Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New Honest Tea Teas

Honest Tea (who recently had 40% of their shares purchased by Coca Cola) launched a new line of flavors and packaging designs with "brighter" tastes and colors. The packaging looks great, but what's going on beyond basic appearances?

They tout higher levels of EGCG on the bottles with a bar indicating the levels in each drink. Their website doesn't list ingredients, but I have the feeling the "significantly higher (level) than most other brands" are from an extract, which has questionable benefits compared to the real thing. (I wish I'd had time to check the label when I saw it in a store recently! If any of you see it in person, will you let me know?)

They also added the words "energy tea" to two flavors' names. One is a blend of green tea and yerba mate, which makes sense, but the other is a blend of green tea and white tea... ??? They claim it is because they use green energy, but I find it very misleading to call it an "energy tea."

Their Consumer Reports award-winning flavor, Lori's Lemon, was reincarnated as Lemon Black Tea, this time with more cola... I mean sugar!

They also modified Peach Oo-La-Long to make a new flavor, Peach White Tea. I seem to remember that Peach Oo-La-Long was a sweeter-than-usual flavor created to satisfy the sweet tooth of the comic artist who draws "Bloom County," yet, like the lemon black tea's changes, the new variation on it has 10 (rather than 8) grams of sugar per 8 ounces. With two servings of tea in each bottle, that's an increase of 4 grams of sugar per bottle. Correspondingly, the calories jump from 63 per bottle to 85 per bottle. Not so bad as a Coke, but not so (comparatively) healthy as Honest Tea's teas used to be.

On the one hand, I hate to see Coke mess up a good thing. On the other, if this is what the market wants, it's better than people drinking soda, right? It's a tough call. I try to stand by the idea that quality tea doesn't need a lot of dressing up. However, Starbucks isn't just popular for its burnt beans--it's also the sugar syrup and whipped toppings that keep people craving more. There's a lot of room to move around between a pure, unflavored tea and Snapple's overpowering sweetness. I guess Honest Tea is, ultimately, just expanding its range within that area (albeit in one direction!).

If any of you readers have tried them, please let me know what you think! Do you prefer the old flavors or the new ones? What do you think of the packaging? Is the EGCG an extract? Is Coke making cola out of Honest Tea, or are these flavors true to your own idea of what tea is about? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Honest Tea's new packaging and Citrus Green Energy Tea in action at an NYC bodega.


Oshyan said...

I found this post after I noticed that Honest Teas seemed to have been getting sweeter of late, so it's definitely evident to those who liked the less-than-sweet taste they had before. Frankly I'm disappointed. I don't care what "the market" wants; you can always expand your market (until you have 100% of it), but the mission of every food item is *not* to serve the entire market. Coke exists to serve a very large market of soda drinkers, and does that very well. Honest Tea exist(ed) to serve the smaller but still important (and growing) market of people who are fed up with the excessively sweet drinks out there (especially teas). I feel like in trying to expand their audience by bringing in new "on the fence" customers who might like a bit more sugar, they will inevitably alienate at least some of their existing market. And meanwhile what is left for those of us who do like largely unsweetened teas of normal varieties (e.g. not Yerba Mate)? I feel betrayed. :p

- Oshyan

VeeTea said...

Hi Oshyan,

Thanks for your thoughts! It's a tricky area to navigate in the market. Since I wrote this post, I've interviewed Seth from Honest Tea about sweetening tea. You can read part of the interview results here: I'm with you in the preference for unsweetened/less-than-
"lightly" sweetened teas, but it appears to be capturing a larger market segment than the previous incarnations. It's all part of Honest Tea's shift from natural foods channels to mainstream channels. One the one hand, it's great to see more people drinking tea, but what about those of us who liked the originals? Of course, there's always ITO EN's Teas' Teas, which are unsweetened (and also delicious) for those of us who prefer the pure taste of tea without the interference of sugar. You can find a local retailer for them here: Also, you can read more on the whole sugar controversy in another article I have since written: The idea is to get "average Americans" to switch to tea and hope that their palates develop from there. Of course, I HOPE it will work, but only time will tell, and I'm still sticking to unsweetened teas 95% of the time. :)


Oshyan said...

Thanks for the great response. I have since read a lot on the subject from Seth and other customers. It seems I am not alone in my dismay (unsurprisingly). I am still deciding whether I want to continue buying Honest Beverage products, but a lot of it will come down to the formulation and availability of my preferred flavors. I am seeing that mostly the sweeter and newer flavors are available in more areas, which is not really what I'd want.

As for your recommendation of Teas' Teas, much appreciated, but unfortunately they do not appear organic. They are also, as you said, completely unsweetened, which I also often enjoy, but I thought the unique thing about Honest Teas was they were sweetened, but only slightly. So you could enjoy a sweeter tea, without it being syrupy. I'm still searching for a similar option that is also organic. If you have any other recommendations I'd love to try them.



VeeTea said...

I wish I could recommend more. You're right -- they filled a market void, and now that void is there again. Not to worry, though... the RTD tea market is like to be saturated beyond belief in the near future. In the meantime, I'd suggest letting Honest Tea know how you feel and brewing your own teas if they don't start making flavors you like again. It's higher in antioxidants when fresh-brewed and, who knows? You could become the next big RTD tea producer!

VeeTea said...

By the way, I completely forgot -- Adagio makes (completely unsweetened) organic teas. Not exactly what you're looking for, I know, but a good option.


VeeTea said...

Got another one for you! The Republic of Tea: