Hella Tea owner talks hip-hop puns and Lipton as an escape.
Article by: JESSICA YADEGARAN |
Oakland native Chantrelle Edwards started Hella Tea in 2017 with $100 in her bank account and many epic hip-hop tea puns in her head.
Tea Short, Steep Curry and M. Tea Hammer were born out of her love for Bay Area hip-hop culture, yes, but her connection to tea runs even deeper. Even as a child, a cup of Lipton was sometimes the only thing that helped her escape the “madness and misery,” she says, of gun violence and homelessness in East Oakland.
Today, Edwards sources her teas directly from farmers in South Africa, China, India and Sri Lanka, and creates the blends and flavors herself. The teas are available online at https://hellatea.com, as well as at Alameda Natural Grocery, Castro Valley Natural Grocery, and soon, the Oakland Museum of California. Look for an increased retail and restaurant presence this year, she says.
In March, for Hella Tea’s five year anniversary, Edwards is releasing three new teas, including her first matcha — inspired by Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha.”
Q. What’s the backstory on Hella Tea? How did it all begin?
A. Before Hella Tea, I had a company called Raised Pinky Tea that I started in 2007. I would cater to children, women’s groups and church functions. I wasn’t happy with the brand. I just felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. One day, my husband’s friend said, “Nobody’s gonna buy that bougie tea. You need to come out with an Oakland tea.”
A few weeks later, I was brainstorming with my husband and said, “What about Hella Tea?” We laughed. I wrote it down and started researching. I was broke at the time. I had $100 in my bank account. Watching it grow into what it is today is one of my greatest accomplishments. When you hear the song “Started from the Bottom” (by Drake) think of me.
Q. Where does your passion for tea come from?
A. Tea has always been an escape from all the madness and misery that was around me. I grew up in tough neighborhoods in East Oakland. Growing up, I experienced a lot of madness. I lost my 17-year-old brother to gun violence. I was homeless. I’ve been broke. I watched my mom take her last breath. I just always wanted to beat the odds. My first tea experience was drinking Lipton with honey and lemon on the porch with my family. I was 7. I just liked the way it made me feel. It helped me relax.
Q. How do you come up with the names and flavors?
A. I make a choice not to be hella corny. (Laughs) I identify a song or artist, something culturally relevant to the Bay Area, then come up with a flavor that complements it. For instance, Steep Curry is a black lemon tea. Steph Curry is a black man, but he’s light. (Laughs)
Q. And Chamo-LA Harris?
A. My husband is a pastor. (Kamala Harris) grew up in the neighborhood where my husband’s church, the Twenty-Third Avenue Church of God, is located. He still talks to her.
Q. What’s next for Hella Tea?
A. My dream has always been to have my own tea cafe. I’m actually working on that as we speak.And I have three flavors coming out this spring. Festeaval at the Lake is an elderberry, echinacea and lemongrass tea inspired by the FesTEAval at the Lake, an annual Lake Merritt music festival in the 1980s and ’90s. The flavor reminds me of all the diversity that was at the lake during that time. London Brewed is a peach, mango and pineapple tea inspired by the San Francisco mayor. And the last one is a matcha tea — I Ain’t Ma’atcha — inspired by Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha.”