The coffee revolution has arrived in Madison, with local roasters and perfect pour-overs in every corner of the city.
But when it comes to tea, we’re a little behind the times.
Two local entrepreneurs, one heading a company that's known for its cold brew coffee, the other a big thinker still in school, are looking to upgrade Madison’s tea options with new sparkling teas.
This summer, Cadence Cold Brew added a new line of nitro teas to existing nitro coffee taps in cafés like Rosie’s Bakery and Café and Madison Sourdough.
Nitro tea, like nitro coffee, is brewed cold then infused with nitrogen for a smooth, chilled beverage drawn from a tap like beer.
“We’re rolling it out this summer,” said Roy LaValley, who owns Cadence Cold Brew with Jennifer Roth. “UW Health was the first place to have it. The Epic campus has had it ... we’re rolling it out to friends in our backyard.”
Cadence started with three teas: an Asian black mango with calendula flowers and mango essence; Central London Citrus, a black tea with bergamot oil similar to an Earl Grey tea; and a Honduran hibiscus tea made with lemongrass, rosehips and lavender.
The hibiscus tea, recently on tap at Chocolaterian’s new Middleton location, is lightly sweet and a vibrant dark pink color.
According to LaValley, Cadence experimented with carbonation, but found that nitrogen showcased the flavors of the tea better.
“With the cold brew tea, the flavors are more delicate and nuanced,” he said. “We wanted to let the flavors of the tea really stand forward, and not try to balance that with carbon dioxide.”
Cadence sees its teas as not only an alternative to coffee but also to alcohol.
“Having non-alcoholic options as an afterthought is not really acceptable anymore,” LaValley said. “I am happy to pay for something fun, interesting and awesome. Maybe I’m not able to participate like everybody else for religious reasons or having a baby or something else.
“But give me something awesome ... that’s not soda from a gun from syrup in your basement.”
For young entrepreneur Karim Nassef, the impetus for his new carbonated tea was the lack of anything like it in the restaurants he visited.
“When I first came to college in the U.S., I ate at all the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants like Med Café and Palmyra Grill,” said Nassef, an incoming junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “A lot of places go out of their way to make their food authentic but fall short on drinks.”
Nassef is majoring in economics and neurochemistry, but he saw an entrepreneurial opportunity. A second place in an on-campus competition called Transcend Madison earlier this year confirmed his instincts.
“I started doing more research in beverage industry and I was surprised how little choice people actually have,” Nassef said. “People have been trying to wean themselves off soda and traditional sugary drinks. They’re turning toward flavored water like LaCroix, which is great, but there are people looking for more flavor than that.”
The first product from Nassef’s company, Cairo Beverage, is a sparkling hibiscus tea blended with aromatics like ginger, orange and cinnamon and sweetened with monkfruit, a fruit from Southeast Asia.
Nassef hopes to have his hibiscus tea in Madison restaurants in the State Street area by late August. He aims to have it for sale online soon after, and eventually — if the Kickstarter is successful — in cans in grocery stores.
Nassef, who said he’s “always been a bit of a food nerd,” took inspiration from Egypt, where his family is from and where he moved as a kid. His tea is different from the ones he found at roadside vendors in that it’s sparkling and less sweet.
“Egyptians have a huge sweet tooth,” he said. “I’ve turned it down for these drinks. Every family does it different — you have your base hibiscus and every family decorates in a different way, with different spices.”
Cadence has been playing around with a chai tea, and Cairo Beverages’ next tea may be a black tea with mint.
“You have a lot of tea drinks that are mostly berry-flavored with some tea,” said Nassef. “I wanted to make this more about the tea.”