Spilling the tea

Boulder-based Bhakti Chai owner Brook Eddy pens part memoir, part business guide

Courtesy: Brook Eddy

The story of how Boulder entrepreneur Brook Eddy built the Bhakti Chai company starts on a trip to Bangalore, India, in 2002. There she found adventure, inspiration and a love for the South Asian beverage. One problem: When she came back to the United States, the only chai she could find was made from syrups, powders or something Eddy calls “nutmeg milk.”

“It was just gross,” she says. “I wanted to have something different. I started making it just for myself.”

At the time, Eddy was raising twins as a single mother and working a full-time job as a development director at the Boulder Valley Health Center. People liked her chai, and her side business was born. “That’s how it started,” Eddy says. “People enjoying my recipe and seeing that there was this white space to sell it in cafes.”

Part Eat Pray Love, part How I Built This, Eddy details the progression from her early travels to business owner in her book Steeped: Adventures of a Tea Entrepreneur, released Aug. 22 via Lioncrest Publishing.

Neither a traditional travelog nor a typical business owner’s memoir, Steeped intertwines Eddy’s personal story with the history and background of tea, all while detailing how she grew her company, making the book more of what she calls “a choose your own adventure.”

“I wanted to weave in some of the personal stories because that’s who I am and that’s how I got to that place of resiliency and tenaciousness to build the company out of nothing,” she says.

Chapters alternate between Eddy’s time in India and her trials and tribulations as a fledgling business owner trying to build a company from scratch. At one turn, the reader is with Eddy on a train in South Asia, at another they are joining her in a pitch meeting where she sells investors on her idea. 

“It might not be for every reader, but that’s how I wanted to put it together,” she says.

While it could seem counterintuitive for someone with a lot on their plate to devote so much time and energy to penning a book, Eddy says she’s always loved writing. She had previously published some freelance articles, dabbled in poetry and short stories, and honed her skills editing her kids’ college papers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to pursue a longer project.

“I love words,” Eddy says. “I love writing. And I didn’t want to write something that was a traditional business book — not ‘The Top 10 Ways to Start a Company.’ I’m bringing creative storytelling to a business journey.”

Courtesy: Brook Eddy

How she built it

Eddy’s business venture started at a fortunate time in U.S. tea culture. In the early aughts, more people were coming around to chai as a popular drink, but the selection for consumers was somewhat limited. Her main competitor was the powdered chai that the cafes around the country stocked.

Twenty years later, and Bhakti is a top-ranking player in the chai concentrate category on the shelves of health-food stores like Colorado’s Natural Grocers. “We’ve carved out a nice little piece for ourselves in the natural channel,” Eddy said.

Her chai is also sold in King Soopers, Sprouts, Costco and, according to Eddy, has a “good, strong Amazon business.”

The tea-entrepreneur journey isn’t finished with Eddy yet. She’s going through a company refocus at the moment. 

For a time, Bhakti was operating a 20,000-square-foot brewery in Longmont and launched up to 18 different products.

“Then it kind of went backwards,” Eddy says. “It was so expensive.” The company has gone from 32 employees to five.

Now she’s back to basics, sticking with her core, original Bhakti chai concentrate, both sweetened and unsweetened. “We’re in a rebuilding place,” she says. “Post-COVID, [we are] focusing on stabilizing the company.”

That decision to pare down wasn’t without its heartache for Eddy. “I’m a foodie. I love flavors and combining flavors,” she says.

Eddy’s plan is to double down on her flagship products while seeking out a new partner with the resources and capital to re-grow the brand.

“We’re profitable. We have the two [products] that are selling well,” she says. “We’ve got a small, lean team. We’re just trying to really keep it stable until we come across a partner.”

If Bhakti can secure that investment, she has her eye on distribution in Target and Walmart as well as international markets.

A well-capitalized investor would also mean Bhakti could “press on the accelerator” and develop new products, Eddy says. When Bhakti released a sparkling tea line, Eddy estimates it cost about a million dollars to put out another drink style.

“All the research and development, then the testing and manufacturing, and the slotting fees,” she says. “We can’t really do any innovation right now, because we don’t want to waste the money we have in the bank on something that may or may not be a home run.”

As far as the economics of further writing, Eddy has a clear-eyed perspective on the financial prospects of putting out more books.

“I’ve been told the publishing world isn’t about making money or success,” she says. “For me it’s just wanting to get the story out. I love the process of writing, and I want to write more.” 

ON THE PAGE: Steeped: Adventures of a Tea Entrepreneur author event with Brook Eddy. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl St. $5