SMTXmade: What's the Buzz?
by Christine Terrell Photo: John Allan
Did you know that San Marcos is the home office to one of the most exciting new products to hit the beverage market in years? You've likely seen it around town and not even realized it was dreamed up right here.
Before they worked their way up to the heights they've now achieved, the original Busy Bee was a drink served in only one location, Tantra Coffeehouse. Co-owner Adam Lilley had been singing the praises of this edgy yerba maté drink to friends and business partners Ian Lee, Kyle Mylius, Jayme Starrak and Nathan Todd for a while. Always with the thought that if they could just bottle up this deliciousness, they would really have something new and exciting to offer the wider world.
So what is this amazing drink? It's the simplicity that seems to make it so special. The original beverage served at Tantra is nothing more than Fair Trade, organic, unsmoked Yerba Maté and Texas wildflower honey. As with all delicious things, the best quality, freshest ingredients are the key. With the bottled versions they have gone a bit further afield with fruit and herbal additions—Orange Blossom, Ginger Limeade and Lavender Lemonade.
Yerba maté is a South American tree whose leaves have been used as a tea since at least the 16th century. Much like coffee, it requires a specific habitat and climate that made for difficult domestication. Once the Spanish got a taste, however, they apparently thought it was worth the hassle because by the early 17th century it was the chief export from the area that's now Paraguay.
Photo: John Allan
Mate is caffeinated and often quoted as having the "strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate.” What's not to like about that? Even though it has been a traditional drink in places like Argentina, Bolivia and Chile for centuries, it's only more recently garnered a following in the northern American climes. With the growth of coffee shops and tea houses over the last couple of decades, traditional beverages from other parts of the world are finding there way into our lives. So maybe it's not so surprising that the beverage creating buzz in the bottling world is a twist on a South American tea dreamed up in lil' ol' San Marcos.
Beyond just the creation of this unlikely libation, the story really is one of a local economy working at its best. The Tantra partners created a great drink, the local market encouraged them to pursue putting it into production and a local investor saw the potential to help them bring it to a wider market. As with lots of early stage businesses and products, there were some twists and turns. They started out making 5 gallons at a time at the Coffeehouse then pretty quickly moved on to renting commercial kitchen space in Wimberley moving to 50 gallon batches and growing distribution one shop, convenience store and coffee house at a time.
This model worked for a while, but in 2014 they decided to move production to a larger facility in San Antonio which allowed them to significantly increase their output. They also got busy figuring out how to up their distribution game. The industry is tight and not made for mom and pop operations. The heavy guns like Coke and Pepsi apparently aren't so keen on competition no matter what the size. It's a testament to their unique product that within a short time of ramping up production, they were able to land a partnership for distribution with DBMiller out of Austin. With these folks in their corner they quadrupled their accounts.
It's been a wild ride for this small group of entrepreneurs, but they've learned that great things can come out of small starts and little places. They are excited about the maté success and hope to release another flavor by the end of the year. If you haven't yet tried this refreshing brew, there should be no problem finding one. The list is long, but if you're in downtown San Marcos you can always pick one up at Tantra Coffeehouse, Jo's Cafe, Root Cellar Bakery, Dos Gatos Kolache Bakery or The Cornucopia. If you're in Austin, look no further than Whole Foods or Royal Blue Grocery. If you happen to be reading this from Fort Worth, no worries. Busy Bee is available statewide in all Central Markets. For a complete list of locations, bee sure to check out their site. Wherever you are, if you see Busy Bee on the shelf, pick one up. Try something deliciously different and #SMTXmade.
Christine is a graphic designer by training, but has spent the last dozen years as adaptive reuse making jewelry out of upcycled tins. She regularly blogged about the process as well as other art and material things she found interesting. Her move to San Marcos sparked a deep curiosity about her new home, so lately her free time has been focused on getting to to know the people and places that make it so San Marvelous.