The company believes a combination of the system’s advanced technology with a range of more than 25 varieties of tea will appeal to Japanese consumers.
By rolling Special.T out across Japan, the Swiss food and beverage major is aiming to repeat the success of its launches across seven European countries, including France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland - largely copying the business model of its US$4bn Nespresso coffee brand, which has been its fastest-growing business for years.
Although a Special.T brew costs around EUR0.40 a cup, it allows tea lovers to discover new varieties of black, green, white and even blue teas. The machine brews them into what Nestle calls "the perfect cup" in less than a minute at the press of a button and without worrying about infusion times and water temperature.
“Japan is an important tea market with a lot of potential,” said Pascal Lebailly, Nestlé’s Head of Special.T. “Per capita consumption is up to five times higher than in any Western European country, apart from the United Kingdom.
“Although Japan has a strong green tea drinking culture, other varieties, such as black, blue, white, flavoured, or organic herbal are less well known.
“We are offering Japanese consumers the opportunity to discover a range of new high-quality teas, while providing them with everything they need to make the perfect cup.”
The launch comes as Nestlé Japan celebrates its centenary in the country. Special.T is the company’s third major innovation in capsule beverage systems, after Nespresso and Nescafé Dolce Gusto were released on the Far East market.
Compared with single-serve coffee, the market for tea pods is still small, at US$300m in 2012, but it is likely to continue to grow strongly over the next few years, according to recent figures by Euromonitor. The market research firm said the market for coffee pods almost tripled since 2008 to reach US$8bn in 2012.
The Special.T system offers a selection of teas sourced from the top 1% of the world’s tea farms. The range in Japan will include an additional green tea blend tailored to local consumers’ preferences.
To use it, consumers first select a capsule containing tea leaves, then insert it into the machine. The system identifies the tea variety and adjusts the water temperature and brewing time accordingly.
Special.T has an exclusive online sales model in Europe that draws on Nestlé’s experience in other e-commerce ventures, such as Nespresso.
In Japan, the system will also be available to buy from a variety of retail outlets across the country from September, with online orders being taken from August onwards.
The retail value of global tea consumption rose to $40.75 billion in 2012, up more than 50 percent on 2007, with China being the world's top tea-drinking nation, followed by Japan and Russia, according to Euromonitor.