A CAREER IN RETAIL seemed the plan for the foreseeable future for local plant-lover and tea enthusiast Terrell Davis. But when a TikTok video he uploaded in the early days of the pandemic won him over 14,000 new followers in a single night, the chill content creator, who shows off his collection of colorful crystals and offers his viewers virtual hugs, got the bug to start his own tea-blending business. Now with nearly 2 million online fans, Davis stocks his in-home studio with bags of herbs and dried fruit instead of stocking the shelves at Costco (his previous job). And with a growing selection of clever mugs and groovy tea shirts to go with his rotating selection of blended teas, there’s no limit to what this creative entrepreneur might brew up next.
What inspired your love of tea?
When I was in third or fourth grade, my mother worked at Tea’s Me Cafe on 22nd Street. I would stop in and talk with the owner at the time, Wayne Ashford, who would do mini tastings for me where I could try different flavors. When the cafe would switch its teas for a new season, he would send samples home with my mom. This really sparked my love of tea. At home, Mom had some really nice Tazo tea containers, and we had a mortar and pestle, so we could experiment with grinding up fruits and spices, and adding them to the tea. But it was just something we did and enjoyed as a family.
And you eventually took your love of tea-blending online?
My first videos were more about my love of plants. I got that from my grandmother, but it skipped a generation with my mother. My grandmother always had tons of plants around, and when she moved from Florida to Indy, she gave me all of her plants. So when I first downloaded TikTok near the start of the pandemic, I was just making these really low-key, calm videos where I shared my love for plants. I made five or six of those. Then I started experimenting with teas and making personal cups for my roommate and me. And I filmed those and posted them. That’s when people really started taking notice of what I was doing.
What was the first TikTok that went viral?
It was a video where I made a mango-hibiscus tea. I think it got over 5.5 million views. Honestly, it’s still shocking. When you go to make those videos, you don’t really think they will blow up. But there was something about that video. It was tropical, and it was just around that time that people were looking forward to warmer weather. And mango and hibiscus just aren’t all that conventional for tea. I think it was also the fact that I was doing it all myself with a mortar and pestle. I don’t think that most people think you can blend your own tea at home to your own tastes. People just loved it.
Did you ever think you would turn this into a business?
Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy and content staying on in my job at Costco. There were just so many opportunities with the company. Then the direct comments came in saying I should start my own business, my own tea line. I kind of ignored it for a month or so. I told them I just got more joy from teaching about tea rather than selling it. Eventually, it was too hard to overlook the opportunity. So I created a line I call Mintea at the site mintybongwater.com. I’ve been going it alone with the teas for over a year now. Eventually, we added some merch to go along with the teas.
What were some of the biggest challenges of running your own online tea shop?
It took a lot of research and time at first, maybe like three or four months. I had to figure out how to make the tea blends shelf-stable and figure out recipes and formulas that were consistent and that appealed to a broad spectrum of people. I was lucky to have a finished basement at home. I was able to convert a wet bar into a studio where I can create the recipes and make the tea blends. Right now, I’m still only able to do 480 units every time I drop a batch of tea. I always have five flavors, and I usually have the mango-hibiscus available. Eventually, I’d love to go wholesale and get my teas in big-box stores like Target. But I wouldn’t want it to get so big that I couldn’t ensure the great quality my customers expect.
What do you owe to the growing popularity of tea in the U.S.?
It could be that coffee has just been the reigning champion for so long, and people are ready for something new. I think many people since the pandemic and even before have been tapping into their spiritual roots, and tea definitely taps into a person’s inner spirit. People are getting a bit more intentional in their daily lives and a little more alternative. Some people are looking to herbs as alternative medicine sources, and teas definitely have a variety of health benefits. I get a lot of questions about what teas are good for treating certain symptoms. Of course, I’m not a doctor, but I know that teas can help with migraines, weight loss, and getting a good night’s sleep. For me, I just think tea is very zen, and it’s made me a lot more chill and relaxed. Especially when I make and drink tea at home, it becomes part of my whole meditative process. There are so many great sights and sounds from tea-making, so it definitely stimulates some ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). I think most people find it very soothing.
What’s your desert-island tea?
That’s a tough one. But I think it would have to be a good peach iced tea, preferably with South African honeybush and white peaches as the base. South African honeybush is loaded with antioxidants, and it’s so refreshing with white peaches added.