Former Shark Tank contestant opens tea shop in Ann Arbor

Monday, July 16, 2018 - 2:36pm

Founder of Teaspressa, Allison DeVane, inside the new Ann Arbor location.

Founder of Teaspressa, Allison DeVane, inside the new Ann Arbor location. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Teaspressa

Teaspressa, a Phoenix-based company that sells coffee-inspired tea beverages, unveiled a new storefront at 414 South Main Street in Ann Arbor July 1. Founded by former ‘Shark Tank’ contestant Allison DeVane in late 2015, Teaspressa uses DeVane’s patented press to craft highly concentrated tea with the same caffeine content as espresso. Customers at either the Phoenix or Ann Arbor location can purchase espresso-style tea shots, milk-based tea drinks like lattes or macchiatos, home brewing equipment and Teaspressa’s loose-leaf tea blends.

DeVane, who has a background in marketing and public relations, said she always dreamed of opening a coffee shop. Several years ago, when DeVane started making plans to launch a new business, she realized the coffee market was saturated and turned instead to tea. DeVane partnered with an espresso machine designer to patent her own espresso-style tea press and soon began selling her product.

According to DeVane, Teaspressa is novel because tea is less popular than coffee in the United States. She said the most difficult part of her work has been familiarizing customers with Teaspressa’s concept and proving their favorite gourmet coffee drinks can be successfully constructed with tea.

“Our coffee culture is really big and the connotation of tea is just not as attractive as it is for coffee, and so I would say about 90% of my struggle starting the business was educating,” DeVane said. “Once people try it, they’re usually sold on it, like, ‘Oh, this is very substantial, this is coffee-esque.’”

DeVane said Teaspressa products appeal to customers trying to transition off of coffee and to lovers of strong black tea. She said Teaspressa provides a longer, cleaner caffeine buzz than coffee, and also noted tea’s many health benefits.

In March 2016, about three months after Teaspressa was founded, DeVane pitched her idea on Shark Tank, a reality television show for entrepreneurs seeking guidance and financial support. Although the judges praised DeVane’s product, they did not offer her a deal. DeVane told the judges she wanted to bring her nascent brand wholesale, market to big box stores and sell across the nation, and Shark Tank judge Lori Greiner said the business was too young for DeVane to be thinking so far ahead.

“In business, you have to crawl, and then you walk, and then you run,” Grenier said. “You just have to take each step one by one, and I think that if you do that, you can make it. Today you came in a little too early, and for that reason I’m out, but just focus and bite away at each inch.”

Despite not walking away with a deal, DeVane said she appreciated the feedback. Lori’s advice inspired DeVane to prove she could accomplish all her goals, but DeVane also realized she couldn’t expand the company too quickly.

“I totally took her advice of doing things one thing at a time very to heart, and I realize that now it’s super important because you can’t grow too fast, you have to make sure that everything you have now is just the best that it can be before moving forward,” DeVane said.

DeVane said her public appearance on Shark Tank was pivotal to Teaspressa’s success, since the episode boosted Teaspressa’s name recognition. She noted the company still gets an influx of orders and emails whenever her Shark Tank episode runs on television.

“It just really put us on the map as far as credibility, even for investors or doing business deals,” DeVane said. “Especially being such a new and infant company, it was really amazing, and I have to say just having that really just helped expedite everything in the business.”

The Teaspressa brand is growing, with at least five locations slated to open this year. DeVane founded the new Ann Arbor location, which is the company’s second signature café after the original in Phoenix, after a connection in Ann Arbor expressed interest in converting an available storefront. DeVane felt Teaspressa would mesh well with the Ann Arbor community.

According to Maureen Harrington, the Ann Arbor café’s local manager, the 550-square foot location features 9 or 10 tables, indoor plants and a clean decor that resembles the original location in the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix. Harrington said she has enjoyed introducing Ann Arbor to Teaspressa’s products over the past week.

“It’s been so much learning,” Harrington said. “It’s such a new concept. You just really get to know the community and just share that passion with them.”

Harrington said the storefront has been successful so far, and already boasts a few regulars after just one week of business. Like DeVane, Harrington noted some customers come in skeptical of Teaspressa’s coffee-inspired tea beverages, but they generally enjoy the drinks after sampling.

“If they’re a little hesitant, I’ll always say, ‘Let me make you one and if you don’t like it, I’ll make you one with espresso,’” Harrington said. “I’ve never had anyone have me remake it. It’s a little different, but it’s so delicious.”