Puerto Rico’s historic colonial Old San Juan offers numerous beverage experiences: Mojito-making at Airenumo, rum tasting at the Don Q Rum Museum, and touring the Old Harbor Brewery. While all worthwhile, my most fascinating discovery when exploring this area was a Puerto Rico coffee shop called PR Tea Co., as the company is the creator of a clever beverage combining of coffee and tea in one cup.
One Man’s Big Dream
PR Tea Co. was born on Aug. 28, 2009, with $140 in loose leaf tea. Their major issue in the beginning was getting investors to back the idea, as most didn’t believe tea was something Puerto Ricans would be interested in, especially with such a rich local coffee culture.
"At that point I knew, 'on this fight I’m all alone and against everybody,'" explains Ricardo Torres, the founder of PR Tea Co. "Deep inside, I knew they where wrong. PR Tea Co. is not my grandmother’s tea. This is gourmet tea. Plus, I wasn’t going to give up that easily."
Then one day Torres received a sign. He was reading the newspaper and saw an advertisement for a business plan competition, with the prize being a commercial building. Despite having no experience creating business plans, Torres knew he would win that competition. And, on the same day his daughter, Camila, was born, he received a call from the local bank saying he had won the contest. While PR Tea Co. would need much more help to get off the ground, this was a big start.
"We used recycled wood, bought used equipment at auctions, and even rented a coffee machine," says Torres. "Money was tight, so I had to do all the wood work by myself. I didn’t know anything about woodworking so I used Google to teach me. The same thing with the website and the graphic design. What really helped me through was thinking positive, despite the doubts of others."
The Birth of CafTea
After many bumps along the way, PR Tea Co. finally came to fruition, as did the innovative CafTea product. While most Puerto Ricans drink coffee, Torres was a very hyper child and his mother would give him tea to calm him down. This upbringing led him to want to bridge the gap between coffee and tea drinkers and create something that could appeal to both camps. Because of market limitations Torres believed he would need the drink to be more of a coffee beverage, with a small tea influence; however, after a conversation with a friend, a former Miss Universe of Aruba, she gave him the answer he’d been looking for.
"Why you don’t make the tea and coffee blends you are always talking about?" she stated, simply but surely.
And there, after a short conversation, CafTea was born.
The innovative caffeine fix is an artisanal hot beverage combining the health benefits of tea with the warm flavors of 100 percent Arabica coffee and adds natural hand-milled spices. As with all of the company’s beverages, no artificial flavors are added and only the finest ingredients are used. When I visit, Torres gives me a tour of the factory, which is really a small kitchen with a printer and box-cutting machine. Afterward, he sits me down for a tasting of sweet and frothy Coconut Truffle CafTea.
The drink is made using a drip cup, where a biodigradable bag of CafTea is placed over a cup and water is slowly poured on top to allow the flavors to drip into the cup without any beans or grinds. Moreover, whole-leaf tea is placed in a tea strainer with hot water poured over for a similar effect. In the Coconut Truffle CafTea in particular, rich black tea is blended with cocoa beans, toasted coconut, organic honeybush and 100 percent Puerto Rican Arabica coffee for a decadent beverage. To enhance the experience, the barista creates artwork in the frothy top, with smiling faces, flowers, or a message reading "Enjoy!".
While it’s clear you get the health benefits of the tea and the stimulation of the coffee, another reason to enjoy CafTea is, while it contains enough caffeine to wake you up when you’re lacking energy, it has 33 percent less caffeine than regular coffee. This means you’re less likely to get the jitters.
A Drink with Meaning
If you purchase your CafTea for home use, you’ll even get it in sustainable packaging made with locally sourced materials. Boxes are made with recycled paper and eco-friendly ink using a machine that cuts designs and creates boxes. For Torres, discovering this machine has meant everything to his green business plan.
"Every time I hear the cla cla cla of that machine cutting the paper it’s like hearing a symphony," he beams. "With the machine I was able to get rid of cans, stand up pouches and expensive label printers. Not to mention no more nightmares trying to correctly paste labels on pouches!"
I look closely at the packaging of one of the CafTea boxes, noticing the logo image is of El Coqui, a frog that is the official mascot of Puerto Rico, and El Morro, a fort at the entrance of San Juan Harbor.
"El Morro is my favorite place to meditate. One of the reasons I moved to Old San Juan was to be close to it," says Torres, as he explains the inspiration for the logo. "'El Coqui dorado' has its own meaning. When I created my first hydroponic coffee machine I found out after a few days a coqui dorado frog was living on it. They are very rare and were once believed to be extinct. So I added the coqui while he was meditating in El Morro as the main art of the package. Everything has a meaning in my package and product."
As I’m sipping my warm CafTea, a woman begins singing. I can’t fully understand what she’s saying as the words are in Spanish, however, I’m still entranced by the sound. As part of PR Tea Co’s mission to provide guests with a memorable experience, live entertainment is provided on certain days of the week. Not only am I getting a taste of a gourmet beverage, but also local heritage. One thing is for certain, Cafteas are as unique and flavorful as our culture.
Along with offering CafTea — of which some flavors include Chocolate Chai, Toffee Hazlenut ,and French Vanilla Bean — PR Tea Co. sells a range of artisanal coffees and medicinal loose-leaf teas, including a range of Smart Tea Wellness Infusions that are supposed to make your brain more efficient. There are also fruit, white, green, red, black, oolong, and herbal teas, as well as mate. We’re looking forward to seeing how PR Tea Co. progresses, and if CafTea becomes a new caffeine fix choice for coffee drinkers.
— Jessica Festa, Epicure & Culture
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