Follow the Leaders: Tea Trend Predictions for 2020

January 7, 2020 No Comments Data Dan Bolton

World Tea News asked beverage professionals from several segments to peer into the New Year. Here is what they see:

The Tea market will continue to face four key issues in 2020.

Supply and Demand
Supply continues to outstrip demand and history has proven that if tea prices rise, the producers will manufacture more tea to take advantage of the higher prices. Producers, by skipping pruning cycles or plucking a little further down on the bush have an almost immediate ability to turn on a volume tap of 20% more tea. The result of more availability and poorer quality: lower prices. Escaping the clutches of this boom/bust cycle will be one of the keys to the long-term survival of the business. There are only two solutions: improve consumption or reduce production.


Free and Unencumbered Trade
International trade is becoming much more of a challenge to the entire supply chain.

  1. Lack of harmonization of crop chemical tolerances
  2. Political vs. Science-based reactions (see Glyphosate decisions)
  3. Country of origin labeling
  4. Tariffs

Economic growth and stability cannot be achieved long term without free trade. The industry must work together to address the above issues.


The Tea Association of the U.S.A., sees sustainability as a three-pronged:
Ecological Sustainability

Social Sustainability

Economic Sustainability

I submit that tea has demonstrated a strong commitment to ecological sustainability, and it is the latter two that need action. Economic sustainability is the biggest threat. Producers (generally) are not making money. The realized prices of tea have not moved since the 1950’s, when taking inflation into account. This marginalizes workers at origin and allows for unsustainable economic models, impacting the means for people maintain the social fabric in the towns and villages where they live. Meanwhile, large retailers advertise and speak about sustainability, yet do nothing about allowing the price of the product in their stores to rise, disallowing the opportunity for the producers to realize a reasonable margin. The time is come to put pressure on retailers to ensure that EVERY player in the supply chain receives fair value for the work they do.

The Goodness of Tea

The number of positive attributes regarding tea continues to be buttressed by research and demonstrates why this great product should be consumed by EVERYONE! Yet, we continue to battle those negative articles on tea which usually are based on false assumptions or purported facts. This “Click-bait Culture” serves only those who want to attract attention and encourage visitor to click on their linked or their particular web page. Further we see recycled stories from YEARS ago, that have long been disproven, continue to make their way into the news cycle. This attitude of whoever gets there first, or whoever publishes first, drives inaccuracies and turns the news reporter into newsmakers. This cannot continue. Tea needs to be celebrated for its healthful properties, not used as ammunition in some idiotic arsenal.

So, while we continue to face these challenges, I remain wholly optimistic. The tea supply chain is resilient; producers generally want to produce good product and consumers want to receive good value.

These are not conflicting goals. However, we need to set expectations with consumers, demand fair return for all in the supply chain and continue to shout from the rooftops about the goodness of tea, both for our world and our health.

Peter Goggi, President

In 2020, functional teas get adaptogenic. We’ve all surely heard of Turmeric herbal tea, as it’s become available in virtually every natural grocery store and trendy cafe over the past five years. But unless you’re a big herbal tea consumer, you may not have heard of Tulsi, Ashwaganda, Rhodiola and Maca.

What all these herbs and Turmeric have in common is that they are in a class of plants called adaptogens, first classified in the mid-20th century by a Soviet scientist researching ways to minimize the stress response in active combat aviators. Along with green tea and CBD (cannabidiol) which are also adaptogens, they are helping to take functional teas to a new level, one which fits our lifestyles right now. Adaptogens help manage both stress and hormone balance. The balancing response of “adaptogens” is non-specific – that is to say, they help bring the body back to center, regardless of which direction the source of the stressor came from. Both men and women are realizing that emotional energy directly impacts physical energy and health. Solutions for stress relief and hormone balance are in high demand for many demographics, from athletes and busy urban professionals, to the elderly.

We’ll also watch tea get “fancy” in foodservice in the New Year. Indeed, tea is a natural complement to the modern foodie dining experience. Taste matters. The premiumization of tea is driving innovation in cuisine and mixology. Many incarnations of tea are finding their way onto the menus of fine restaurants and trendy cocktail bars. This will change the face of specialty tea in the next decade. Creativity in mixology and specialty cafe drinks, as well as the pairing of premium teas with culinary delights, will bring many new customers their first outstanding tea experience.

In 2020, expect more tea festivals coming your way! This past year was the first time in my 15+ years in the tea industry that I finally went to a consumer-directed tea event outside my home state. The Rocky Mountain Tea Festival, which we’ve so enjoyed attending and participating here in Boulder, Colo., didn’t take place this year, so I opted to speak at the Los Angeles Tea Festival (founded by Devan Shah a decade ago), in addition to the Paris Coffee Show and the Chicago Tea Festival (both of which premiered this year). I was absolutely blown away by the wildly diverse and upbeat tea energies these regional events created! Over 1,000 tea devotees as well as folks just curious about tea, or tagging along with friends, attended each show. The range of talks included industry stalwarts and producers from origin, but also many local vendors and practitioners of tea, including mixologists and chefs, authors, artists and ceramicists. North American customers have now enjoyed more than a decade of premium tea availability in upscale grocery stores and cafes. Their palates are becoming trained to differentiate quality whole leaf teas from low-end dust and fannings, as evidenced by healthy growth in the premium tea sector and a shrinkage in low-end mass-market teas. Alongside the development of increasingly sophisticated consumer palates comes a growing interest in everything tea related. The regional shows work to satisfy this growing appreciation and thirst for information and new ideas surrounding tea. The local and regional shows are growing in attendance and number, and sometime soon there’s likely to be one coming your way. I highly recommend taking a few hours to go check one or more out. There’s bound to be something new and unexpected there, even if you’ve spent a lifetime in the tea industry! You might also find The Tea Spot and some of these shows in 2020.

—Maria Uspenski
Founder and CEO of , author of Cancer Hates Tea

2020 will be another year of growth as more national and international news sources and influencers will continue to build buzz around the tea lifestyle. This buzz is not around new technologies or innovations of tea, although there will be no shortage of entrepreneurs attempting to innovate tea. Instead, what attracts new people to tea is the social, cultural, and educational experience. Every community across the country has at least one tea shop or enthusiast that is exposing these experiences and creating tea community. 

Most concerning for me going into this new year with such a newfound love for tea by consumers is impending limitations on importing specialty tea by the FDA. In the final months of 2019 many small-scale tea importers have experienced returned shipments and prolonged FDA holds at customs due to newly enforced rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Small scale tea business and start-ups not only have to deal with complex and costly importing standards but also local food safety standards for legally serving a simple cup of tea.

The silver lining of these new importing standards is that it will require tea businesses to increase their engagement with tea producers in order to bring them up to compliance. In this process, not only will the food safety standard increase, but overall quality control will increase which means greater consistency in quality of supply. A level of professionalism among tea producers in rural communities around the world will increase their sustainability in the global market and build confidence among tea vendors. 

One innovation that I don’t believe will be develop in 2020 is the use of blockchain for transparency in the supply chain. Of course, blockchain can be used to hold, share, and verify data, but the data must first exist. There is much more work to be done at the point of cultivation and production to create this data from seed to cup. Additionally, blockchains are not efficient. The storage, sharing, and verifying of data can be done much more efficiently with a conventional digital database. My business has been managing a digital database at minimal costs for the past seven years that is providing transparency in supply chain. The most powerful aspect is the fact that all the teas within the supply chain are grown and produced by a single person or family versus a siloed network of growers, workers, factories, brokers, traders, and wholesalers. I hope in 2020 tea professionals will ask more detailed questions to their colleagues in the industry to make this data more accessible before assuming blockchain will solve the issues.

Elyse Petersen

At Firsd Tea, we see 3 words coming together in ways they never have before: China + Tea + Sustainability.

In the past, buyers have (sometimes rightfully) questioned the environmental conditions and quality of a selection of Chinese goods. But China has made great strides in sustainability, including setting goals for electric vehicle sales (25% by 2025) and increased environmental protection enforcement.

For years, the Chinese tea industry has been ahead of this curve. From 2014 to 2016, China grew from delivering 34% to 52% of total volume of U.S. imports of Fair Trade tea. In 2018, China’s production of Rainforest Alliance certified tea increased 32% compared to the previous year. Firsd Tea has seen requests for Fair Trade tea increase exponentially the last two years. What may be more surprising is the fact these initiatives are being coordinated across a network of mostly (80%) smallholder tea farms and villages. Private label tea brands are seeing sustainable Chinese tea in a new light.

Additionally, Firsd Tea’s parent company is furthering these efforts. Zhejiang Tea Group partnered with tea villages in donating 15 million tea seedlings to poverty-stricken villages. This economic + environmental sustainability initiative, one of the largest undertaken in the global tea industry, is projected to lift thousands of village households out of poverty while protecting the surrounding rural environment. Look to China tea to further deliver on its sustainability promises to the global market.

Jason Walker
Marketing Director,

Increasing Weather-Related Concerns

Weather patterns are changing faster than forecasters anticipated. Consequently, annual super storms will continue to disrupt tea production and impact product availability, quality and pricing. As a result of these volatilities, it’s important that companies continue expanding their resource options for teas, spices and botanicals to avoid disruptions in production at their own facilities. Adding to this, we’ll continue to experience global political instability which may cause additional price fluctuations of many raw materials. These factors may create some additional challenges for smaller retail tea shops who are already struggling with rising expenses. With an increase in these consequential price uncertainties, companies would be wise to build a financial buffer in to their 2020 business plan to offset unreliable COGS forecasts.

Consumer Purchasing Drivers

Consumers are becoming savvy when it comes to initiatives such as . Companies that are eco-friendly, driven by social consciousness and ethical treatment of workers, sustainability, and support ideals that resonate with consumers will continue to see a faster uptick in growth. Simply put, more consumers are supporting impactful brands that are committed to making the world a better place. And they like telling the world via their social media about the brands they are proud to support and why. This presents some great opportunities for tea companies already committed to many of these ideals. Stash Tea is one such company and joined the ranks of other global like-minded companies over two years ago to become B-Corp certified. Emerging tea companies should take note and keep an insightful eye on consumer purchasing behaviors.

Tea Aficionados Want Better Teas Served

Patrons of restaurants, coffee shops and cafes are not just wishing for better quality teas and tea service — some insist on it. They know quality, and when they go out, they are no longer satisfied with the same ho-hum selection of blasé tea bags or even pyramid tea bags. They want the same attention given to tea service that establishments give to their food, desserts and coffee, painstakingly made craft cocktails, and carefully chosen beer and wine selections. The good news for tea industry professionals is that this provides new opportunities for companies and smaller tea shops to supply quality loose leaf teas and accoutrements to food service partners. In a world where health and well-being are becoming a priority for many consumers, seeking foods and beverages that carry perceived health halos and functional benefits has taken precedence. That said, indulging in a celebratory beverage may be defined as ordering a sophisticated loose tea or kombucha over the traditional craft cocktail or expensive wine of yesteryear. Loose leaf tea also supports the environmentally friendly goals of many food service establishments because it represents less wasteful packaging. This is a winning strategy for food service entities who aim to improve their tea service, and in doing so not only benefit from loose teas’ high profit margins, but also score points for making eco-conscious choices.

Tea is Trending in RTD Beverages

Tea continues to be a big player in the RTD beverage sector.  RTD products will continue to emerge this year with tea being the star ingredient highlighted for its association with functional wellness. This means that we’re seeing a steady growth in products not only made with black tea – which continues to hold dominate market share – but also with green and white teas that are considered even more antioxidant rich and healthy. Numerous tea companies, Stash Tea included, are test marketing or selling their own RTD teas. Many of these beverages are sugar-free and those that do contain sugar aim for significantly less than consumers see in traditional soft drinks. Also, tea is taking the craft cocktail market by storm. In RTD this has prompted a number of releases of low-alcohol canned tea-based cocktails with low to no sugar. Taste still rules, but the photogenic appeal of an RTD can or bottle is equally important for consumers engaged in social media personas. And brands should take heed of the power of these personas to push a brand upward when your products are perceived as “hitting the mark.”

Jhanne Jasmine
R&D Specialist & Tea Program Educator,

Specialty tea consumption will continue to rise and with this increased exposure to a variety of fine teas, there will be an increased awareness and demand for high quality teas by consumers. Companies will be expected to focus on the safety and sustainability of their packaging to ensure no plastics or other contaminates interfere with each cup of tea. In addition to safe packaging practices, the quality of tea will be judged by safe fluoride content levels.

Wellness will continue to be a leading factor for increased tea consumption, resulting in wider herbal and tisane offerings and awareness of the difference in quality between specialty fine teas, organic teas and mass-produced teas. There will be a decreased consumption of mass-produced teas and an increased consumption of specialty fine teas, as the educated consumer’s value is on quality and wellness.

There will be decreased consumer confidence in certified organic teas. Some organic teas contain up to 4 to 5 times the amount of fluoride over non-organic specialty fine teas, like Newby.

As seen in previous years, sustainable packaging solutions will remain a constant challenge for the future as companies seek to balance the optimum requirement for preserving the quality of the leaf while remaining sustainable in its delivery. In addition to sustainable packaging, companies will be more transparent in their sourcing, contribution to tea growers and practice more charitable giving. This rise in consumer demand for quality, safe, sustainable and ethical teas will challenge the hospitality and health services industry to put more emphasis on quality, health, safety and sustainability when making their tea selection.

Globally, tea has played a rich role throughout time. In 2020, we expect not only the increased standard for quality of teas, but an enrichment and revival of the heritage, history, art and culture. This will be the time where the tea industry will revolutionize the traditional gifting marketing by providing contemporary tea gift solutions as a healthy alternative to alcohol and confectionary to fulfil a new consumer demand.

Aneta Aslakhanova
Global Marketing Director,

As the Kombucha segment continues to grab market share from the floundering soda sector, expect new entrants to continue to flood the category, including in the over-21 category. Many of our consultation clients are also asking to learn how to brew hard (alcoholic) Kombucha and Kombucha beer. Following the trend of consumers seeking “better for you” products, the perceived benefit coupled with the unique flavor profile of hard or higher ABV Kombuchas present a unique offering which is also piquing the interest of larger commercial beer brewers like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada.

With trends like Dry January and Sober October gaining traction amongst millennials, the range of complex flavors offered by Kombucha brands provides consumers a wealth of choices. Plus there is no shortage of creativity as forward thinking mixologists are whipping up mocktails that infuse flavor with benefits. Several Kombucha Kocktail recipes (with and without alcohol) abound on the internet and in The Big Book of Kombucha. Adios Gin, Hello Ginger Kombucha!

Speaking of flavors, non-traditional ingredients like activated charcoal, hops, CBD (or hemp) and functional mushrooms (chaga, cordyceps, reishi) grow in popularity. Many are inspired by Ayurveda & TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) such as ashwaganda, schisandra and turmeric or head south of the border for jalapeno, habanero and cayenne. “Flavornauts” and culinary thrill seekers will have loads of options to make their tongues happy in the new decade!

Hannah Crum

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