Sachai Tea Company (Homewood)
The Makers: Clint and Rebecca Denson
East meets West in a cup of tea. Though they hail from opposite sides of the globe, Rebecca and Clint Denson share a passion for tea.
It’s that bond that led the Densons to launch Sachai Tea Co., the first business of its kind in Alabama that specializes in producing authentic Indian chai. Their company also blends and sells loose-leaf black and green tea sourced from small Indian tea gardens.
“This is allowing us to do something that we love and means a lot to us,” Clint said. “Being able to do it with Rebecca and our three children, that’s the biggest reward for me.”
The couple got the opportunity to turn their love of tea into a career when Seeds Coffee Co. in Homewood decided to open a café and was searching for a tea provider. Clint and Rebecca, who were soon to be married at the time, were the perfect fit for the job.
Rebecca grew up in southern India and has been drinking chai all her life. It is a spiced tea that is blended with milk, often served hot and has a unique, exotic flavor.
“Chai is a big part of our culture,” said Rebecca. “People drink it at home, offer it to visitors, drink it at work and buy it from street vendors. It draws people together. It’s an everyday drink. I grew up drinking chai, never thinking that I would start a tea company.”
After college, Rebecca moved to Birmingham to pursue graduate work at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. It was in Birmingham that she met Clint, who was also raised in a tea-drinking culture. Clint was brought up in Mississippi, where drinking iced sweet tea from gallon pitchers is the order of the day.
The Densons began building their company in 2015 by traveling to India to visit tea gardens and learn about the industry. After making some vital connections with small farmers in India, they went to work providing tea for Seeds Café. But they wanted more.
“Our vision is to be a responsible company that makes an authentic product using spices and tea that comes directly from India,” said Clint. “Our company is named Sachai, a Hindu word meaning truth. That’s the kind of company we are. We want to be authentic both in our personal lives and as far as the products we make.”
The couple’s next step was to begin developing their signature chai concentrate, which can be blended easily with milk or a milk alternative to make tea.
Rebecca and Clint said the hardest part of developing the concentrate was creating a product that would have a stable shelf life, while using all-natural ingredients. They spent hours in their production kitchen in Homewood blending, tasting and testing until they got the perfect combination of tea, sugar and spices.
“It took a lot of groundwork to figure out how to create a product that would have a stable shelf life without having to add processed ingredients,” Clint said. “We had to find a natural acidifier that would make the tea stable and would also complement the flavor.”
Through their hard work, the Densons have created a versatile product that can be served hot or cold. The concentrate can be used to flavor cocktails, lattes, milkshakes and ice cream. It can even be used as an ingredient in baking.
The test is in the taste
Last spring, Clint and Rebecca began expanding their business and promoting their tea in the retail market. Their concentrate and loose-leaf teas are now available in 10 coffeeshops and restaurants, as well as at Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in Birmingham. They are working to get their chai onto store shelves at Whole Foods Markets.
But Clint and Rebecca have bigger plans. Their products can now be found in coffeeshops as far away as Mississippi, Illinois and Washington.
“It has become really popular,” said Rebecca, of the chai concentrate. “It’s really encouraging to see how people appreciate and enjoy our tea. When we go to markets and events, and hand out samples, it gives us a lot of joy and motivation to see people blown away by the taste.”
It takes a village
Clint and Rebecca said building the business has been a community effort involving family and friends. Their children – 5-year-old twins, Grace and Charis, and 2-year-old Zion – often accompany their parents to the kitchen and do what they can to help.
“The twins already have an understanding of why we do what we do,” Clint said. “When they pray at night and tell God what is on their hearts, oftentimes they will say, ‘Help us to continue to connect with the tea farmers.’ That gives us a lot of joy to know that they understand that we’re not just buying products from the farmers and forgetting about them.”
Rebecca said she is proud to share her heritage through their tea business.
“Being able to create a beverage that is part of my upbringing and part of my culture, and sharing it with other people is special,” Rebecca said. “We want to be an inspiration to other small businesses to step out and try something different and creative.”
“We have a good product, and we are proud of that,” Clint added. “Anytime someone tries our tea, they love it, and I think that’s because we believe in what we’re doing.”
The product: Chai concentrate and various blends of loose-leaf black and green teas.
Take home: One quart of chai concentrate ($18).