WILMINGTON — Local tea and coffee shop Tama Cafe is revealing a new line of sparkling tea cans on Friday, from 4 to 6 p.m., at their Mayfaire location (1127 Military Cutoff Road, Suite C).
The idea was hatched more than a year ago when the three founders of Tama Cafe — formerly Tama Tea — were brainstorming new products and noticed a sparkling water on the table.
“We love sparkling beverages – champagne, beer, sparkling water – and we wondered, why can’t you carbonate a tea?” Tama Cafe co-founder Rocco Quaranto said.
Related: Burrito-sized sushi rolls? New restaurant Roll On In is bringing them to Wilmington area
After researching the concept they noticed there was little competition in the sparkling tea industry, and the brands they did find included preservatives, were weak on flavor, or were filled with sugar. When they brought the idea to Wrightsville Beach Brewery owner Jud Watkins and head brewer Kevin Zelnio, they found a place where they could brew up their first mock-up batches of flavored, organic, carbonated green tea.
“Low and behold, Jud and Kevin are huge tea fans themselves,” Quaranto said.
The brewhouse gave them the ability to brew the tea in a 10-barrel stainless steel tank, pasteurize it, then pump in carbon dioxide overnight to supply the “fizz” found in carbonated drinks.
“We use these huge cloth tea bags so that we can basically make a giant cup of tea,” Quaranto said.
After months of fine-tuning the process while adjusting the recipes, they began offering daily samples at their Wilmington shop (there is another Tama Cafe in downtown Raleigh) and narrowed it down to three flavors: lemon lavender, peach pear, and mango verde.
“It took a long time to get the taste, quality, recipes and everything else right. There was a lot of research and development – what the customers liked, what carbonation levels are appropriate,” Quaranto said.
Now they are brewing 5-barrel batches of each flavor at Watkins’ brewery – 5 barrels of their peach and pear flavor were carbonating in the tank Thursday morning – and canning directly in the brewhouse.
Each batch is brewed with pure green tea, fresh fruit, herbs, and a small dose of caffeine (35 mg per can). A penny from every can sold will be donated to local nonprofit Masonboro.org, whose mission is to “protect public access, promote responsible use, and preserve the traditions of Masonboro Island,” according to its website.
Plans for the future
With 12,000 cans ordered and ready to fill, Quaranto said they’re gearing up to supply local retailers around Wilmington – their first purchaser was Tidal Creek Co-Op off Oleander Drive earlier this week.
But the idea of using their Wilmington and Raleigh locations to push the product and test the market’s response to it, according to Quaranto, was a key step before increasing production and distributing on a larger scale.
“It’s ‘Business 101.’ We created a product and made small batches so we could prove the product. The goal is to fill [the cans], see if customers like it, buy it, and go from there. If that happens we can put the foot on the accelerator a bit and see if we can start distribution,” Quaranto said.
Just as important to Quaranto, though, is finding the right kind of distribution channel.
“We want to be sure we pick the right retailers from the beginning, make sure our core customers align,” Quaranto said.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Markdarrough@localvoicemedia.com