Coffee leaf tea seems well positioned to build a distinctive niche in the tea market. It is produced from the wasted leaf of coffee bushes, using tea oxidation processing principles. Coffee making selects only the bean. The leaf is discarded. Coffee leaf tea turns it into a refined, lightly caffeinated beverage that is close to a green tea in flavor and not at all like that of coffee.
Coffee leaf tea combines four characteristics appealing to tea lovers: (1) a full and smooth green tea flavor, (2) scientifically supported evidence of anti-inflammatory health benefits, (3) a light caffeination that is lower than even green tea, and (4) economic benefit and sustainable growth for coffee growers.
The tea has a nutty taste rather than the more grassy one of many greens. Technically, it is not a true tea since it does not come from the camellia sinsensis plant.
The tea is smooth and does not become bitter even after long steeping. It blends well with the same type of botanicals, herbs and spices as tea. Wize Monkey offers mango, ginger lemon, chocolate and strawberry blends plus a masala chai.
It produces strong anti-inflammatory health benefits through a compound named mangiferin and in its balancing the body’s production of nitric oxide. There is some evidence of impacts on Type 2 diabetes and on insulin and cholesterol levels. Claims of cancer prevention are suggestive but untested in clinical experiments with human subjects.
The content level of mangiferin in coffee leaves is very high. Mangiferin has been widely researched; it is an antioxidant polythenol, as is EGCG, the “magic molecule” that is the primary health facilitator of green tea. Mangiferin is found primarily in mangoes.
The UBC Food Science research showed striking impacts of the Wize Monkey processing methods on nitric oxide bioactivity. Nitric oxide is strongly associated with blood pressure regulation and vascular functioning.
The tea is lightly caffeinated but lower in amount than even green tea. This provides both a flavor boost and the proven wellness and cognitive benefits of mild caffeine consumption. That widens the potential market, offering herbal tea and rooibos choices a healthy option and green tea drinkers a robust alternative.
Sustainability and economic benefits
The tea offers coffee growers a stable year-round source of income. Today, the beans are the cash crop, with the growing season lasting just three months of the year. Growers must rely on migratory labor and 90% of the permanent community workers are unemployed during the other 9 months. Grower prices are volatile and have been declining for many years, often precipitously. In 2014 the average international trade price reached $5 a kilogram. At the end of May 2019, it had halved.
Coffee leaf tea production generates a secondary income for farmers by upcycling the coffee leaves that farmers would typically discard.
Hence, coffee leaf tea cultivation is complementary to the coffee bean harvest and sustainable.
Coffee leaf tea is both old and new. Known as “kuti”, it has been consumed in Ethiopia and Indonesia for centuries, largely as a health aid. Efforts to introduce it in the West date back to the early 1800s. Its health benefits were promoted at the massive British Great Festival of 1851. It didn’t take off, primarily because of the growth and profitability of the coffee bean.
The new product is the creation of a small Canadian tea company, Wize Monkey, whose two founders were attracted to it by research that showed coffee leaves were surprisingly high in anti-oxidant content. They worked with a Nicaraguan coffee famer who became a third founder and with the University of British Columbia to build the base for processing and understanding the chemistry of the tea. Wize Monkey won the award for best new tea product at the World Tea Expo in 2015.
Wize Monkey is the only branded coffee leaf tea in the Western market. There are a few Ethiopian kuti imports. Reviews are growing and positive and media coverage includes The New York Times and Forbes. The quality of the product seems well-established. The UBC studies and other research on its wellness contribution is credible and reliable. Market success seems to rest on building customer awareness and expanding distribution, including international expansion from the Canadian base.
Daily Coffee News, Modern Farmer, UK Daily Telegraph, Forbes, New York Times, National Institute of Health, Modern Farmer, Wize Monkey, Steepster