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A question of quality and innovation.

A question of quality and innovation

As San-Francisco tea broker Mike Spllane has pointed out, "it is no coincidence that the tea industry has been expanding on the West Coast." After all, the Pacific Rim is the focal point of the tea world, and the influx of Asians into western states in particular has provided a sizeable market for quality tea. And despite the fact that about 75 percent of the tea consumed in the U.S. is consumed on the East Coast, specialty tea manufacturers and consumers on the West Coast have been on the forefront of innovation in the industry. These trends include the growing market for flavored and iced teas, a proliferation of small retail outlets selling teas, an effort to inform the consumer about the world's best teas, and an effort to market these teas to the American fine tea consumer.

Although the East has traditionally been the stronghold of American tea consumers, Steve Lee at Stash Teas notes that the per capita consumption of specialty teas is higher in the West than in the East, especially in such bellweather states as California, Washington and Oregon. As the only major player in the specialty tea trade (in terms of sales) located out on the West Coast, Stash is well positioned to take advantage of this market.

It is also not too surprising, then, to find that several West-Coast companies have emerged as leaders of the aforementioned trends in specialty teas, although their sales volumes do not approach those of their more visible competitors (Lipton, Celestial Seasonings, Bigelow, Twinings and Stash). Among them are: S.S. Haly tea brokers run by Mike Spillane, San-Francisco-based Peet's Coffee & Tea, and several smaller but innovative enterprises, notably Paul Katzeff's Royal Gardens Tea Company, and Alan Chemtob's Paradise Tea Company. The Tea Quarterly's move from its original New York publisher to the Los Angeles offices of this author is another reflection of the growing interest in fine teas on the West Coast among manufacturers, retailers and consumers. Although The Tea Quarterly was originally meant for the specialty tea consumer, we have found that retailers are subscribing too, along with producers and international traders. When interviewed, these brokers, wholesalers and retailers were unanimous in naming quality as their number one concern. On the one hand, as John Gozberkian of San Francisco-based Freed, Teller and Freed notes, the growing number of small specialty shops and the entrepreneurial interest in selling specialty teas has had the effect of increasing the consumer's exposure to tea. But, he cautions, "while there is alot of knowledge." The teas being offered in many of these new specialty retail outlets is still of lower quality. In fact, Gozbekian has observed an overall decline in the quality of teas available on the market in general: "We must cup many more samples, and pay twice as much to get the same quality we used to find." Paul Katzeff hopes to challenge the tea industry on the issue of quality with his Royal Gardens Teas, available to retailers and consumers through mail order since March of this year. He argues that there has, in fact, been a "conspiracy to keep good teas away from the consumer," least they discover what a truly great tea tastes like. Of course, consumers who want these great teas will have to pay considerably more for them, between $7.50 and $15.00 for a 3-ounce packet.

The specialty industry on the West Coast acknowledges Mike Spillane as one of the important sources of the finest teas. Spillane identifies office coffee services (OCS) and specialty iced teas as three of the most lucrative areas in tea at the moment. Los Angeles-based Paradise Tropical Teas and Scottsdale, Arizona-based China Mist Teas have led the trend in developing such specialty iced teas over the past several years. Both have noted inquiries by visitors to the West Coast about these iced tea products that are not as readily available in parts of the country due east.

Spillane is very optimistic about the future of the specialty industry on the West Coast and across the country, judging from the steady increase in his business, 10 to 30 percent a year without any formal promotional campaign. Others in the industry share his optimism. They predict steady growth in the specialty tea category in general, and in flavored and iced tea products in particular. Yet the question of quality persists. While there seems to be a small but growing market for the finest teas, the bad news is that these teas are becoming increasingly rare. The general consensus is that the prices these teas command will continue to go up because of their scarcity.

Timothy Castle West Coast Correspondent
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:tea industry expanding on the West Coast
Author:Castle, Timothy
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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