Designing a Coffee or Tea Break

Kimberly Decker, Contributing Editor

December 22, 2009

5 Min Read
Designing a Coffee or Tea Break

In our out-of-control merry-go-round lives, a beverage that offers a buzz or a breather sounds more like a necessity than a luxury. Thats why coffee and tea beverages are still going strong.

In fact, the combined markets of Japan, North America and West Europe for ready to drink (RTD) coffee amounted to 3,163 million liters, according to a 2006 report from drinks consultancy Zenith International. And the products offered are growing in sophistication. RTD coffee companies have moved on from merely tweaking the coffee-sugar-milk ratio to appeal to different consumer tastes, says Gary Roethenbaugh, market intelligence director, Zenith.  They are now focusing on a whole new generation of consumers by balancing sometimes conflicting demands for products that are weight and health conscious, energy boosting, indulgent and perhaps also offer added functionality.

Although the recession has damped the explosive growth of the RTD tea segment, opportunities abound, according to a report on Tea and Ready-to-Drink (RTD) Tea in the U.S.: Retail, Foodservice and Consumer Trends. To move ahead in the market, the company recommends several product development avenues for teas: exotic superfruit flavors; hybrid products designed to compete with other beverage categories, including bottled waters, energy drinks and sodas; new RTD spins on green tea to mainstream this tea type once and for all; and emerging segments, including yerba mate and Kombucha teas.

The art of flavor

Putting the magical brew of coffee or tea in a bottle takes some real doing on the beverage formulators part.

Coffee has in excess of 800 volatiles, some of which are perceived in parts-per-million or parts-per-billion amounts, says Trina Murray, beverage technologist, FONA International Inc., Geneva, IL. These volatiles are what contribute to the fresh-brewed aroma of coffee. They are, however, very heat-sensitive and tend to be lost in processing. Small changes can throw the flavor out of balance. To recreate the fresh-brewed taste, we need to use a flavor that contains the right balance of key character components to top-note the coffee.

Caffeine is an issue, too, in both coffees and teas, where levels vary depending on raw materials and processing. Caffeine imparts bitterness at levels of 100 ppm, Murray says. Flavors with an inherent sweetness help mask the bitternessvanillas for coffee, peach and pear for teas.

But dont overdo the bitter-blocking, notes Laura Ennis, senior beverage innovation technologist, David Michael & Co., Inc., Philadelphia. After all, we expect a little edge in these beverages. Its all about making it palatable, she says.

According to Paulette Kerner, director of marketing, Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, NY: Tea continues to be a growing category across the beverage industry, and especially a growing category for us. Green tea has come to the front, and black tea, of course, continues to be a big growth area. But youll see a lot with green tea and oolong notes, as well as some regional teas like Assam and Darjeeling. The market is getting more specific with the type of tea in the ready-to-drink teas, like Earl Grey instead of just black tea.

Most experts agree that tea is an easier flavoring task than coffee, as the caffeine levels are generally lower and the basic profile is milder. Most RTD teas are acidified, bringing out astringency from the tannins in the tea, Murray says. It is important to find a good balance of ingredients to optimize the tea flavor. Flavors added to tea are generally quite subtle and are used to complement the tea notes rather than cover them.

Process oriented

Preservatives, without a doubt, have a taste, says Ari Gastman, flavorist, Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, NY. Luckily, technology has come a long way in terms of packaging and bottling, and there are ways of making beverages without having to chemically preserve themif youre lucky enough to be able to invest in the equipment and technology.

A firm grounding in the technologies and processes available will guide the product developer in terms of which ingredients should be considered for inclusion in a particular formula, says Aaron Dow, beverage scientist, FONA International Inc., Geneva, IL. Flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives and many other functional ingredients will be affected by the variety of production formats that exist in the beverage industry today.

For example, UHT and HTST inflict the least damage on a beverages flavor. Acidified beverages are usually HTST-processed, as they are pH-protected, says John Fishel, beverage technologist, FONA International Inc. However, if a beverage contains an inordinate amount of fat or protein, it is sometimes necessary that it be retorted, which will add heavy, cooked notes and can be harsh on flavor chemicals. In this case, he says, in addition to selecting a flavor that can withstand heat abuse, it is important to anticipate the addition of cooked notes to the end product.

Gastman advises manufacturers to consider appropriate solvents for their flavors, too. If you introduce a solvent, like alcohol, that is very volatile to a hot temperature, it instantly evaporates, he says. If you could make an emulsion where you encapsulate the flavoring portion and protect it, then that would work better. Or you could use a solvent that has a higher flash point. This isnt always practical, but it usually works in dairy, where oil-soluble flavors are viable. Thats your best bet, because oils have very high flash points, he says. They stay dissolved in the solvent, and it holds your flavor portion in.

Kimberly J. Decker, a California-based technical writer, has a B.S. in consumer food science with a minor in English from the University of California, Davis. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys eating and writing about food. You can reach her at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Kimberly Decker

Contributing Editor

Kimberly J. Decker is a Bay Area food writer who has worked in product development for the frozen sector and written about food, nutrition and the culinary arts. Reach her at [email protected]

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