Origin Tea on leading innovation in a traditional tea market

Origin Tea maintains a leading position in the Australian tea market thanks to a focus on connections with plantations, innovation, and meeting the needs of its café customers.

Many coffee and tea businesses say that supporting origin is at the heart of what they do, but for few it is as literal as Origin Tea.
“We’re one of only a few tea companies in Australia who actually have their own operations at the source and direct relationships with plantations,” says Chris Seaton, Director of Origin Tea.

“Our journey and experience in the tea industry actually began in origin. Our family owned tea plantations in Sri Lanka and we founded Origin Tea at home in Australia to add value to those farms.”

Chris co-founded the family-owned Origin Tea with his brother Lawrence in 2012, seeing a gap in the market for a tea supplier with such strong ties abroad.

“There wasn’t really a good brand out there that was able to provide traceability of where their teas come from, especially from a single origin like Sri Lanka,” Lawrence says. “A lot of teas are a blend of different origins, so our focus on traceability and full control really sets us apart.”

Origin Tea continues to source its tea from the family’s farms and other nearby affiliated plantations in Sri Lanka. All its tea from Sri Lanka bears the Lion Logo of Ceylon tea, a brand awarded to teas that meet the high quality standards set by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. Chris says people often don’t realise the diversity and quality that teas can offer.

Origin Tea
From left: Origin Tea’s Ash Griffis and Lawrence Seaton, QLD Trade and Investment Minister Cameron Dick, and Origin Tea’s Chris Seaton, during a visit to discuss the company’s expansion plans in Australia.

“There’s thousands of different grades of tea available worldwide and grading the different qualities of tea is just remarkable,” Chris says.

“It can be challenging when someone thinks of tea as English Breakfast and that’s it. But we have a few champion cafés in our portfolio that demonstrate how if you really embrace tea, you can see the difference in style and performance when you’re willing to try something different.”

Operating several cafés himself, Lawrence adds there are financial benefits to promoting a diverse tea offering.

“Many café owners don’t realise the profitability of tea compared to other beverages on the menu. To make a cup of tea using a teabag only costs 28 cents, and that can be sold on to a customer for about $4.50,” Lawrence explains.

Origin Tea also works with many coffee roasters, who supply its tea on to their wholesale partners. Chris says stocking products like tea and chai, or even chocolate powders and alternative milks, allows a roaster to act as a one-stop shop for its café customers.

“Australians consume a lot of caffeine every day, and consumers are becoming wary of that. Later on in the afternoon especially, they might look for alternatives to coffee with less caffeine, and tea is perfect for the late day pick-me-up,” he says.

However, despite Origin Tea’s success over the past decade, Lawrence says the traditional black and green tea market is in decline, and that is why Origin Tea focuses on innovation to remain a leading tea brand in Australia.

“Innovation is really needed in the tea space. While there’s a decline in traditional tea, the market for unique or interesting teas and products is growing. We’re seeing increasing demand for our sticky chai, elixirs, and other natural products,” Lawrence says.

With all these product innovations, Origin Tea tries to maintain its connection to Sri Lanka. For instance, all the ingredients in its sticky chai are sourced from the country, using coconut nectar instead of honey to ensure the recipe is vegan and accessible.

Chris and Lawrence Seaton founded Origin Tea to add value to their family’s tea plantations in Sri Lanka.

“Tea is such a unique product. Creating a new tea is like cooking in a commercial kitchen. You’ve got a whole lot of different ingredients available that you can really innovate with,” Lawrence says.

“Our herbal Forest Berry tea, for example, includes hibiscus, apple, strawberry, and orange, just to name a few ingredients. There’s a lot you can do with tea, and we’re always looking to bring new products to market.”

Origin Tea’s latest innovation for the café market is its Iced Tea Syrup range, making it quick and easy for a café to produce delicious iced tea drinks.

“We’ve been working with café owners for nine years now, and feedback we receive from many of them is it’s a fast-paced environment and they find it difficult to brew large amounts of tea then clean up afterwards,” Chris says.

“With the Iced Tea Syrup, we’ve brewed the tea for them and put it in a bottle. To make an iced tea on a hot summer day, the café just needs to add ice and water or soda water, stir it, and out the door the customer goes.”

The Iced Tea Syrup range was released following a successful trial in summer 2020 which saw the syrups quickly sell out. Lawrence says the wide release for 2021 summer has received an even better response.

“It’s been amazing. Our top four comments from customers have been that it’s just so easy to use, tastes natural, that it’s low in sugar compared to other iced teas in the marketplace, and the biggest thing is that it only takes 15 seconds to make, which is great for takeaway revenue,” Lawrence says.

“Each bottle contains enough syrup for 38 iced teas, with a cost per serve of 80 cents, which if you’re onselling for $5.50 or $6 makes it a hugely profitable product for many cafés.”

The Iced Tea Syrups come in four flavours: Sneaky Peach, Lemon Zest, Mango Magic, and Tropical Kiss, adding many additions to a café’s menu going beyond just iced tea.

“We got together with different bartenders from all around Australia to create different recipes for cocktails and mocktails using the Iced Tea Syrups that we can share with cafés to add to their menus,” Chris says.

“One of the great things about iced tea or another beverage you can make with it, is that it’s competing with bottled iced teas and other beverages in the supermarket fridge, not the other drinks you serve in a café, so adding iced tea to the menu won’t eat into the sales of other items.”

With the majority of iced tea currently consumed in single-use plastic bottles, Chris adds that transitioning to serving syrup-based options could have a huge impact on the amount of waste leaving the café.

“We aim to make sure our packaging and all of the material we’re using is as close to 100 per cent sustainably sourced as possible. All of our tea bags are biodegradable and we’re looking at making all our packaging part of the RedCycle recycling program,” Chris says.

“We’ll also continue to look at international trends and the markets overseas for new products to create even more excitement around tea.”

Lawrence says the café industry can expect even more new projects from Origin Tea in 2022, and like the Iced Tea Syrups, will continue to have their needs in mind.

“We’re very proud of our customer service and relationships with the businesses that serve our tea. A lot of our product innovations are based on discussions with our customers, taking their feedback onboard, and taking that to the R&D team,” Lawrence says.

“That way, we know we’re developing something that suits the environment and can continue to be leaders in tea innovation.”

For more information, visit origintea.com.au

This article appears in the December 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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