Friday, January 22, 2010

Starbucks, Jamba reading the tea leaves

Two national beverage chains are turning a focus on tea:

1. Starbucks has offered Tazo teas for years, in plain ol’ CTC bags. Last week, the mega-chain quietly made the transition with Tazo to offering whole-leaf sachets instead, for sale and brewing. The blends stay the same (Awake, Zen, China Green Tips, Chai, etc.), with two more added — Vanilla Rooibos and Orange Blossom — and one gone (Berryblossom White, which was utterly underwhelming).

Say what you will about Starbucks, but Tazo teas are pretty good (their bottled offerings are still in my top 5) and, well, the places are convenient simply because they’re everywhere.

Here’s an interview with Michael DeLaCruz, Starbucks manager of research and development, which includes a few mildly intriguing insights, such as — in these hard economic times — “The premium tea segment of the tea industry is continuing to see growth, whereas other areas are not.”

2. Jamba Juice, which snubbed its hot drinks a couple of years ago (to my great dismay), is jumping back into the hot stuff, adding a line of Mighty Leaf-based drinks and teas beginning March 1. The lineup includes three blended tea lattes, plus a hot chocolate, as well as six Mighty Leaf bagged teas: Breakfast, Earl Grey, Green Dragon, African Nectar and Detox Infusion. They’ll also make a Chillicious Chai Smoothie. Not everyone will get them: the company has 742 stores, and the hot drinks are coming to 340 of them.

Jamba experimented with hot drinks back around 2006, test-marketing some great drinks in Chicago and Seattle. They had a scrumptious ginger-tea things with fresh apple juice that I was ordering throughout the winter — it was delicious. In 2007, Jamba CEO Paul Clayton explained, “Our research said it was well received, but in the end we didn’t sell any.” We’ll see how they do this time around. March seems like an odd time of year to debut hot teas, but here’s to ’em.

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