A variation on the stick-packs made popular recently for powdered drink mixes, the 5-in.-long, proprietary polypropylene/foil lamination uses a pattern of embossed holes to create a “built-in mechanical filter system,” explains Alcan product manager John Strubulis. He adds that the system allows the tea leaves’ flavor-carrying fats and oils to be dispersed into hot water, creating a more intense flavor than achieved with oil-absorbing teabags.
“The embossed holes allow hot water [212º F recommended] to enter the stick and the tea concentrate to exit, keeping most of the tea leaves in the stick,” Strubulis says. Other advantages of the “wand” versus traditional teabags, he adds, include the elimination of a teaspoon, no dripping, and single-serve, on-the-go convenience.
Developed by Alcan in the 1990s for Bistrotea in Germany under the TPOD (Tea Portion of Design) name, the tea wand is co-branded by Sugart in the U.S. under the iTea name. Sugart introduced its line of three premium single-estate Ceylon teas—in Black, Green, and Earl Grey varieties—in August 2007. The teas are being sold nationwide in specialty tea and coffee stores, and are being purchased for in-room and restaurant use by hotels.
For maximum freshness, the tea wands are packed right across the street from the farm where the tea is harvested, in Sri Lanka. Alcan supplies the rollstock—printed gravure or flexo—to the plant, which micro-perforates the stock using proprietary tools from Heinz-Dieter Mendel GmbH. The material is then formed, filled, and sealed into stick-packs holding 1.5 g of tea on equipment from Bosch Sigpack Systems AG.
Stick-packs are then either packed 25 units to a round, clear-plastic, vacuum-sealed canister or are distributed as single sticks, wrapped in a translucent, moisture- and tear-resistant envelope made from Enduro Ice paper from Sihl GmbH.
“The response to the Sugart iTea Wand has been very, very positive,” says Sugart director of sales and marketing Dennis Bolduc. “People see that it is the latest innovation in teabags. Every customer that has tried it has increased their orders.”