By Jeni Dodd, Jeni Dodd Tea
As the specialty tea industry searches for alternatives to increase market growth, using strategies from other successful specialty sectors is an attractive option. Traditionally, tea has been coupled with coffee since both are served hot and have caffeine.
However, the wine industry may prove a keener ally for specialty tea. Joe Cracco, sommelier at Le Bernadin (a three-star Michelin restaurant in New York City), compares wine and tea:
“I appreciate the complexity of tea, nuance and layers of flavor, and the way it connects on an emotional level. The flavors and aromas recalling smells and tastes from memories and resonating in a deeper level. Wine does the same for me. I’ll smell something and be transported to a place or a time or a memory.”
Terroir expresses a sense a place and stimulates sensory memory for both wine and tea. Like wine, tea has multiple and varying flavor profiles rooted in the land. Fundamental elements from soil, climate and terrain are tasted in each cup of tea, as in a glass of wine. For example, the bold briskness in tea from the plains versus the layered and often subtle flavors acquired from the slow leaf growth at high elevation. A similar distinction can be found in the lush, ripe-fruit flavors of valley-grown grape wine versus acidic, bright wine derived from grapes grown at elevation.
Another similarity: Tea and wine both elicit a sensory, cultural journey. One sip of a top-level Japanese gyrokuro conveys the craft and attention to detail of a culture that exalts the complexity of umami flavor. Just as a Provencal rosé evokes the casual leisure of the south of France. And, while coffee can overpower food, the subtlety of wine and tea pair with food to enhance and height the dining experience.
Wine and tea parallels such as these suggest that the tea industry may use wine marketing strategies to increase the specialty tea market. Up until the late 1960s and early 1970s, wine in the United States was enjoyed by very few. Now, the U.S. consumes the largest volume of wine in the world. How did that happen and is it possible to replicate this in specialty tea?
I argue that education has been the key to the successful marketing story of wine. The demanding examination process and technical detail required to become certified in the Court of Master Sommeliers provides an assurance of theoretical knowledge and tasting abilities. This benefits the consumer in two ways. First, it allows the consumer to have confidence in the sommelier’s opinions and the valuation of a wine. Second, as the consumer becomes better educated by the trained sommelier, accessibility barriers from lack of knowledge disappear. This, in turn, empowers the consumer to buy more wine. The education becomes a powerful marketing strategy that feeds itself. As the wine market grew, the earning potential of sommeliers increased providing the perfect enticement to pursue the rigorous education and certification process. Education, market strategy and earning potential aligned, working together to develop the robust wine industry.
While the tea industry has education opportunities and programs, there is a lack of correlation between acquiring tea education and earning potential. This abandons a valuable marketing opportunity as evidenced by sommeliers. The industry must find a way to reward rigorous study of tea beyond the love of the leaf. Using tea like sommeliers use wine, as a sensory experience or food pairing, elevates value of tea and tea knowledge beyond merely a drink served at the end of a meal. Increasing the value of tea will lead to increased revenue from tea. This would mean greater income potential for those with tea knowledge, which would incentivize acquiring tea education. The tea industry should support the development of educated and well-trained tea experts as this will lead to empowered consumer who will in turn purchase more tea.
Given the similarities between tea and wine, the tea industry should continue to investigate and learn from successful wine marketing strategies.
Born and raised in America’s heartland, Jeni Dodd has journeyed far from the plains of Kansas to remote tea-growing regions throughout the world in search of the perfect cup of tea. The owner of Jeni Dodd Tea, a company dedicated to importing hand-crafted, unique specialty teas and offering tea education for groups and events, Dodd seeks to expand the public’s awareness of the specialty tea market and lead consumers to discover the exquisite joy of the leaf. A Certified Tea Specialist through the Specialty Tea Institute, she has completed all of STI’s Level IV courses offered to date. She’s also taught future tea entrepreneurs and enthusiasts at the Specialty Tea Institute and has presented several times at the World Tea Conference + Expo and TEXSOM, as well as regional tea festivals in the United States. She was the keynote speaker at the Australian Tea Cultural Seminar and spoke at the International Tea Festival in Nepal. True to her roots, Dodd remains an avid Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan. Learn more at JeniDoddTea.com.