The Importance of Doing Research for Your Customers

So many times I meet people that have been told erroneous information about tea. I have met countless people searching for certain teas that will cure certain disorders, from sleep apnea to arthritis. I drink tea because it tastes good, tea is not a medicine to me, and I don’t believe in selling tea as a “medicine.” I believe it is a deceptive practice, and one that many are susceptible to, If you knew nothing about tea and someone told you that it would help you lose weight, you would probably believe them, right?

Examples of Bad Information

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What You Can Do About It

When a customer asks you a question about tea, if you don’t know the answer, don’t give them one. I have simply said “I’m not sure” many times, and I explain that there are conflicting sources out there regarding the fact, or that I simply just don’t know the answer.

No matter how much you think sales will increase, touting health benefits as a reason for drinking tea makes tea a medicine, and the FDA says that making health claims “establish that the product is a drug because it is intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.” Lipton did this recently and they received this lengthy letter from the FDA. Here is the most important part from the letter:

For example, your webpage entitled “Tea and Health,” subtitled “Heart Health Research” and further subtitled “Cholesterol Research” bears the following claim: “[F]our recent studies in people at risk for coronary disease have shown a significant cholesterol lowering effect from tea or tea flavonoids … One of these studies, on post-menopausal women, found that total cholesterol was lowered by 8% after drinking 8 cups of green tea daily for 12 weeks ….”

The therapeutic claims on your website establish that the product is a drug because it is intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. Your Lipton Green Tea 100% Natural Naturally Decaffeinated product is not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced uses and, therefore, the product is a “new drug” under section 201(p) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(p)]. New drugs may not be legally marketed in the U.S. without prior approval from FDA as described in section 505(a) of the Act [21 U.S.C.
§ 355(a)]. FDA approves a new drug on the basis of scientific data submitted by a drug sponsor to demonstrate that the drug is safe and effective.

Receiving a letter from the FDA isn’t the only consequence from Lipton’s campaign — they have mislead thousands of customers. We know that sex sells on television, and we also know that health and weight loss sell in the tea world — this doesn’t make it right.

There are many great sources out there to consult when faced with a tough tea question or when working on your marketing campaigns that can help you form intelligent statements about tea and the issues surrounding tea:


  • Use good sources, learn as much as you can about tea and tea science. When writing about what you’ve learned, cite your research.
  • Good starting points are Michael J Coffey’s Tea Geek Wiki, WikiCha, and The Story of Tea by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J Heiss.
  • Join an online tea community and speak with the experts!

Keeping Ahead

Create a Google Alert:

My Google Alert search query: tea -“tea party” -“tea partiers” -leoni -cricket

Notice I filter out “tea party” and “tea partiers,” this takes care of most of the politcal tea party articles, and I filter out leoni because I kept getting articles about  Tea Leoni and I filter out cricket because there are a ton of articles reporting the progress of cricket matches when they break for tea. The resulting query should keep you up to date with the latest studies from around the world concerning tea.

Always keep reading and learning. New tea research is being done every year, we as an industry, have the responsibility of keeping up with it so we don’t mislead our customers.


About the Author:

Tony has been studying tea for over ten years and has traveled to many tea producing regions throughout Asia. His book, "Tea: A User's Guide" is available now.


  1. Jennifer December 13, 2015 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    On the Journal of Chinese Medicine website under their new teashop Jade Spring Teas there is an excellent cited resource for tea research!

  2. Alberto D. Pempengco May 11, 2012 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    I find no problem with someone saying “tea MAY help fight cancer, etc…”

    It does not say “WILL” which is more definitive.

    The word “MAY” takes into account the existence of widespread anectodal and even historical evidence that antioxidants in tea may have a big hand in the health benefits of the drink. It also acknowledges the continuing search for conclusive evidence before the ‘MAY’ can be converted to ‘WILL’.

  3. Ted Thurston April 20, 2012 at 9:01 am - Reply

    I personally don’t find anything wrong with highlighting possible health benefits of tea if they include caveats saying that there are no proven therapeutic claims, or using the word “may” instead of “will”.

  4. Francis June 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm - Reply

    I drink tea because I was born in the south and that’s how it is I wouldn’t give a crap if it was killing me. Babies from Georgia are given tea once they are born along with peaches. I pity the fool who doesn’t like tea.

  5. Andrew Marrone May 28, 2011 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    I use that line all the time. “I drink tea because it tastes good”. I’m pretty sure if I found out tea was carcinogenic, I would still drink it.

  6. Kuei-Ti Lu March 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Thank you for bringing out this topic, Tony. I am not in the tea industry but still have knowledge about it. Tea dates from ancient China (before 2000 BCE), and since then, it has been a pleasure for many Chinese and part of Chinese culture. During this long period (about four thousands of years), tea is generally a drink instead of a medicine to Chinese people. Tea is said to be a medicine in the book, Shennong Ben Cao Jing (神農本草經), in which it is said that Shennong (神農) drank tea to antidote the poison he got when tasting different kinds of plants. However, Shennong is a legendary person, and so far, the archaeologists can not make sure that he really existed. This is from the historical perspective.

    As from the scientific perspective, recent businesses which spread the idea that tea can cure diseases rely on the statistical data – despite the common misconception that it is an area of science, statistics is not science since, with its results can easily, or with a possibility outside the range of error, be retorted by experiments (statistics itself proves that it is not a science). As a result, those businesses which spread the misconceptions are, as you say, doing deceptive practice.

    It is good to see so many people trying to educate the consumers. I hope that the consumers can also be more reasonable and not be deceived so easily by advertisements.

  7. Mary Lou Heiss March 9, 2011 at 5:57 am - Reply

    Thanks, Tony, for the mention of our book, The Story of Tea – we appreciate it. Tea education is hard work….learning about a topic to truly understand it and rise above the din of others takes time and committment. So we applaud tea vendors ( and tea enthusiasts, too ) who take the time to learn and appreciate. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to have face-time with our tea customers and tea enthusiasts through our books and and in our store. Breaking down mis-information with customers is a big part of our job…and our responsibility.

  8. Samantha March 7, 2011 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    I love this article. I work at a specialty tea shop and have been told numerous times by the owners to take this very approach. People still come in on a daily basis asking what tea would be best for said ailment or claiming that we should look into a certain tea or herb because it cures such and such an ailment. It’s hard to explain to them what you’re saying here. Most people don’t believe us when we suggest to drink tea for the pleasure of drinking it (and some don’t believe that our specialty teas are better than what Lipton sells…silly…). Thanks for posting.

  9. JT March 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    I like tea because it tastes really, really good, if you get the good stuff. I enjoy its caffeine content and find it mellower than caffeine from coffee, which I also love, and that’s partly because the content is lower so I absorb it over a couple cups instead of one blast.

    It may have other benefits – take the with a grain of salt. Not literally. Don’t put salt in your tea.

    Getting people to drink more tea should use the same tactics used by everyone else – talk up the quality differences, educate your consumers about how to recognize quality product, educate them about styles and sources, talk about brewing methods, temperatures, times, etc, to develop a culture of tea drinkers who understand quality versus cuppa.

    It’s a tried and true method, and the development of quality coffee all over the US over the past 20 years proves it.

    • Libby March 8, 2011 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      I’m in agreement with the points JT has made. I recently exhibited with my tea company at a local festival and the number one question was not about the production method, tea farmer, origin, or taste profile, but rather “What’s it good for?”.

      Teaching people to drink tea for the sheer pleasure of it is a difficult task, particularly those new to tea. This tried and true method that seems to have worked for coffee and wine is going to be a long journey for the tea world, I think. Thanks for bringing the issue into the spotlight. Whether we’re enthusiasts or business owners, I hope it will inspire us all to rise the the challenge!

  10. David March 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    I replied to your tweet,but I guess this is part of getting tea more mainstream. People will start drinking it because of the health reasons and realize they enjoy it. I have noticed that a lot of times when the health benefits are promoted, they are usually selling low quality tea at a high price.

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