Smile Politely

Making tea cool is good business

Tiesta Tea is making tea cool. “This is not your grandmother’s cup of tea,” said Daniel Klein, chief executive officer of Tiesta Tea. Klein and lifetime friend Patrick Tannous, chief operating officer, have created a line of loose-leaf teas that they hope will be accessible to everyone. “Everyone can enjoy tea, whether you’re 10 or 80,” Klein said.

Klein and Tannous met in pre-school in their hometown of Arlington Heights where their interest in tea came at an early age. Tannous came from an Egyptian background where he said tea was an important part of their lifestyle. Klein, on the other hand, has Italian roots and sought out an alternative to the ill effects of all of the coffee his family consumed.

Tiesta Tea’s origins can be traced back to Prague, where Klein and Tannous were studying abroad. Tannous saw tea as “a rip off” and wanted to research what he saw as a large growing market. With a fresh idea and the help of the University of Illinois Launch program, Tiesta Tea was able to get off the ground. The university program gave the entrepreneurs a $10,000 loan to start up, as well as office space in Research Park for the summer and invaluable feedback from alumni.

Klein and Tannous are backed by a workforce of friends who help with the preparation and packaging of orders, as well as a creative director, Bobby Moyniham, a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, that has shaped the image of Tiesta Tea. Moyniham is also trying to juggle being both a student and entrepreneur. “Going to school lays down the basic foundation but actually doing it is where you learn,” Moyniham said.

Working with microbiologists and chemists, Klein and Tannous went through a rigorous taste testing process to finalize a line of 60 flavored teas, each fitting into one of their five categories, each specifically formulated for a different health benefit. The lines include: Energizer, Forever Young, Immunity, Relaxer, and Slenderizer. “We make it simple. We give you a flavor profile and what it does for you,” Tannous said.

According to Klein and Tannous the initial reception to their product has been a success, thanks in part to providing people with a fresh product option. According to Tannous the tea that is packaged is around one week old, whereas tea from a larger tea company, such as Rishi, is around seven weeks old.

“People want a high quality product and they’re willing to pay a premium. This is a generation looking for a product where they can identify its origins,” Klein said. “We’re shocked, the people are shocked.” “My parents don’t believe it,” Tannous said.

The company’s hopes for the future are tentative but they would like to eventually open a chain of retail stores, possibly in the Midwest or in California. “We want to be the leader of the tea industry, specifically flavored and wellness teas,” Klein said.

For now the two remain at work night and day. Klein is in his final semester of a finance and entrepreneurship degree while Tannous has decided to take some time off of his studies at University of Illinois Chicago. “It’s insanity; there’s no other word for it. I get emails and calls in class. The company has to take a priority,” Klein said. “We started a business and we can’t just take a break,” Tannous added.

Despite the amount of time they spend each day on their company, they’ve managed to integrate life and work without many hitches, thanks to their close friendship. “Decisions are a lot easier because we know each other and who knows what better,” Klein said. “We have the same group of friends. If we’re goin’ out, we’re brainstorming,” Tannous added.

Tiesta Tea is available locally at Natural Gourmet, Strawberry Fields, the Walnut Street Tea Company, and at Urbana’s Market at the Square, where Klein and Tannous sample four teas each week. The company also recently made a deal with Oh Olive, a new store in Libertyville, to carry 35 of their 60 varieties.

For more information on Tiesta Tea visit their website: Orders may also be made by emailing Patrick at “People feel good that the money is being pumped into their town,” Tannous said. “It’s really cool to be able to sell something that will help someone.”

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