When Tama Tea started about five years ago, the firm’s three co-founders didn’t foresee getting into the mass tea-brewing business.
Tama Tea started as a cafe at 1127 Military Cutoff Road in Wilmington, founded by Rocco Quaranto and Wells Struble – two former local university track teammates – and also Struble’s wife, Kelly.
“We were in the cafe working on new drinks and recipes, while we’re drinking our sparkling water and our tea and … we had this idea that if we carbonated some of our tea, what would that taste like? And so we did, and it was pretty good,” Quaranto said.
The trio then looked around for makers of carbonated tea products so that they could sell them on the shelves of Tama Tea cafe, he said.
“And we couldn’t find anybody,” Quaranto said. “There was just nothing out there – that was 2017.”
The founders got the ball rolling on packaging, sales and distribution of its sparkling tea that year, he said.
The brewing side of the business has slowly grown to three different sparkling tea flavors.
“We have recipes lined up. Right now, all three of our flavors of the sparkling tea are green-tea based,” Quaranto said, adding that the idea is to expand with other tea varieties.
Tama Tea aims to continue research and development of new flavors in Wilmington, brew new batches and build an even greater product line for the firm.
The co-founders, however, this year have been growing their online retail side of the Tama Tea business – selling on their website and on Amazon – a big focus since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
The company had opened a second cafe location in Raleigh but decided to permanently close it in May due to circumstances and economic impacts of the pandemic.
There are two aspects of the business now: the Wilmington cafe and the sparking tea business.
The sparkling tea business, while still blossoming, is something Tama Tea has been working on for close to three years.
“It takes a long time to get this cruise liner up to speed, so to speak, from [the] idea of brewing and carbonating some of our tea in a keg in our cafe to brewing it at Wrightsville Beach Brewery to now we’re brewing … at Abita Brewery [just outside] New Orleans.”
Each batch, he said, is a truckload, which is about 20 pallets of tea.
Quaranto said the firm, while using the larger brewer in Covington, Louisiana, still does some brewing at Wrightsville Beach Brewery in Wilmington.
Since 2019, Tama Tea has picked up three distributors. The sparkling tea is carried in about 200 locations, including health food stores, along the East Coast.
But the company aims to grow.
“Everything has kind of been put on hold right now for them bringing on new brands, but we see it starting to open back up,” Quaranto said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t see our cans at every major retailer on the East Coast in the next year or two.”