By Jamie Siebrase | Jul 17, 2016
Tea & Yerba Mate beverages
Consumers often drink tea for its health benefits, but not necessarily the flavor profile. At Colorado State University, Jokisch, a collegiate lacrosse player, was a bit of a tea connoisseur -- and he was intent on proving tea could be healthy and flavorful simultaneously.
Jokisch used tea as an alternative beverage for fuel on and off the lacrosse field. "After I graduated, I came down and played for the Colorado Mammoth for a few years," he says. It was during those days that he began forming his own "fun, functional blends," he says.
"For a long time, tea consisted of base leaves plus a flavor that was usually artificial," explains Jokisch. He changed that, adding herbs, spices, and real fruit to inventive high-energy blends, including a black and yerba mate infusion dubbed Orange Octane.
When Jokisch took his tea to the locker room, teammates eagerly offered up feedback, which he took into account in 2009 when he officially launched Teakoe at the Cherry Creek Fresh Market. At first Jokisch hawked hot brews. Summertime market-goers, though, wanted cold drinks, and he quickly adjusted his business model by developing "really unique and flavorful craft iced teas," he says.
Unique is an understatement. The first thing any seasoned tea drinker will notice about Teakoe products is the mighty flavor. "What separates chefs is often how they season a protein," begins Jokisch. Same goes for tea leaves. "Providing the right balance of herbs and spices elevates the other flavors," he adds, and explains that the name Teakoe is a play on pekoe, meaning high-quality tea.
"By creating everything in-house, we have full control," he continues. In his 3,000-square-foot facility, bulk herbs, spices and leaves -- about 40 percent are organic -- are blended in modest 75-pound batches. Eventually Teakoe will have to move to a 500-pound mixer, but, says Jokisch, "For us, small-scale is reminiscent to where we started." (That would be with five-pound batches mixed in barrels by hand!)
Micro tea brewing, if you will, means Jokisch and his team "can change things on a dime," he says. Teakoe doesn't use lemongrass to be showy -- it has a purpose. Block Party Pomegranate, a green blend, features tart hibiscus that's offset by citrusy lemongrass and lime notes. It's the company's most popular flavored tea, though a Signature Black Iced Tea is hands-down the bestseller and Jokisch isn't shy about saying, "The best black tea on the market." He chalks that up to a trade secret incorporating nuances from two regions producing leaves that aren't typically used in iced teas.
When restaurateurs began approaching Jokisch, he was happy to work with them to develop flavors that would pair well with their cuisine. Smashburger was one of Teakoe's earlier corporate clients, and the company's iced tea sales increased nearly 200 percent after opening the account.
As everything Jokisch does is about flavor, tea-and-food pairings are a natural for Teakoe. Front Porch Peach goes well at burger establishments, whereas Peg Leg Pineapple jives with Mexican fare. Fast-casual clients include Larkburger and MAD Greens, and you'll also find Teakoe products at the Cherry Cricket, Punch Bowl Social, Cheba Hut, all of the Troy Guard concepts, and the Four Seasons Hotel, among many other spots. Retail-wise, Teakoe is sold at Whole Foods Markets, Tony's Market, Marczyk Fine Foods, Safeway and King Soopers. "We concentrate our efforts here in the Rocky Mountains," says Jokisch, noting 95 percent of Teakoe's business is done in that region.
Iced tea got Teakoe off the ground, but hot teas have been profitable, too. Teakoe sells 17 whole leaf hot teas, along with a newly released line of chai.
"Chai just means tea in India," Jokisch explains. He saw an opportunity to bring American chai back to its non-milky roots by honing in on the herbs themselves. But he couldn't help adding a touch of Colorado flair to the brand. Green leaves aren't typically used as a chai base, but with Horizon Hot Ginger Jokisch broke tradition. Happy Camper Cocoa, on the other hand, is a black tea base that smells as indulgent as an Andes mint, with peppermint and dark chocolate notes. These Trailhead Chai teas are targeted toward outdoors enthusiasts and Millennials looking for coffee alternatives.
Challenges: "Figuring out the next step," says Jokisch. Teakoe has witnessed strong local support, and Jokisch wonders, "How do we take what we've created here in Colorado to a national level?" He's looking to the craft beer giants, ascertaining what they've done well, brand-wise.
Opportunities: Creating a product that's more accessible to consumers. Currently, buyers must brew Teakoe products at home. "There might be inconsistencies in how consumers prepare the product -- maybe they steep it too long or don't get the water hot enough," says Jokisch. He's interested in a line that folks can enjoy "in a more convenient manner," he says. Spoiler alert: Teakoe has its eyes set on a place where it'll mimic breweries with on-site production.
Needs: Jokisch appreciated the feedback he got in the locker room, and now he needs it from his consumers, too. "We're always working on making sure that we understand our customers," he says, referring to both food service clients and retail shoppers.