“So, what’s your technology?” Drew Fink, Daniela Uribe and Erik Ornitz were asked the moment they stepped into the Harvard Innovation Labs early this year.
“Hot water,” Fink answered.
That’s right. Instead of working in computer science, diagnostics or artificial intelligence, the company the three friends have co-founded, named Lazy Bear Tea, is all about tea. The venture is among a tiny batch – five out of 145 startups – of food and agriculture ventures in this year’s Harvard Innovation Labs fall cohort, which we broke down here. Their mission can be summarized in a very straightforward statement: using hot water to steep a very special tea, based on dried coffee cherries. So, technically, a coffee-based tea.
Let’s take a step back. Growing up in Colombia in a family of coffee growers, Uribe had first-hand knowledge of the coffee industry in Latin America starting from its raw material: the coffee plant. Normally, brewers dry the coffee bean and discard the bright red cherries that the plant produces as fruit, Uribe explained.
“I do remember just piling up huge sources of waste in coffee farms,” Uribe said in a recent interview. “For the most part, it gets thrown into rivers or it is spread as fertilizer.”
“[The unsweetened version] is like an earthy and fruity black tea without any bitterness.”
Uribe never thought much of cascara (the name of the coffee cherry) until two years ago, when her cousin visited her in the U.S. and brought her the coffee-based tea as a gift. In the meantime, Uribe had met Fink as they were both undergrads at Stanford University. “Both Drew and I thought it was super delicious,” Uribe said. “[The unsweetened version] is like an earthy and fruity black tea without any bitterness.”
Then in 2017, when Starbucks launched its signature Cascara Latte with flavors from the fruit of the coffee cherry, Uribe had a wake-up call. “They’re huge coffee trendsetters, I think this means there’s something else here,” Uribe said.
After a few months experimenting with the coffee cherry, Uribe left her job as an environmental impact consultant at Boston-based firm FSG and teamed up with Fink and Ornitz, who both started Harvard Business School in the summer of 2016.
Currently, the company offers natural, mint- and lemon-flavored versions of its tea with an upcoming flavor – Chai – that should be on the market next year. Each twelve-ounce bottle costs from $2.49 to $2.99. Lazy Bear Tea brews its product out of CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester (the same shared kitchen space where meal delivery startup Nomsly operates from) and sells it online and at 15 cafes and Cambridge Naturals locations.
Fun fact: The name of the company, Lazy Bear, comes from the translation for “sloth” in Spanish, a very common animal in the Colombian coffee region where Uribe grew up.