Australia's East Forged was founded by loose-leaf tea lovers Tania Stacey and Kym Cooper. With alcohol sales in the country continuing to decline - and the trend towards non-alcoholic growing around the world - the duo believe their cold tea (which looks like a beer, pours like a beer, but tastes like a tea) has the opportunity to target traditional beer and wine drinkers.
It can be found in licence premises alongside alcohol offerings. And while the product is still firmly a tea by nature, it’s something of a beer by nurture… “probably the most unique alcohol-free alternative in Australia, maybe the globe!”
Tea: the ‘hero ingredient’
It took more than 18 months for Stacey and Cooper – who both hail from the tea industry - to come up with a cold tea recipe they were happy with: experimenting with premium loose-leaf teas from their favourite suppliers and working with an independent craft brewer to bring the beverages to effervescent life with nitrogen bubbles.
“We did not start out to create a tea that looks like a beer!” Stacey told BeverageDaily. “We started out wanting to disrupt the ice tea market that we believe does not make tea the hero ingredient, as products are often diluted with fruit juices and added sweeteners.
"We challenged ourselves to elevate the experience while loose leaf tea remained the hero.”
The biggest challenge for the entrepreneurs was their locations: with Stacey in Melbourne and Cooper situated 1,700km away in Brisbane.
“We would post different teas to each other and compare notes," said Stacey. "Once we were happy with the kitchen recipes, we had to find a commercial canning company. It was difficult to find someone that was happy to produce in smaller quantities and willing to work with our ideas.
"We always wanted to cold brew and create an effervescent texture and that is when we tapped into the craft brewing industry.”
A sense of occasion
In January the brand launched its three East Forged brews: available in black, green or white tea infused with exotic fruits (yuzu, pitaya and calamansi). The drinks are low in calories and with no added sugar, artificial flavours or colours.
Featuring a hint of exotic fruits, tea remains the ‘hero ingredient’ in the drinks – and yet the beer-like look and texture and a complexity of subtle flavours mean it can sit comfortably alongside any alcoholic beverage in a variety of social occasions and settings, says the duo.
The brand estimates that a typical full-strength alcoholic beer contains 138 calories per serve and a commercial ice tea contains 188 calories – whereas East Forged comes in at under 5 calories per serve.
And the taste? “It tastes like tea!” says Stacey. “It is dry, not sweet. The taste is 'tea forward'. The aroma is 'fruit-forward'. The lingering aftertaste leaves a light perceived sweetness from the aroma and nitrogen.
"It doesn't have a beer flavour, however the post fermented green tea & pitaya has some similarity to a European garden ale. It looks like a beer when poured which gives that sense of occasion.”
East Forged is placed in licence premises alongside alcohol offerings. “Our people are often Millennials who are looking for healthy, no added sugar options but still want that sense of occasion when out socialising. Our brand is about fun - we are saying have fun and feel assured that our drinks have the quality ingredients you want in your life.”
‘There’s not so much confusion as curiosity!’
A tea that looks like a beer; or a pint that tastes like a tea… does East Forged risk confusing consumers with a concoction that blurs the category lines this far?
No, says Stacey, highlighting its difference as its advantage.
“As one of our tea/beer-loving non-alcohol drinking customers has said, "These guys probably make the most unique alcohol free alternative in Australia, maybe the globe!” There’s not so much confusion as curiosity. And we have taken the cue from our customers, and we now offer a 3 can tasting pack.”
While COVID-19 has presented a curveball to many small businesses, May and June proved to be two of the best months for East Forged. The brand points to stats from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which say that the vast majority (85.6%) of Australians still drink responsibly when in isolation; with 30% abstaining from alcohol and 10% drinking less.
“Like yoga and meditation, the ‘mindful drinking’ movement has been around for a few years, but it’s really gathered momentum in recent months. Our customers tell us they’re deliberately choosing to limit their alcohol intake," says Stacey.
The three East Forged brews come in a 15-can case or three-pack taster and are available online or from selected breweries, cafes and grocery retailers across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.