder. The liquid concentrate is mixed with milk by coffee bar staff or by the consumer at home, usually in the proportions of one-to-one. The dry mix version contains all the same ingredients - the spices, honey, tea, etc. - as the liquid concentrate but also includes the creamer or milk powder. Preparation therefore only requires the addition of boiling water. Once brewed, chai can be served as-is, iced, topped with frothed milk, or, of course, flavored with syrups.

Having looked around in the States for the products that met all the essential criteria of taste, consistency, and ease of preparation, Davinci is now the exclusive importer of a liquid concentrate made by Tazo (which also offers an organic chai liquid), and a chai powder made by Big Train, a Californian company which manufactures chai (and are number two in the U.S., after Oregon Chai) and iced coffee mixes. Their chai range currently includes four different flavors - green tea chai, raspberry chai, spiced chai, and vanilla chai - available in bulk catering packs and smaller retail packs. The black tea brews all use Darjeeling tea and all, including the green chai, are flavored with cinnamon, aniseed, clove, ginger, and bourbon vanilla from Madagascar.

Chai on the UK Menu

Davinci took its chai products to the International Food Exhibition (IFE) at London's Earl's Court in February this year. The response then was, "We've heard of chai but we really don't know what it is." Tastings and demonstrations drew a rapid response and chai was very quickly added to the menus of several independent coffee bars and other catering outlets all over the U.K. and a few in other parts of Europe. It is also available in Whittard's new t-bar in London's Baker Street, where the manager told me, "People admit that they don't know what chai is, so they ask for information and are genuinely interested. When they try it, they love it, and they also really love it iced. The most popular is the spiced chai. So far, we're really pleased and expect sales to build up."

One of London's more adventurous cafe-bar chains, EAT (Excellence And Taste), are also serving chai latte made with the Tazo organic concentrate, and during their initial promotion of the new beverage at their branch in Soho Square, they served 1,000 cups in the period of a week!

Chai offers a perfect addition to coffee bar menus - after all, even avid coffee drinkers don't necessarily always want to drink espresso or cappuccino, and non-coffee drinkers meeting coffee drinking friends in coffee bars need an alternative to the poor quality hot tea that is usually on offer in such establishments. And priced at the same sort of level as a cappuccino or latte, chai could become a standard regular choice for both tea and coffee drinkers.

For home consumption, shoppers can now find the retail packs of Big Train powdered chai in Selfridges food hall where a recent two-day promotion prompted exceptionally positive reaction and sales of at least 400 packs. And a few other specialist delicatessens and food stores around Britain are also now including the pack on their shelves.

The next step is to introduce a "to-go" product that consumers can purchase from the chiller counter in a bottle or a carton. Davinci have just introduced just such a product from the Californian company, New Moon. Their orange blossom green chai (a blend of green tea and essence of orange), traditional spiced chai, and caffeine-ree herbal mint chai (chamomile and spearmint) come in tetra prisma eight-sided 10-oz. packs. And Davinci are also talking to Oregon chai (number one manufacturer of chai in the States) about the possibility of producing a bulk concentrate and a ready-to-drink chai in bottles.

The interest in these products and the demand for availability in retail stores will no doubt build as knowledge and a taste for chai among the consuming public develop. Davinci maintains that pushing products through high-profile advertising serves no purpose until the product is well-received by the public and readily available in stores around the country. So their approach at the moment is a gentle awareness-raising and education exercise to gradually introduce chai to the British menu. And for those who at the moment cannot easily find Davinci products in their local stores, the company has recently set up a mail-order business.

Arizona Teas From Davinci

Davinci have also just added a selection of bottled ready-to-drink iced teas and herbals from Arizona Beverages, the largest independent drinks bottler in the States. As with chai, O'Brien became aware of the products about three years ago and has been working towards importing some of them to the U.K. ever since. The range includes green tea with plum juice, green tea with ginseng, a herbal with honey, a caffeine-free with lemon and honey, a traditional iced tea with ginseng, a tea-based strawberry flavored brew, and a banana iced tea. The interesting aspect of the ingredients lists is the inclusion of all sorts of homeopathic and herbal add-ins such as gingko, bee pollen, ginseng and rosehip, that health drink and juice advocates often recommend.

The eye-catching one-pint bottles, wrapped in film carrying stunning graphics, were amongst the range of products Davinci introduced at the February IFE. They are now available in the independent coffee bar, in selected Waitrose supermarket stores, in Selfridges Food Hall, and in a variety of small food stores and delicatessens. The response so far, as with the chai products, has been impressive - to both the style and appearance of the packaging as well as to the contents.
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Title Annotation:herbal tea
Author:Pettigrew, Jane
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1999
Words:1315
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