Brew masters Patrick Tannous and Dan Klein

Patrick Tannous and Dan Klein Dan Klein (left) and Patrick Tannous, founders of Tiesta Tea (Photo Courtesy of Tiesta Tea)
UIC and University of Illinois alumni Patrick Tannous and Dan Klein blend flavor and function in their line of loose-leaf teas.

Two years ago, Patrick Tannous, ’08 UIC, and Dan Klein, ’10 BUS, were sharing a cheesesteak sandwich they bought with the last $7 in their pockets while pitching the duo’s product to potential customers in Philly. Today, the friends (since preschool) share an office in Chicago’s River North from which they run a thriving business: Tiesta Tea.

Forbes.com recently recognized Tiesta Tea—which is sold in nearly 50 states, plus Canada, Mexico and the Middle East—with its CircleUp25 Fans Choice Award for Most Innovative Consumer Brand. The all-natural loose-leaf varieties—black, herbal, white, green, rooibos, oolong and maté—combine flavor and function, from Energizer (to fight fatigue) to Slenderizer (to boost metabolism).

Tannous credits Michele Dorvil Agbejule, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at UIC’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, for her guidance. At Agbejule’s urging, he and Klein sold their first 42 cups of tea at Taste of UIC. The two then were accepted into the Illinois Launch program, where they met mentor Jimmy John Liautaud, founder of Jimmy John’s. After winning the program’s business plan competition (twice), they launched Tiesta Tea.

Why Tiesta Tea?
We wanted, in our name, to solicit an experience. When you think of Tiesta, you think of fiesta, a physical experience, or siesta, a mental experience. Tiesta is a tea drinking experience.

Where did your idea originate?
In college, I studied in Paris, and Dan studied in Milan. One weekend, we went to Prague. We wanted to do what the locals do, and many of them go to teahouses. That opened up an experience for us. We were like, why isn’t this in the U.S.? That day (Feb. 24, 2009), we said, “We’re starting a tea company.”

What makes your product unique?
We realized that our generation wasn’t getting into tea because it was too darn confusing. I want to know what it tastes like and what it does for me.