The $100+ segment of the Toaster and Kettle market has grown 25 per cent in the last 12 months. Value in the category has been driven by higher priced stylish sets of benchtop appliances becoming more popular than cheap replacement products. However another trend is also raising the profile of these ubiquitous kitchen appliances; the popularity of specialty teas.

As the number of instant coffee drinkers declines (or at least deny their own existence) Kettles are predominately becoming an appliance for tea lovers. Variable temperature kettles play a big role in the proper brewing of exotic teas, which are experiencing strong growth.

The trend has not gone unnoticed by small appliance suppliers. Kenwood, De’Longhi, Breville, Sunbeam and Russell Hobbs all have kettles that allow you to heat water to different temperatures.

Sydney Tea Festival 2014, Photo:  Tealily photography
Sydney Tea Festival 2014.  Photo: Tealily Photography

The tea category is growing, in terms of both revenue and consumption, which is predicted to continue over the next few years says Renee Creer, co-founder of Sydney Tea Festival and owner of Australian green tea company, Perfect South.

According to Creer, consumer demand is being met by both small independent suppliers and big beverage industry players offering more teas which can be described as one of the following: flavoured, niche, rare, exotic or organic.

For smaller operators the barriers to entry are low and “also tea is a familiar and relatable, but also an interesting and diverse product that people are very passionate about,” Creer says.

“I also believe the entrance of small operators is being driven by the accessibility of eCommerce, coupled with a trend toward entrepreneurialism, where more and more people are looking create their own products and brands.”

On the other side of the coin is the involvement of large beverage companies which is raising the profile of the specialty tea industry.

“For example, the Unliever purchase of t2; the Starbucks purchase of Teavana and its subsequent collaboration with Oprah in the States created a lot of interest. These major acquisitions signal that speciality tea is being taken to the masses and is an area for opportunity. Why else would these major players make such significant investments?”

This year for the first time De’Longhi’s range of breakfast appliances, the Distinta Collection includes a digital kettle.
This year for the first time De’Longhi’s range of breakfast appliances, the Distinta Collection, includes a digital kettle.

Consumers are also seeking out more tea for health and lifestyle reasons.

“People want healthier lifestyles and many people have health issues – both small and large. They’re also looking for alternatives to sugary carbonated drinks, coffee and also alcohol. There’s extensive scientifically proven health benefits associated with drinking tea, so it’s an excellent and easy product to incorporate into your daily routine.”

Similar to the consumer trend drawing customers into the premium home café/coffee machine market, tea drinkers are becoming more discerning.

“People are certainly more aware, familiar and now more educated on different types and styles of tea — I believe mostly thanks to t2. Because of this they’re becoming more adventurous and interested — they’re seeking out new and unusual products, becoming more sophisticated with tea brewing and drinking, and seeking more flexibility and flavour control.”

Zensation Tea House at The Sydney Tea Festival. Photo: Tealily Photography
Zensation Tea House at The Sydney Tea Festival. Photo: Tealily Photography

More sophisticated brewing methods are appearing in cafes and restaurants, which are also offering more extensive and interesting tea menus. In homes, a variable temperature kettle will take the guess work out of specialty brewing requirements.

Brewing at the right temperature for the right amount of time brings out the diversity and depth of flavour in tea, Creer says. “Particularly if you’re brewing certain types of tea, like oolong, white or green tea. For example, green teas are best brewed in water that’s below boiling point. Boiling water burns green tea leaves and releases tannins quickly, which can make the tea taste bitter or astringent. Water that’s too hot for a specific tea can also mask the subtle flavours that the tea holds.”

Sunbeam product manager, Kettle & Toasters Andrew Skehan recommends that retailers and floor staff share their expert knowledge of product features and lifestyle trends with consumers.

“Customers will appreciate ‘insider tips’ and may be encouraged to purchase an additional on-trend product,” he says.  “Ask the customer if they are future proofing. Today they may be drinking black tea and white bread but will they tomorrow? and will their friends and family in the future? Buy with tomorrow in mind not just today.”

Another tip retailers can share with consumers concerns the water they put in the kettle. “What’s also really important is water. It’s best to use filtered water when brewing tea, so you can truly taste the tea’s flavours and not just the chlorine in the water,” Creer says.

The light ring on the Russell Hobbs Colour Control Kettle changes colour as water heats up and cools down.
The light ring on the Russell Hobbs Colour Control Kettle changes colour as water heats up and cools down.

What makes a dream kettle for a tea enthusiast?

“Temperature control is the big one, because it takes the guesswork and time out of getting an optimal temperature for the water and tea,” Creer says. “Aside from that, a kettle that’s quick and quiet; something that’s durable and won’t show daily ware easily (like fingerprints), because a tea lovers’ kettle usually gets a heavy daily work out; and something that feels good when you handle it. I personally love a soft close lid – because it just feels good. A programmable kettle is also a luxurious touch, so you wake in the morning and the water is ready hot.”

Retailers should consider demonstrations with artisanal teas and displaying fragrant baskets of loose tea to give kettles a little love during the mother’s day sales period.

What’s hot right now in tea?

“The biggest single tea trend of 2015 is matcha green tea, from both a beverage and culinary perspective. Matcha is a powdered green tea that’s very high in antioxidants. You can drink it and cook with it,” Creer says.

“Then there’s micro trends in specialty tea such as Ayurvedic blends are becoming popular; premium, exotic and small batch teas; iced and bottled cold teas (not like the supermarket Lipton iced tea but specialty tea, like oolong tea, chilled ready to serve), are growing in popularity.”