Tea is the world's most popular drink and for the last 5000 years was made by placing tea leaves in boiling water. Over the last fifty years, the convenience of the tea bag has captured more than 90% of the tea market in many countries and the evolution looks set to continue. The world’s largest beverage company is moving into the tea market for the first time, pioneering a new pod-style machine which calculates the perfect brewing time and temperature for each individual tea variety and reproduces the perfect brew every time. Throwing tradition to the wind in every way, the EUR129 (US$180) Special.T by Nestlé machine and EUR0.35 (US$0.50) pods will ONLY be sold via the internet, with fulfillment within 48 hours.

The Nestle Special.T system is being trialled in France, where it will initially offer a selection of 25 tea varieties sourced from tea farms in China, Japan, Sri Lanka, India and South Africa. Unlike most tea bags which contain much lower quality tea, Special.T’s aluminum capsules are claimed to come from the top 1% of the world’s tea harvest.

Tea is a drink made from the cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant with many health benefits. The benefits of tea were first documented by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2737BC, the father of Chinese agriculture and it has been grown commercially in China since then - roughly 5000 years.

Today tea has become the world’s most widely consumed drink, largely due to being introduced to other countries by China’s intrepid travelers, and primarily British sea traders. China’s central role in popularizing the drink is reflected in the various names by which it is known in other languages - Tê, tee, thee, tea, chai and cha. Its name in almost any language is a direct derivative of the Chinese 茶.

Though China is still the world’s largest producer of tea, tea has long since been adopted by other cultures and adapted as their own. Across time it has become ritualized, (such as the Japanese tea ceremony) and countries such as Turkey, Iran, Morocco, Egypt, Poland and Great Britain have embraced it as their own. Indeed, today former British colonies such as India, Australia and New Zealand all consume more tea per capita than China.

Coffee like tea, was once made in a very ritualistic manner but consumption habits have evolved over time. Tea’s many varieties each require different curing procedures, steeping times and water temperatures to bring out their best qualities, and slight variations in any of these can result in a vastly different and inferior experience.

The pressures of modern life too, often thwart the careful preparation of tea by such exacting methods, and the brewing of a pot of tea for multiple cups is often overkill in an increasingly single person and hence single cup world. Hence there have been major changes afoot in the world beverage industry over recent times and the world’s largest beverage company, Nestlé, has been driving most of them.

The first was not a Nestlé initiative – the tea-bag was the first major change in the way that tea had been consumed and although invented a century ago, it propagated across the world in the post-WW2 period. Though tea aficionados are quick to point out that most tea-bags contain inferior tea and the method results in an inferior product, the convenience factor of the tea-bag has seen it grow to market dominance. In the United Kingdom, more than 19 of every 20 cups of tea are produced from tea-bags.

In 1970, Nestlé’s Research and Development department created the Nespresso capsule-based coffee pressurized coffee extraction system. The aim behind the system was the brewing of consistent high-quality coffee on a per cup basis.

The first patent applications for the system were filed in 1976 and after further extensive R&D, the Nespresso system was launched commercially in 1988 – an intelligent microsystem that adjusts temperatures and times to meet the ideal needs of the coffee inside each pod to get a great cup of coffee every time. Gizmag first tested the Nespresso system eight years ago.

In the two decades since its launch, the pioneering Nespresso system has spawned many competitors and created a major and growing new segment to the coffee marketplace, with pod-style machines now available from half a dozen manufacturers and replacement pods available from many more.

The convenience, ease-of-use, and foolproof methodology of the pod system means that once you’ve worked out what you like, you can reproduce it time and again. In the time-pressured modern world, the pod system works incredibly well.

Given the success of the coffee system, the development of a similar approach aimed at tea drinkers was a logical move for Nestle and the company has been working for three years to develop the system and marketing structure. The French market is the biggest market for capsule-based coffee machines in Europe, so the first machines went on sale last month at EUR 125, with the tea pods costing EUR3.50 for a pack of ten.

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