Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chilled Tea

Whew, is it hot in Charlotte today! Fortunately, I have the remedy for stultifying weather -- chilled teas. I wrote this post for Samovar, but it applies elsewhere, too. :)

Lately, I've been considering blending traditions and making an iced pu-erh with preserved lemons. Pu-erh was traditionally made as a savory, soupy concoction with spices, aromatics and even citrus. However, my initial inspiration for this was the Southern tradition of iced tea with lemon. I think it will either be delicious or terrible, with no middle ground. What do you think?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Commercials: Coffee vs Tea

I am increasingly realizing how absurdly outpaced tea ads are by coffee ads. Even in the 1980s (before specialty coffee was popular), there was this Coffee Association Commercial featuring celebrities like David Bowie. More recently, there have been a number of ads in the U.S. and the rest of the Western world featuring coffee as a drug-like substance that is either necessary to function or illicit and (therefore) sexy. Examples:

WNBA coffee commercial makes coffee look like the key to a successful life and links it to skill in sports.

European coffee commercial features coffee as a necessary supplement for daily functioning.

Eastern European (possibly Russian?) Starbucks commercial makes life without coffee absurd and potentially dangerous.

Secret society coffee commercial shows a sexy, exclusive side of coffee.

Cinderella coffee shows coffee as romantic and fated.

How do Western tea ads compete?

Snapple white tea ad portrays tea as simple. (Seriously? Come on...)

Spanish tea commercial shows tea as whimsical. (Meh.)

Lipton ice tea ad makes tea seem like a feel-good, taste-good choice (and is my favorite of the tea Western commercials I've found for that reason).

A different Lipton commercial shows tea as a Zen mind-body-spirit lifter and as an escape from the everyday. (Not bad.)

Lipton also shows tea as refreshing, psychedelic and even sexy, which puts it in competition with coffee. That's important in markets like Portugal (where it was screened and coffee is more prevalent than tea).

From what I can tell, this Pickwick tea ad shows tea as Zen yet urgent. I think it's funny if you know the language (I don't), but it shows a monk grimacing when he sips the tea at the end. (SALES FAIL. ... Or tea and casting fail? Perhaps it's that bad and the guy can't act through the immense badness.)

Of course, there are some cool tea commercials coming out of Asia (notably the weird Mugi-Cha commercial and the cute caterpillar commercial), but these days there are even better Asian coffee ads:

Celebrity coffee ad shows coffee as desirable and more important to reporters than what a famous person has to say.

David Lynch coffee commercial makes coffee mysterious and (seemingly) more important than a missing woman. (There's a whole series of these on YouTube.)

And... Brad Pitt is in not one but TWO Japanese coffee commercials. Need I say more?

Beyond just ads, a popular South Korean drama is based in a coffee shop run by actor/model heartthrob Gong Yoo. (Here, he's in a coffee ad, but re: the show... Talk about product placement!) In Asia, coffee has become hip, edgy, alluringly exotic, cool. Too bad tea hasn't managed to do that on a bigger level here yet!

Tea industry, we have to be able to compete! These ads are WAY better than our ads and (as you can see) they've been around for much longer (in the U.S.) and are way edgier (around the world). Part of the issue is money, as you can learn in somebody's Powerpoint presentation on coffee advertising budgets, but part of it is an issue of cultural identification. We need to finally embrace the idea that tea is cool (at least in the U.S.)! After all, which is the unusual, exotic beverage (in the U.S.)? Which makes you feel better for longer? Which is embraced by tech rock stars like Kevin Rose? Which is the beverage of choice of foodies in-the-know? We can do this, people. I want to see innovation! After all, you weren't attracted to tea because it was the same-old thing, right? Why make commercials that make it seem like something boring that you only drink for health? Or just another goofy ad for another random product?

(Side note one: I'll probably post some weird tea commercials from Asia soon. (There are plenty to choose from.) Look out for it!

Side note two: If you can't do ads, at LEAST do press releases. Don't have time? I write them. Contact me at vee (at) veetea (dot) com for details.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Article: Unusual Tea Origins

You can blame it on climate change, shifting economic status or connoisseurs' need for something new, but the fact remains that unusual tea origins are getting to be hot right now. I just covered the trend for World Tea News. Excerpt:

Terroir, the concept of distinct flavor imbued by region-specific factors such as climate, soil and varietal, originated with French wine-making, but it also applies to tea. Pettigrew said today’s tea consumers want to treat tea like wine and are taking a new interest in origin.

“You don’t excite people with just average tea; you need the unusual experiences (such as new origins) to make it more exciting,” she said.

Cain said this new-found connoisseurship does not mean tea businesses should forgo old favorites – then, he went on to passionately describe his current favorite tea, a “fruity and full” first flush Nepalese black tea with “fascinating” peaks and levels in flavor.

This kind of excitement about new discoveries – and the work of people like Melican, who has traveled to 26 tea-producing countries on six continents – is encouraging the expansion of specialty production techniques into a multitude of new and unexpected places.

Some traditional origins are also producing orthodox teas and using foreign processing methods in response to customer connoisseurship, Cain and Pettigrew added.

This was fascinating to research. I hope to write more on some of these individual origins in the future, when they are further along. In the meantime, you can read the full article on World Tea news.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Organic vs. Non-Organic

I know you all purchase organic products when you can (right?), if not for yourself, then for the environment. However, sometimes organic can equate to expensive, and right now high price tags can be as hard to swallow as pesticide-laden foods. Dr. Weil recently posted these twelve foods to buy organic regardless of the price tag. He also posted twelve non-organic foods with minimal pesticide residue (a.k.a. "items you don't have to buy organic"). You may notice that tea isn't on either list. The truth of the matter is that conventional tea is still relatively low in pesticide residue... but that doesn't mean it's better for the planet, the plants or the producers. You may be glad to know that I recently heard a pound of tea has less pesticide residue than a single apple. Wow! Lemme know if you'd like to see a full story on pesticides in tea and I'll pitch it this month.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Harvard Business Review on Tea

The Harvard Business Review has an interesting article on tea in China in the 19th century. Excerpt:

Chinese methods of processing and enjoying tea were reinvented over the centuries. As late as the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), powdered teas were gourmet extravagances, which gave rise to the varieties central to the Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu). Tastes changed decisively in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) to favor types of loose, whole-leaf teas like those of the present day. No longer beaten to a froth in bowls and drunk out of them, tea was now brewed or steeped in teapots (another innovation of this period) and sipped from cups. By the middle of the eighteenth century (the mid-Qing dynasty), the three major classifications of contemporary Chinese teas had emerged—the fully fermented black teas (hongcha) favored throughout the former British Empire, semi-fermented teas (gingcha), such as the oolong so popular in North America, and unfermented green teas (lücha), which secured a following in more limited markets, such as North Africa. As evident in the nomenclature, the degree of fermentation or oxidation allowed in tea processing largely determined the nature of the output. Whether done manually or mechanically, the manipulation of newly picked leaves activates their oxidation, and firing or drying halts the process at the desired point.

Very interesting! You can read the rest and see more rare photos here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tea in Film

I recently asked my Twitter peeps about their favorite movie scenes involving tea. Here are their responses:

Winnie at Teance said, "the scene in Fearless with Jet Li before the fight is good."

HonestTea said, "The Mad Hatter's tea party from AliceinWonderland!"

JeeJuno said, "Karen and Felicity drink tea in a scene from Out of Africa, not a grand scene, but a GRAND movie!!"

dcbuck said, "The only scene I can even think of is the bit from the second Karate Kid movie just before the very dramatic storm sets in."

Also, thetearooms linked this segment on tea at Harrods. (I visited Harrods' tea department when I was in London. Fantastic!) The film clip includes an amusing (and very dated) segment on how to brew tea with a teabag. YouTube kindly led me to this old film how to brew tea with information that's (mostly) still relevant today. (I love the use of the words "tea juice" throughout...)

What's your favorite movie scene involving tea? Seen any interesting old tea films lately?

Monday, June 1, 2009

iPhones for Tea

My iPhone died over the weekend. I have been a Mac user for as long as I can remember and I never had any problems with my computers or my first generation iPhone. Also, I use it for my business quite a bit -- calls, texts, email, interview recordings, photos.... I need this phone pretty much any time I want to get work done. Fortunately, when I took it to the Apple store, they were AWESOME! Great customer service. They replaced my iPhone within an hour, despite the fact that I didn't have an appointment and they were slammed with customers. No hassle, no rudeness, just support. I wish more companies ran like that! It made me respect Apple all the more.

Apparently, Apple thinks my kind of business is pretty cool, too... or at least something their customers would be into. A new iPhone commercial features the operation of a tea business as an example of how you can use your iPhone.