In the course of managing RateTea, I see all sorts of interesting patterns and trends, and make lots of random observations about the nature of the tea market, especially in the U.S. I've been thinking about Keemun black tea lately, as I recently received three samples of high-quality, loose-leaf Keemun lately. And today, I noticed a marked absence of Keemun tea bags on the U.S. market. As a huge fan of and advocate for loose-leaf teas, I don't get terribly excited about tea bags. But I do find this absence strange.
Pictured here is a diagram showing Qimen county in Anhui province, where Keemun originated, a photo of the loose-leaf Keemun Mao Feng sent to me as a sample from Life in Teacup, and a shelf at a supermarket in Delaware, with no Keemun for sale.
When I think of "mainstream" black teas, what do I think of?
When I think of the standard single-origin black teas which are mainstays of British tea culture (and thus, tend to be widely available in the U.S. as well), I think of Ceylon, Assam, Darjeeling, and Keemun. There are other teas, like Lapsang Souchong, which I also think of, but which I'm excluding because I think of this tea as a bit more unusual, with its strong smoky character.
Keemun is a pretty well-known tea in the mainstream. There are about as many individual Keemuns listed on RateTea as there are individual English Breakfast blends, and about twice as many Keemuns as Irish Breakfast blends.
All of these varieties of tea except Keemun are widely available in tea bags:
Ceylon, Assam, and Darjeeling are all widely available in tea bags, from mainstream brands. Lapsang Souchong is as well, as is Pu-erh and both darker and greener Oolongs.
In spite of the availability of loose-leaf Keemun, there is only 1 entry in RateTea's database for Keemun in a tea bag, and this entry is rather esoteric--a tea bag sold by Lupicia, a Japanese company best-known for selling loose-leaf teas. There may be other Keemuns in tea bags, but there are none that I know of from any of the mainstream tea companies, whose catalogues have been entered into RateTea in their entirety long ago.
Keemun tea bags are sold neither by companies specializing in British style teas (like Twinings), nor by companies like Foojoy or Ten Ren, specializing in Chinese teas, in spite of the fact that Keemun fits into both categories quite well.
What do you think?
Do you think that the absence of Keemun available in tea bags represents a vacant business niche? Do you think that brands that sell tea bags or whole-leaf sachets containing single-region teas would do well to add Keemun to their catalogue? Or is there some reason that there would not be much demand for a Keemun in tea bags?
My intuition is that the first company to offer a Keemun in tea bags would have it be well-received. I could imagine a company like Twinings, Foojoy, or Ten Ren finding it worthwhile to sell Keemun in tea bags, but I could also imagine a brand like Two Leaves and a Bud successfully selling a Keemun in whole-leaf sachets. I think that Keemun in particular might perform well in a western market, perhaps even better than Ceylon or Assam, as it tends to be rich and full-bodied, yet relatively smooth, and I've found that in America, a lot of people like robust tea but want something that is a bit smoother and less bitter.
But I could be wrong; tea companies often do a lot of market research into deciding which teas to carry, and I suspect that many companies have already considered adding a Keemun in tea bags, and concluded that it was not the best business decision.