In “A History of the World in 6 Glasses,” Tom Standege has this to say about tea: “The story of tea is the story of imperialism, industrialization, and world domination, one cup at a time.”
For Kyle Chandler, tea is a little simpler.
Or rather, subtle.
“I’m a grown-up with an iced tea stand,” jokes the 33-year-old, whose launched his tea company, Subtle Tea, in December.
In an area where craft is king and locally made beverages run the gamut from wine to beer to coffee, Chandler is looking to add craft tea into the marketplace. Consisting of just four ingredients — water, tea, dried fruit and organic sugar cane — Subtle Tea is now sold at 13 retail locations throughout Suffolk County, including six in Riverhead and Southold.
“I like the packaging, and in addition to that, I like the taste,” said Rita Winkler, owner of Greenport’s Vines & Branches, one of the retail sellers. “It’s not too sweet. It’s delicious.”
Chandler, who lives in Centereach, found inspiration for the product while attending a craft beer festival in 2013. With little to hydrate himself beyond water and beer, he recalled the hot summer days of his youth when “mom always made sun tea as a kid.”
“I always felt like something was missing from these events,” he said. “So I figured why not do something with craft tea? It was kind of intuitive to make it happen.”
Chandler, who has a Master’s Degree in systems engineering, works days as an engineer with Northrop Grumman in Bethpage. Some nights, he’ll gather friends for what he smartly markets as a “labeling party” — getting some pizza and beer for some friends to help put labels on as much as 1,600 bottles at a time. Other nights he’ll work as late as 1 a.m. with his father, John, at the Calverton Business Incubator, using the facility to brew and bottle several 40-gallon batches of tea in a process that isn’t too different than brewing a batch of beer.
According to Patrick Iocono, assistant director at the incubator, Subtle Tea is one of about 50 companies utilizing the 10,000 square-foot commercial kitchen.
“Obviously, giving Kyle the space was a huge part of what he needed,” Iocono said. “That was his first and foremost need, I think.”
Currently, Subtle Tea is offered in three different varieties: plum, decaf apple mango, and raspberry. The 16 oz. bottles contain 18 grams of sugar and 70 calories. That’s compared with 62 grams of sugar and 225 calories in a 20 oz. bottle of Arizona Iced Tea.
“There’s a real demand for iced tea that’s not sugar water,” Chandler said.
Chandler is also offering the tea through kegs, and can be found on tap at Moustache Brewing Co. In addition, locally it’s at Hotel Indigo, North Fork Chocolate Co., Schmitt’s Farm Stand, Vines & Branches, and CJ’s American Bar & Grill.
Whether or not Subtle Tea’s story is one that eventually includes “world domination” remains to be seen.