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Is tea the new coffee? Ask Barack Obama

January 18, 2009 |  4:30 pm

President-elect Barack Obama drinks Honest TeaThere’s no doubt that coffee holds a unique place in our culture. You know the routine by now. A colleague wants to talk to you about a project — let’s have coffee. You want to catch up with an old friend — let’s have coffee. Someone wants to ask you out on a date, but is either too chicken or doesn’t really want to pony up that much cash — let’s go get coffee.

But tea -- cold or hot -- is giving coffee some competition. It is the second most widely consumed beverage in the world. (The first is water.) We’ve recently been bombarded with messages about the ancient drink’s health benefits. Starbucks is unveiling a new line of tea drinks — London Fog Latte, anyone? And as it turns out, bottled tea beverages are one of President-elect Barack Obama’s favorite things.

However, Seth Goldman, president and co-founder of Honest Tea –- a bottled tea favored by the president-elect -- rejects the notion that tea is the new coffee.

“Tea is the new tea," he said. “Tea is the world’s second most popular drink. It has been around for thousands of years. People are moving away from soda and looking for healthier options. Tea is its own thing.”

Goldman said Honest Tea came together about 11 years ago, when he and co-founder....

Goldman said Honest Tea came together about 11 years ago, when he and co-founder, professor Barry Nalebuff of the Yale School of Management, realized that “nothing was quenching our thirst. We had always had an idea of creating a drink with not a lot of sugar, but something that tasted great where you could taste the real ingredients....Tea tastes great and it has healthful and functional properties. The highest quality tea can still be enjoyed for pennies per bottle. We can have this very high quality product at a very affordable price. Everything we make is organic.”

In total, Honest Tea has 20 varieties. The company found out Obama was partial to it after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. “We got a call from his office and they wanted to know where he could buy it,” Goldman said.

A few years later, Goldman was on a plane to Chicago and ran into Obama, who was also on board. “I introduced myself. He said: ‘Oh, I had just been drinking Dragon Tea on the way to the airport.’ I ran into him again and he said he had to move away from the green teas because the caffeine was keeping him up.”

Goldman said that Black Forest Berry (which has no caffeine) is Obama’s Honest Tea of choice now.

Honest Tea will be in Washington to celebrate the inauguration -- and give out free samples. Each bottle has a “neck hanger” that reads in part: “We live in an amazing country where dreams can come true...”

Starbucks has woken up and smelled the coffee –- er, tea -– and is also trying to get in on the game. It's unveiling a new line of hot and cold tea beverages to respond to customers’ request for more choices.

Among them: three new lattes, including the Tazo London Fog Tea Latte, and two fruit-flavored chai tea infusions, apple and berry.

Starbucks called in Lisa Drayer, a registered dietitian, wellness expert and health reporter who frequently appears on the "Today Show" and "Good Morning America" to discuss the health benefits of tea -– and why a “tea break” might be just what folks need to regroup during a busy day.

"People think of tea as an afternoon ritual. Tea is a lifestyle change that people can make to rejuvenate. It provides a great break during a busy day, and it can be just 15 minutes,” she said. "Coffee can have 75 milligrams [or more] of caffeine. Whereas a 12-ounce London Fog latte has 10 milligrams of caffeine. So I’d suggest coffee for the a.m. and tea in the afternoon because it gives you just enough caffeine to keep you going.”

Drayer said the reason to drink tea are the multiple health benefits, namely that famous “a” word we all know by now.

“Antioxidants!... Tea boosts immunity and can be beneficial in fighting off bacteria. Antioxidants fight aging and disease. We see studies showing these outcomes.”

She also advises that the U.S. take a page from Britain. “Because we are in such stressful times, a lot of us are seeking an afternoon break. Adding a 15-minute tea break is an easy thing to do. There is always a silver lining when things get stressful, and a tea break is a great thing. I encourage everyone to add tea time to their day.” She added: “A tea break certainly allows us to re-charge. The Brits have it right.”

What do you think? Will tea become more popular in 2009? Can tea replace coffee in the American diet?

--Lori Kozlowski

Photo credit: Honest Tea

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