Tea in a Bottle
By Michael Cramer
ItoEn's Teas Tea
Tea in a bottle. Many a purists would cringe at the thought of such travesty. And with good reason. Bottled tea had long been the step-child of the big cola companies, thoroughly infused with their mass-production ethos: make it cheap, stack it high, move it fast.
However, if there is one place in the world that was well-positioned to challenge this orthodoxy, it was Japan. This seems obvious in retrospect. For Japan, in addition to being a country of many tea drinkers, is also a place where familiar products are often tinkered with, often with miraculous results. And so it was with tea.
Bottled tea the world over was a sugary concoction laden with preservatives. There was simply no other way to keep a natural product on a store shelf for too long. Especially in the heat of summer. Tea quickly oxidized and became undrinkable. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that the solution is to remove all oxygen from the container. But it would take some sort of scientist to bring this about. And these scientists happen to be working in Japan, at a company called Ito En.
In 1985, the company introduced the world's first bottled green tea. Mind you, not green-colored liquid with tea flavor additives. But pure tea, made from real tea leaves and water. And nothing else. Oolong and jasmine teas quickly followed, and a new category of drinks was born.
Ito En used a unique bottling method, the details of which the company kept secret. Unfortunately not too secret. For a stroll down any street in Japan will quickly reveal row after row of vending machines, all offering a plethora of bottled tea choices other than Ito En. Among the many brands, both local and international, one curiously stands out: Coca Cola. It seems that the cola behemoth is playing "if you can't beat them, join them." But recently, another highly reputable tea company is stepping up to the plate to take on this corporate Goliath: US! Adagio Teas' line of bottled tea, Anteadote, has now stepped up to the plate to show the world how wonderful bottle tea can be.
So it is up to us and other creative folks in the Tea Industry to once again attempt the impossible, and try to popularize bottled tea products in the United States. How do we hope to compete with the likes of Snapple and its brethren, all svelte-looking bottles, with eye-catching colors and ubiquitous ads? Simply. By appealing to an authority that truly matters: taste buds. Will we succeed? Only time will tell. However, if you soon spot a Coke Oolong Tea at your local grocer, you'll know we did much better than expected.