JAMES FAYAL, 23, of Rittenhouse Square, is founder of Zest Tea Company. The company has developed four high-quality tea blends that have more caffeine than coffee without the unwanted side effects. In July, Fayal, who's also controller at NextFab Studio, raised nearly $10,000 through a crowdfunding competition. He began selling tea from Zest Tea's website last month.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Zest Tea?
A: A friend and I are tea drinkers and discussed ways to make tea more caffeinated without the side effects of coffee. We began blending our own teas to increase the caffeine punch.
Q: The biz model?
A: It's all online sales but I don't see that as the top sales channel. We're building partnerships with companies and specialty-food distributors.
Q: How long have you been selling to customers?
A: We went from pre-orders to filling orders in January. We've already sold 400 tins.
Q: Describe the tea. Is it loose leaf or in teabags?
A: It's in pyramid bags and it sprouted from loose-leaf tea. Drinkers wanted something that was convenient and that allowed the tea to expand.
Q: The origin of the tea?
A: China and India. We get it from distributors in California and Arizona and have a proprietary blending process of teas, oils and other natural ingredients to boost caffeination. We then bring that to Custom Co-Pak in North Philly and they package it and I fulfill all the orders.
Q: What's special?
A: It's a quality tea and you get a caffeine boost. There's an extra benefit in that healthy tannins and antioxidants in the tea take longer to absorb into the bloodstream so you avoid the jolt-and-crash you get with coffee.
Q: Who do you compete with and what differentiates you?
A: Celestial Seasonings has something called Fast Lane [caffeinated black tea] but make it in small batches and mostly sell it online. Last month, The Republic of Tea produced a tea made with powdered caffeine so you can't use it on loose-leaf tea or in nicer bags. They use cheaper bags, which doesn't allow the tea to expand. [They] also use a lower-grade, dust-like tea.
Q: The cost of Zest Tea?
A: Right now it's $12 for a tin of 20 bags.
Q: Your customers?
A: Our customers are people who drink coffee or energy drinks for the utility of caffeine, but don't necessarily like the taste or find it enjoyable. They find this an alternative to coffee or just like tea more.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge you faced to date?
A: I would say figuring out the logistics of the market. My biggest mistake was not going to a contract packager sooner. The other thing that's been frustrating is branding. We wanted to be a not-your-average tea and probably [took too much time coming up with the brand name].