Established brands like Starbucks have expanded their menu options in response to changing trends: more consumers are eschewing artificial flavouring and colouring for natural ingredients in their functional beverages.
Patrick Young, insight director at insight agency Kadence International, said: “As new drink categories enter the market, we are seeing tea and coffee fight to remain relevant to consumers.”
Bubble tea is a prime example. Originating in Taiwan in the 1980s, the beverage gained popularity across many parts of Asia, until low-grade products and a high-profile scandal involving Chinese factories bleaching ingredients with hydrogen peroxide caused the craze to die down in the early 2000s.
However, it managed to recover within the past decade and make a comeback, with tea houses such as Royal Tea and HeyTea now using imported milk and exotic tea leaves.
Cheese you can drink
Tea houses also offer a wider range of beverages today, from preservative-free, low-sugar drinks to more indulgent concoctions that were previously unheard of, one of which is cream cheese tea macchiato.
In 2012, Chinese tea house HeyTea launched a cream cheese tea macchiato, a blended mix of milk, cream and cream cheese used as a bubble tea topping. The drink grew increasingly popular, eventually making its way to tea houses in Singapore and Vietnam.
Making things personal
Unusual drink toppings aren’t limited to cream cheese. Oats, barley, red beans, taro balls, pastry items, and glutinous rice are among the toppings offered at various tea houses.
Young said that at “the moment, the more elaborate the tea and its topping, the better it seems”. He explained: “Consumers want to see and know that an individual’s time and effort has been put into perfecting and personalising their drink.”
Between 2010 and 2015, coffee pod sales in Singapore saw 8.4% annual growth by volume, over double that of sales in the country’s next biggest coffee category, instant coffee.
This signifies a rising demand for high-quality instant coffee. However, some question the quality of coffee pods, which has led some companies — such as Hook Coffee and Joe Curious — to deliver specialty coffee beans directly to people’s homes.
Young said, “These online coffee bean brands provide access to speciality coffee beans from around the world, giving consumers a more varied and premium palate for a much more reasonable price than store-bought beans.”
At the same time, in response to the presence of ready-to-drink products like energy drinks and enriched bottled water, there has been a rise in cold, ready-to-drink coffee in stores. In fact, Nescafé and Starbucks both recently launched their own such coffee drinks.
The coffee industry is seeing continuous growth in Asia. In China alone, the coffee market is currently worth RMB700bn, and is expected to exceed RMB10,000bn by 2025.