Evy Chen is the founder of Boston-based Evy Tea. She gets plenty of press – from Forbes as a young entrepreneur of note, from the tea industry as the pioneer of cold brew tea, and from tourist and foodie coverage of her teas, two tea bars and a converted 1976 Airstream mobile bar.
Chen will tell her story during the World Tea Expo. “I call it bottle your dream,” she said, “it’s a presentation on how to enter the ready-to-drink market.”
Chen said formulating for distribution in bottles and cans enables tea companies to “increase brand value and product volume by supplying grocery stores and other outlets.”
Her teas are a striking accomplishment and bring together most of the features driving tea innovation. If a team brainstormed for a weekend to come up with the perfect tea for our times, the whiteboard would be scrawled with:
- Start from reality: the U.S. is an iced tea and RTD nation – more than 80% of the market. It is convenience- and mobility-centered: pick up at the gas station, take to the gym, choose for easy hydration, a substitute for sodas or just a pleasant relaxant. The mass market supermarket staples are also low-grade leaf plus a dictionary load of sweeteners: corn syrup, fructose, refined sugar, erythritol, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, maltodextrin, sucralose and saccharin.
So, make a convenience drink with a much higher quality and flavor than what is, in Evy Chen’s words “fast food tea.” One of her first tea offers communicates the style and craft focus: a premium white tea with chamomile and lavender.
- Build on where innovation is fueling growth:
Three forces are transforming beverages: wellness, flavors andtransparency. In tea and coffee, the
old commodity staples that aspired to mediocrity and rarely achieved it are
losing market share – hot coffee sales dropped 3% in 2018 and the emblematic
English black tea has seen ex-drinkers switching to flat latte coffees for a
decade. Botanicals, spices, matcha, turmeric, hibiscus are turning RTD labels to
“Organic, of course.”
and “Naturally, natural.” The master blenders are producing exotic, colorful, smooth and beautifully balanced healthy teas with never an -ate, -ite, -ose or poly-pheno something additive added.
So, adapt coffee cold brew to tea as a recipe for a master chef to bring out a range of distinctive combinations of body and nuance.
It took around three years for Evy Chen to transfer cold brew methods from coffee to tea. ‘I was the first to bring to market cold brew – ever.” She was brought up in China’s tea heartland. At school in the U.S. she missed both the flavors of leaf tea, and the sense of community it embodied. She observes that cold tea and sugar were not part of the Chinese tradition and that while there were plenty of places in Boston for social gathering, they were built around alcohol. She called her own outlets tea bars, not tea houses or tea shops. Her overall assessment of tea in the U.S. was it is “mainly a boring grandma” drink or too sweet.
Cold brew eliminates heating the water in processing. This preserves more of the nutrients and allows the flavors to be absorbed over a 16-hour period into the liquid. This produces a smooth and robust base for flavor enhancement that is low in caffeine but has some zippiness. Evy Chen contrasts her teas, which include an oolong with rosemary and orange zest, with the power punch peach, citrus and other flavorings that disguise the lack of fresh and subtle tea taste in the water.
Her business career was launched by winning a prize of $5,000 at Emerson College, in Boston, in 2011. She began with a narrow range of four teas. At one of the first showings of the teas, she won The North American Tea Championship (2013). Whole Foods contracted to distribute her tea and Evy Tea’s wholesale business has grown consistently from 100 commercial accounts to around 500 outlets.
In 2014, the company opened its first tea bar, in the disused commercial garage that had been its initial headquarters. This is in “a forgotten corner of the neighborhood” in a part of Boston that it is to fashionable Newbury Street in the Back Bay as Queens is to Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. (It is located almost opposite the Sam Adams brewery, a fellow pioneer in a traditional industry.) Growth in business and reputation has been marked and smooth. Sales are estimated as in the $2 to $2.5 million range. This is still a small business, dependent on the personality, skills and drive of its founder. It is localized. It may or may not scale but it is certainly on a winning track. That is worth musing over while enjoying a bottle of Back tea strawberry basil.
Sources: Boston periodicals, Boston Magazine, Boston Herald, WBZ4 CBS Boston; tea and coffee Industry press
Dive Deeper in this World Tea Expo Session
How to Break into the RTD Game will cover how an entrepreneur can launch ideas from market assignment, to formulation, packaging and finding a market niche on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 P.M. in Room CB6.