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U.S. dependency on oils & flavorings: Numi challenges the tea industry norm and the American palate


August 14, 2007 (Oakland, CA) – In line with modern, gourmet culinary practices and philosophy around using premium and fresh ingredients, Numi does not believe in using flavor additives such as oils, essences or anything under the umbrella of “natural flavors” in their tea blends. Numi trusts that the flavor is in the quality of the tea leaf and the balance of the blend. “Teas, herbs, spices and fruits can speak for themselves,” says co-founder Reem Rahim.

With 90% of the US beverage market using flavorings , and 85% of specialty tea companies using ‘natural flavors’ or oils on their teas, Numi has been ahead of the trend with their use of real ingredients to blend or natural scent their tea.

America’s Oil Addiction
Fragrance oils, also known as aroma oils, aromatic oils, and flavor oils, are blended synthetic aroma compounds or natural essential oils that are diluted with a carrier like propylene gycol, vegetable oil or mineral oil. Aromatic oils are used in perfumery, cosmetics, flavoring of food and in aromatherapy. Other popular food ‘flavorings’ are seen as essences which are either synthetic or an essential oil dissolved in alcohol.

Why do companies hide ingredients under “natural flavors”?
It’s considered a way of preserving the product’s identity & uniqueness. Sort of like a “secret recipe” - they worry that if people knew what the flavorings were, then someone would be able to duplicate their product. Also it is a lot cheaper to use natural and artificial flavorings as opposed to the real ingredient. Both natural and artificial flavors are made by “flavorists” in a laboratory by blending either “natural” chemicals or “synthetic” chemicals to create flavorings.

With Numi at the lead, the tea industry seems to be following a similar timeline to the coffee industry in growth and trends. For the good part of the 1980’s and 1990’s most coffee was being immersed in flavorings. Everyone remembers the aftertaste of hazelnut coffee and the many flavored creamers created and marketed to those new coffee drinkers. Then with the rising popularity of Peet’s and Starbuck’s also came new generation of coffee drinkers known as the coffee purists. These consumers developed a discerning palate, not wanting to have any flavors added to their precious Arabica bean.

“… flavored coffees get many of their tastes from chemical solvents which mimic natural flavorings and which are added to the whole bean while it is still warm from roasting.”

According to Ahmed Rahim, co-founder and tea alchemist, “Most tea companies use oils and ‘flavorings’ to flavor their low grade tea leaves, fannings or tea dust which are cheaper alternatives to top grade full leaf teas. These low grade teas are often described as bitter and astringent: hence “flavorings” are used to help mask the poor leaf quality and to create a flavor profile that is irrelevant of the actual tea inside. ‘Flavorings’ are often too strong, overpowering, perfume-like or chemical tasting and overwhelm the tea flavor. Open up a berry or orange flavored tea and you can smell it clear across the room –it sure doesn’t smell like real berries or tea.

With higher quality tea leaves used in the modern day nylon “silky” bags (either petroleum based nylon or GMO corn starch) or in loose form, artificial or ‘natural flavoring’ oils are used to create the various tastes like Berry Teas, Earl Grey, Orange Spice and so on. The costs involved in flavoring teas with any types of oils, ‘flavorings’ (artificial or natural) is much cheaper then using real ingredients. This does not mean the teas are of lesser quality like tea dust or fannings, but it does speak about the quality of ingredients used to create the flavor profile. Teas, herbs, fruits and spices, if blended properly can release the most unique authentic pure taste, but using these real ingredients (not oils or flavorings) is an expensive endeavor.”

Changing the American Palate – From Processed Foods to Whole Foods
Since the 1960’s, food production changed the way America ate with the rise of processed foods that contained an assortment of added flavors and colorings. Today, as Americans become more conscious of their health and their families, you can see a backlash to processed foods with the demand for local, fresh organic offerings for their health and taste. The public is becoming more educated about what they put into their bodies, and being an attentive ingredient reader comes along with the territory. A huge part of America’s maturing palates is the demand for taste and the desire for real ingredients, not a faux flavor, which is exactly where Numi’s many fans have found a tea to love.

Authentici-tea- Numi’s Commitment and Challenge to using Real Ingredients
In 2001, when Numi decided to introduce tea blends such as Earl Grey, which is a staple in the market, they were faced with the challenge of how to create a bergamot black tea without using the industry standard of flavorings. Earl Grey teas are typically made with ‘natural bergamot flavor’, ‘oil of bergamot’, or ‘essence of bergamot’. Following their whole foods whole tea leaf belief system, The Rahim’s made a conscious decision to find a way to not use these flavorings with their full leaf teas. So with a more holistic approach Ahmed Rahim, spent 1 ½ years formulating and toiling in research and development to create what is now an award winning Numi Aged Earl Grey also known as Numi’s Brrrgamot Black Iced tea. This full leaf organic Assam black tea actually ages with real organic Italian bergamot fruit that is then sifted out thereby absorbing the bergamot scent by diffusion – a first in the tea industry! The end result is a smooth black tea perfectly balanced with bergamot citrus notes. Similar in process, Numi’s Monkey King Jasmine Green tea is scented in the traditional way by layering fresh picked jasmine blossoms on top of the tea to take in the sweet perfume. Each batch of Numi’s Monkey King is scented this way 3 times to ensure the sweetest organic jasmine green tea making it no surprise that this is Numi’s #1 seller across North America.

The diligence involved with the sourcing of the best quality teas, flowers & herbs is challenging in itself but the greatest challenge has been with the sourcing and processing of freeze dried fruits for tea bags. Unlike most of the berry tea blends on the market that use added natural or artificial flavorings, Numi’s Berry Black is firsdt of its kind and in a league of its own. Along with the Fair Trade Certified™ org. Darjeeling black tea, the ingredients list org, Hibiscus, org. Freeze-dried Strawberries, org. Freeze-dried Raspberries, org. Rosehips, org. Raspberry leaf. This blend and others such as Numi’s Tropical White iced tea, contain freeze-dried fruits that are notorious for jamming up the tea bagging machines but due to Numi’s commitment to the highest quality ingredients and pure taste, Numi invests the time and finances to make these offerings available.

Other blends unique to Numi’s innovation, include Velvet Garden, a new white tea with real rose buds, and Indian Night, a new black tea with real vanilla bean. For white rose, Numi imports org. NOP whole rosebuds that are then cut up and blended with white tea through a proprietary process that uses the whole rose bud so no waste is created. With their new Decaf Black Vanilla, Numi imports whole organic vanilla bean and has also developed a proprietary process that allows vanilla’s natural volatile oils to be absorbed right before tea bagging providing a premium taste not found elsewhere.

It is through this commitment to real ingredients and whole tea leaves, that Numi delivers an authentic cup of tea.

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About NUMI Organic Tea
Numi LLC is a leader in the natural & specialty tea category. Brother and sister founders Ahmed and Reem Rahim founded the company in 1999, which is known for premium full leaf teas, herbal teasans and an innovative line of Flowering Teas. NUMI’s whole leaf teas are never treated with artificial flavors, colorings or oils common to the market. Numi is committed to global consciousness and sustainability in its packaging and business practices. NUMI has grown 60% annually since opening its doors and continues to win the hearts and shelf space of retailers in 50 states and 15 countries.

Korolishi, J. “Savor the Flavor; Beverage makers use flavors to enhance consumer appeal”, Beverage Industry, 2006, 6/6/07

Wikipedia “Fragrance Oil”
Veverka, D. “Just What’s in Those Natural Flavors Anyway…?”

Furfaro, R., “A Taste for Flavored Coffees” Sally’s Place 5/31/07


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