Dirty Chai: Sweet Leaf to Debut Coffee-Tea Blend

Granny may have traded her bifocals for Aldous Huxley specs, but the slight packaging update hasn’t altered two of the most important propositions of Nestlé Waters North America-owned Sweet Leaf Tea — organic and refreshing.

That continues to be the play for the company’s latest release, a coffee-tea blend in Original and Vanilla flavors, which will debut next month at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. And as far as ready-to-drink products go, Meghan Conboy, the marketing manager of Sweet Leaf, said that these products serve as the first of their kind.

“We absolutely think this will be a new hybrid product category,” Conboy said.

The products were inspired by similar blends in Asia, where tea lattes are widespread, and by U.S. consumer behaviors in coffee shops. The market research echoes the philosophy of Joth Ricci, the president of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, employed for Cold Brew Coffee With Milk. Sweet Leaf studied coffee drinkers in their native environment and found that they were already adding a shot of espresso to their tea. Conboy said that certain baristas call it a “dirty chai.”

She added that the majority of ready-to-drink coffee products have left a void in the market.

“The options are really indulgent, and so we saw an opportunity for a refreshing ready-to-drink coffee beverage,” she said. “Ours is a really different experience from the other products out there.”

Conboy said that the blends are approachable for consumers, especially those in search of less caffeine than coffee but more than tea. Per 8 oz. serving, the Original flavor contains 26 milligrams of caffeine and the Vanilla flavor has 34 milligrams of caffeine. Both flavors are packaged in a 16 oz. bottle, Certified Organic, contain 50 calories and 12 grams of sugar per serving and have a suggested retail price of $1.49.

While tea brands such AriZona, Lipton and Snapple have stood their ground in the aisles of mainstream retailers, Sweet Leaf Tea makes its push in the natural channel, and will continue to do so with the coffee-tea blends.

According to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, the coffee-tea category has reached more than $4.2 billion in sales and has grown by 3.35 percent over the last 52 weeks ending on Jan. 26.

Conboy said that despite the growing heap of beverage options on the market, innovation of this kind proves that uncharted territories of the industry still exist.

“There are still unmet needs,” she said, “there are still opportunities.”