As FUZE Tea launches across Europe in 2018, we spoke to R&D’s Tea Category Manager, Itziar Tolosa who shared some of the secrets behind how a new product is made. Tolosa talks about her role in The Coca-Cola Company’s R&D laboratory in Brussels and the insights behind the unique flavor blends she helped create to excite European iced tea aficionados.

Tell us about The Coca-Cola Company’s R&D Lab

We look at how innovation can improve every aspect of The Coca-Cola Company, from our products to our packaging. We spend a lot of time coming up with new drinks, as well as looking at ways we can improve our existing portfolio of drinks, such as reducing sugar and improving taste. It’s very exciting to work on some of the world’s most loved brands. 

What you do at the R&D Lab?

I look after our tea-based drinks, such as HONEST and now FUZE Tea. FUZE Tea has been available elsewhere in the world for some time now, 52 countries in fact. For Western Europe, we wanted to give FUZE Tea a new recipe to match our local taste preferences. The challenge we gave ourselves was to create the best-tasting ready-to-drink tea, with the most unexpected fusion of flavors, which wasn’t too sweet. I love it, and I think everyone else will too. 

What’s new and different about FUZE Tea?

FUZE Tea is a unique blend of tea, fruit juice and herbs. Each of the variants provides an unexpected fusion of flavors that will hopefully inspire people to take a moment for themselves, and press pause on the world for a while. We even designed the bottle in the shape of an hourglass to encourage people to enjoy a little "me time" whenever they take a sip.    

I hear you are somewhat of a flavor guru…

Everyone at the R&D Lab is obsessive about flavor and taste. Every product we put out there must taste incredible. That’s our motto, and it’s still what people most want from a drink.  

What is the most important thing when making a new beverage? 

A new product needs to offer something different and surprise people, but we also want to cater for what people want. As we let our imaginations run wild, we also think about the consumer: what would they enjoy in a glass of ready-to-drink tea, what flavors will surprise and delight? Have we created a unique taste that they will want to enjoy again and again?

Where do you look for inspiration? 

We look at new and emerging food and flavor trends, and we talk to people constantly to make sure we are creating drinks that they would love to try, or making the drinks they already love even better. For FUZE Tea, we looked at the most popular flavors but we also wanted to add something different and unexpected, such as herbs, into the recipe. And of course, we are always experimenting with new flavors from around the world.

Tell us about the flavors in FUZE Tea.

We started with classic iced-tea flavors like peach and lemon, as these are really well loved. We have given them a twist, of course, and they really do taste different to anything else out there. We then explored more unusual flavor combinations, introducing surprising ingredients like mango, hibiscus and chamomile. What we always want is a deliciously balanced flavour: not too sweet but not too bitter, an equilibrium between the fruits and herbs that excites your palate.

Is it a complicated process? 

We research each ingredient, making sure we have the perfect taste. It’s not just a peach to us – we think about if it could be juicier, sweeter, more tart, darker or lighter. We then ask ourselves if we’ve really thought outside the box. We are all about bold new flavors creating a truly special iced tea, it’s the standard we hold ourselves to. When we have the right flavor combinations, we think about balancing the sweetness, bitterness or boldness of each variety. 

How long does it take to create a new flavor?

Getting the taste just right is a labour of love. Sometimes it can take months; other times it can take around a year. We aren’t satisfied until we get it just right. And we have a lot of fun experimenting. 

How is FUZE Tea best enjoyed?

We spent a lot of time experimenting with this, and working with accessible ingredients that anyone could find in their local supermarket. It’s very simple, but tastes delicious. Just fill a glass with ice, pour over chilled FUZE Tea, add a lemon wedge and then fresh mint to garnish. Then sip, enjoy and unwind. But there are no rules, really. You can enjoy a FUZE Tea anywhere, anytime. 

What’s your favorite ?

It’s difficult to pick one, but I would have to say Black Tea Peach Hibiscus.

What’s next? Any flavor predictions? 

My lips are sealed, but we have a lot of exciting plans. We are going to keep on surprising people with a taste of the unexpected. Stay tuned! 

Read more about the FUZE Tea launch in Europe.