The introduction of tea into the machine of American (and perhaps global) marketing is here. I recently had opportunity to ponder the influence of good design on the marketing of tea and tea related products. Participating in the NYC Coffee and Tea Festival at the end of April, I was interested to see a predominance of new tea products rather than those promoting coffee. And what I also noted was the sophistication of the packaging of these products. There were Rooibos tisanes in custom tins, Matcha green chocolates sublimely wrapped, and delicate Chai almond cookies in exotic boxes. Indeed, the packaging was sophisticated and seductive and the products immediately seemed precious and valuable. And my reaction to the marketing strategy was indeed strongly of two minds.

Part of me still has a hereditary foot in the Depression Era sensibilities of my grandparents: If I’m buying cookies, wouldn’t I prefer more of them for my money rather than pay for fancy packaging? But I’m also a late Baby Boomer who ponders existentially: Aren’t I genuinely rewarded by the delight of unwrapping a clever and handsomely presented treat (which may in fact be more beneficial to me than the caloric/nutritional intake)? I’m split between these two perspectives and of course there’s a third – environmental – spin to consider: If the packaging is special but only to entice the sale of the product, perhaps that’s an indulgence I ought to resist. But if the packaging will help maintain and protect a product that may be slowly consumed, or if it may be reused or “repurposed”, than perhaps it is a worthwhile indulgence.

Of course the debate is skewed when marketing targets busy consumers who are also gift-givers. Buying a consumable product that looks like an indulgent gift eliminates the time and effort of gift-wrapping when that product is passed along to someone other than the buyer. And don’t we delight in the notion of offering the gift of a special new product in an era when many have been there and done everything? And don’t we love both giving and receiving a bit of luxury? Now that I’ve found great teas, I want to share them with folks I suspect will take the same special delight in consuming superior quality products that I’ve discovered with the growth of the tea industry. And good design in both product and packaging have value. What do you think?