Many business owners had to make difficult decisions during the height of the pandemic. For Wilmington-based Tama Tea, the three founders decided to close their cafes, including one in The Forum, and focus instead on producing their line of canned green teas.
“It was a tough decision,” said Rocco Quaranto, who founded the company along with Kelly and Wells Struble. “But we decided to double down on the sparkling teas. It was a slow burn, because it can be a long process, but we powered through that year.”
Now, those three flavors are available at more 800 locations around the country, including locally at shops like Biggers Market, The Veggie Wagon and Tidal Creek Co-op. The three UNCW alums also make sure you can find it on campus.
But more is on the way. Now Tama Tea has a new look, new products and new business partners.
“Well, 2023 is definitely looking good for us,” Quaranto said.
First, Tama released its Rosé Maté tea after developing and perfecting the recipe for almost two years. It's a blend of yerba mate tea, rose hips, raspberries and hibiscus. After only a couple of months on the market, the reaction is already favorable. The Mint Maté, with tea, lemon and mint, will be released in the spring.
“Nobody else on the market craft brews their tea with real ingredients like we do,” said Kelly Struble, Tama’s CEO.
The company is finding its niche by brewing with organic ingredients and spring water with no added sugar for beverages that offer “clean, natural energy.” The green teas have about 45 milligrams of caffeine and the yerba mates have about 120 milligrams.
The partners turned to the local Creature Theory design firm to create a look for their Rosé Maté tea.
“It was great, but a little bittersweet,” Quaranto said. “As soon as we saw it, it was so good we knew we wanted to re-do the whole line.”
This past weekend, the Tama team debuted the new teas and the new look at the Natural Products Expo East in Philadelphia, with about 1,000 or so other exhibitors offering health, beauty, and food and drink products.
With them at the expo were two new partners – both of whom have experience in selling products on a national scale. Meiky Tollman is a former senior executive with Sabra who played a large role in getting the hummus into grocery stores across the country. Tollman also brought in Kevin Hall, who was a vice-president with PepsiCo for 37 years.
Both said that energy beverage drinks are one of the industry’s fastest growing segments, and that Tama’s products are unique for their ingredients and how they are brewed.
Tama Tea launched their brand in 2015. In 2018, they started working with Wrightsville Beach Brewery to test batches of their green teas. They’re now available in three flavors, Lemo Lavender, Go Go Mango and Peach Pear. After they perfect a recipe locally, Tama turns to Abita Brewing Company in New Orleans to produce on a larger scale.
“Essentially, we are using the breweries’ kettles and brewing a massive cup of tea,” Quaranto said. “We get to skip other steps that they use to make beer.”
Once it’s brewed, they carbonate it and can it.
“Making it this way is more difficult, and more expensive,” he said.
But the end result is worth it.
“It tastes a lot better. We could do what other companies do and send it to a flavor house, who make it with ‘natural flavors’ instead of actual peaches and pears.”
Tama Tea can be found in about 200 locations of Giant/Martin grocery stores in the northern U.S., as well as about 45 Whole Foods locations in the South and 9 Central Market stores in Texas. Next, Tama will be focusing on adding more retailers, through demonstrations and sustainable partnerships.
“We don’t want to get too big too soon,” Quaranto said. “We want to be in stores that we know we’ll do well in.”
“Once customers find it, we get a pretty loyal following,” he said. “We are really proud of what we put in the can.”
Allison Ballard is the food and dining reporter at the StarNews. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Wilmington's Tama Tea has new partners and new yerba mate drinks