Q&A With Rare Brew’s Joshua Mitchell

A man wearing a had and a black t-shirt
Joshua Mitchell

TEA MAY BE the world’s most popular beverage, after water, but for most Americans, high-quality, properly brewed tea without a lot of added sweeteners can be a hard sell. Website designer and tea aficionado Joshua Mitchell is up for the challenge. After first creating an online tea community, Rare Brew, the Bluffton, Indiana, native later developed his own line of teas with the same name, both creating his own boutique blends inspired by classic mixed drinks like the mojito or piña colada, and bottling his own sugar-free sparkling teas he hopes his customers will find as refreshing as beer.

What’s behind your passion for tea?

Like a lot of kids, at a very young age, I started off drinking sodas that were loaded with sugar. In middle school, however, I started getting sharp pains in my stomach. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to breathe. It happened more when I drank soda. So I took soda out of my diet and decided to drop the sugar from the tea I drank. At first, I thought it tasted bad, but I was determined to keep drinking it.

And that helped you feel better?

Yes, but more than that, I eventually started tasting the tea instead of the sweetener. I realized that all those years I had just been drinking sugar water. So I started searching for better teas, ones that would taste better and that I would like more. I ended up finding a lot of tea that’s not common in the market.

How did that lead to a business sideline for you?

About 15 years ago, I bought the web domain for rarebrew.com and had a lot of ideas about what I could do with it. At first, I used it to create an online tea community where members could share information and links to their favorite teas. That got some good press initially, but then it pretty much died. But I was always looking for something fun and creative I could do. I kept asking myself how I could create an asset that could grow without billable hours. And as I started tasting teas, I fell in love with it, and that was where I found myself daydreaming. So I started flavoring and blending my own.

Where did you get the idea for sparkling teas?

I was trying to get my tea out to more retail spots. One of the coffeehouses I was selling to said that he loved my tea but that his staff didn’t have the time to brew it properly. So I asked whether I could brew it, bring it to the shop, and have the staff serve it on tap. I experimented with various ways of infusing the tea with nitrogen or carbon dioxide with various effects. Both work differently with different flavors. But they add a slight sweetness and lightness to the tea that means you don’t need sugar.

You see this as an alternative to beer?

I don’t know anything about brewing beer, but I see this as an approach to making a nonalcoholic beer with tea. People are looking for lower-alcohol and nonalcoholic options, so I see this as a market that’s ripe to be cornered. And it’s gluten-free, so that gives another option to people who can’t drink most beers. It’s great with food, too. The Passionfruit Tangerine is perfect paired with a Greek salad. And the Peachtree Hops is great with pub food or great for grilling out on a summer day without filling you up. The hops really add some complex notes to it that make it very refreshing.

You’ve really used markets and events to get your tea out to the public. What do you like about taking your tea directly to your customers?

I love talking about tea and seeing people surprised that they like drinking tea. So many people tell me that they just can’t learn to like it, especially without sugar or, when it’s sparkling, without alcohol. It’s also just fun, and the tea is especially refreshing when it comes off the tap compared with the bottles. We recently bought a new tap truck for events. Not all events are a good fit, but we’re currently at farmers markets in Fishers, Zionsville, and Bloomington, and we love doing pop-ups and the Six Ways Markets in Columbus, Ohio. I even have my mom help at some of our events. My wife (Amanda Meyer) helps with the business as well, and she doesn’t even like tea. She got one of her designer friends to create the cool packaging for our teas.

What’s the message that you want to get across about tea?

Honestly, there are a lot of lines I can give potential customers about tea. I can say it’s the most widely drunk beverage in the world after water. It’s also the healthiest, especially green tea, and has a ton of antioxidants and can help you live longer. It doesn’t cause the crash that coffee does after you drink it. I can talk about the long history of tea and tea drinking. But it’s not until people taste my teas that they’re really convinced it can be so enjoyable and that they should actually buy it. I train all of the people who work my markets to get people to try samples of my teas, and most people are won over.