So, what is Specialty Tea?

NB: this is the second part of the article on specialty tea, make sure you read the first part first.

Specialty Tea is a tea with a high added value, regardless of the way the added value is created.

The same can be put in other words.

If trading in small volumes of tea allows your business to work effectively due to a high margin, then you are working with Specialty Tea.

This is an absolutely universal and very flexible definition, perfectly suitable for all tea cultures — producing, commercial and consumer. It works according to the same principle that is described in the parable of three bricklayers who do the same job, but one thinks that he is laying bricks, the second that he is making money, and the third that he is building a temple.

You see, if you make tea from leaves harvested from an abandoned tea plantation somewhere in Georgia and sell it for $5 per kilogram, this is just Georgian tea. And if you call the same tea “Eco-friendly tea from a wild plantation from (here goes the name of a village), made by an old-school tea-grower” and sell it for $100 per kilogram — this is Specialty.

If you bought a container of Dianhong tea, packaged it in hundred-gram packs and sell it through the supermarket — you sell Chinese black tea (well, if you want, you can add the word “red” in parentheses). But if you packaged this tea in beautiful jars with a car on the label and offer it as an official drink at the opening of the Chery dealership, then this is a Specialty Tea.

If you bought five kilograms of Assam of unknown production year from a wholesaler and sell it cheap and by weight in your tea shop, then you are selling Assam. But if you poured sugar hearts into it, added a little oak bark and pine needles, called the whole thing “Signature tea” and made the price ten times higher, then this is Specialty.

If you sell chamomile in filter bags, you are a pharmacy. But if you sell these filter bags at an exorbitant price at tantric yoga classes as a harmonizing drink that has absorbed the prana of the Moroccan sun, then this is Specialty.

If you brew Ceylon tea in a cafe by simply throwing a bag into a teapot, then you are selling tea, which is then described in social media posts as “the kitchen is decent, but the tea is shameful”. But if your client can choose an additive to tea themselves, and a map of Sri Lanka hangs on the wall, with a flag stuck in the lower part of the island made from a tag of a tea bag, then this is Specialty.

And so on. These examples, by the way, clearly show that the further from the plantation, the more ways there are to turn tea into Specialty Tea. So, in tea growing and manufacturing, the share of Specialty Tea in the total volume of tea is small. When selling tea in stores, the share of Specialty Tea rises sharply. And when serving tea in public catering, Specialty Tea begins to dominate over common tea.

And, again, tea belonging to the Specialty Tea segment may have nothing to do with its consumer characteristics. Specialty Tea is not about the characteristics of tea at all, but about the resourcefulness and luck of the seller. At this point another curious nuance emerges from this whole story.

Specialty Tea is a competitive tool used by certain players in the tea market to try to differentiate themselves from competitors. Therefore, despite the versatility and simplicity of the above definition, there will always be those who want to give Specialty Tea some other definition that will make their tea special, and other teas not. Therefore, it makes sense to clarify the definition given above:

Specialty Tea is a high value-added tea with the added value being created by whoever gives the definition for Specialty Tea.

This definition is also suitable for any Specialty Tea synonyms such as Speciality Tea, Fine Tea, Professional Tea, Master’s Tea, Craft Tea, Artisanal Tea or Gongfu Cha.

Olga Nikandrova & Denis Shumakov. 2021