Reading tea leaves

By Mark Skoultchi

July 31, 2008

Tea for what ails you. Tea to help you fall in love (no promises here, at least not in that potential-lawsuit false advertising way). Tea for relaxing in the evening and getting wired in the morning. Tea that makes you (seem) spiritual. Product branding has converged with poetry in the exploding tea market, and I’ve been noticing names that fall far beyond what the creators of “Constant Comment” ever dreamed. Specialty teas are making sure to separate themselves from the fray with names that stray far from simple descriptive naming. Care for some “Iron Goddess of Mercy” or Temple of Heaven”?

The Bay Area’s own Numi Tea can offer you an evocative cup of “Moonlight Spice” (White Orange Spice) and maybe later you’ll meet the “Monkey King” (who tastes like Jasmine Green Tea). “Indian Night” is meant to transport you from your kitchen – under the power of a single teabag. These names speak to us in terms of interesting and exotic associations, but also of the quality of the product.

Celestial Seasonings is the classic cardboard box found in cupboards across America, a company name that is familiar and comforting. In an attempt to update its image new trademarked teas have been introduced with product names like “Morning Thunder”, “Fast Lane Black Tea” and “Chocolate Caramel Enchantment Chai”. These tea names get at an American sweet tooth and driving need for caffeine, but they are also catchy and evocative.

Unique company names are the first step in conveying that the product is much more than some plants you pour boiling water on. I’m a fan of Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, a company name that momentarily includes me in a romantic take on gypsy life. (They make “Love Tea” blended with tiny rose buds.) Mighty Leaf, another producer of fine teas, presents the juxtaposition of a diminutive tea “leaf” with the image of mighty muscles. This appealing and unexpected combination draws you in with the expectation that the tea will also be out of the ordinary and packs a punch that its competitors don’t.

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