Making good tea is an open secret.
“Good tea in a bag, everybody can do it. Yet it’s often not done,” says Eliot Jordan, vice president of tea at Mighty Leaf Tea Company, in San Rafael, Calif. As Mighty Leaf’s tea master, Jordan is responsible for sourcing, blending, and developing teas. He was instrumental in creating the company’s new line of premium teas under the “Tea & Company” brand, introduced last June.
These teas were awarded five top prizes in the 2017 (GTC) Global Tea Competition’s single serve category, which is defined as dry whole or broken tea leaves that are sold in any type of filter bag material and served hot.
World Tea News asked Mighty Leaf’s Jordan and Director of Brand Marketing Elizabeth Lang to explain the company’s secret.
He began by noting that quality depends first on tea from the gardens, how it is processed, its density, and how it is cut and shaped―not the pouch. “Good tea always costs more,” he says, “no one can offer a great tea spending only the bottom price per kilo.”
Mighty Leaf is proud of its signature hand-stitched silken pouch infusing system but the high-quality whole leaf for which the company is known remains the most important consideration. The new line of organic certified teas and flavored blends build on the firm’s 20-year reputation.
“The hand-stitched pouch is oversized to allow plenty of room for the leaves to unfurl as they steep,” explains Jordan. The filter material is inert, permeable to allow the taste and aroma to come out, and does not impart flavors like paper, he said. Production runs are smaller, below a few hundred kilos of tea, which permits greater selectivity and freshness.
To extract fast, basic commercial flow-through tea bags consist of fannings and 2 grams or less of tea. That means they over-extract really fast. They turn the cup dark quickly, but do not keep the quality of the tea, explains Jordan.
He considers five minutes to be the outer threshold of consumer patience for steeping a cup of tea. “But we don’t rip open the tea, making the flavors gush out the side,” he says, adding, “we use whole leaf teas and recognize they take longer to infuse.”
Mighty Leaf experiments with a mix of leaf grades and dosing which is increased up to 2.5 grams per serving. There is quite a range of offerings in whole leaf categories and the proper mix of leaf sizes will show color and infuse quickly enough to please, he says.
In last year’s GTC, Mighty Leaf’s winning flavors included Organic Blood Orange Rooibos, Organic Earl Grey Crème, Organic Royal Passionfruit Green, Organic Emperor’s Breakfast tea and an Organic Vintage Pu’er.
Like tea, the art of inclusions starts with the selection of quality ingredients. Herbs are more durable and less dependent on mechanicals than tea, for example.
“When you chop up chamomile it doesn’t change its nature. It doesn’t taste any different,” but how you chop many herbs can make a difference in the way they infuse and thus the flavor they impart. “I learned that the hard way with a blend we introduced years ago. When over-steeped it had too high a concentration of cinnamon on the palate, so I smoothed out this changeable intensity by using bigger chunkier cinnamon.” he said.
“The tea category is a variety-driven category. Consumers like a lot of variety and different flavors, different innovative blends,” he said, but “we don’t have a strategy that demands a new tea every single month.”
Tea is very different than coffee. Tea drinkers might like a nice breakfast tea in the morning and a jasmine-flavored green tea at noon. Tea companies should be agile and recognize that tea enjoys a myriad of definitions for consumers, one that is definitely greater than C. Sinensis, he said. The founders of Mighty Leaf were very interested in getting their arms around the universe of tea drinkers, adds Mighty Leaf Director of Brand Marketing Elizabeth Lang.
To deliver a top-notch restaurant tea program, Mighty Leaf has to be an expert in many different categories of tea, offering 24 varieties in a pouch, she said.
“We are bringing an Organic Turmeric Ginger herbal infusion to market in 2018 to take advantage of this hot ingredient and add variety to our repertoire. Our priority is the care and crafting of really high-quality tea, delivering the best final cup,” says Lang.
Commitment to excellence
Founded in 1996, Mighty Leaf Tea expanded quickly from a regional tea company to become a global brand. Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Inc., a premier specialty coffee and tea company acquired Mighty Leaf fully in July 2017. Peet’s is part of JAB Holdings, one of the largest specialty beverage companies in the world, making available even greater resources while allowing the company to continue to focus on quality, she said.
Lang and Jordan praised the “shared values” and financial resources from corporate executives needed in pursuing premiumization “which is important to millennials who want convenience, but do not want to sacrifice quality for convenience.”
Source: Mighty Leaf Tea Company
The 2018 Single Serve Hot and Small Batch Iced Tea Global Tea Championship is happening Jan. 20-21. Entry forms are due Wednesday, Jan. 10. Click here to enter your teas today.