This year, Sips by is highlighting some of the over 150 tea brands we work with from around the world. We want to help you get to know the people who make your tea and their stories. This month, we talked to Rafa Albornoz, Co-founder of MiCacao. MiCacao has been partnered with Sips by since the very beginning, and their Cacao tea is a beloved member favorite.
Sips by is a personalized tea discovery subscription. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Subscribers receive four teas chosen just for them in every box. Learn more here.
When was your company founded and where are you located?
MiCacao was founded in 2016 and is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. We have 2 employees.
Please tell us about your company.
We’re a veteran-owned beverage company specializing in cacao tea (tea made from the shell of the cacao bean). Our mission is to deliver the highest quality cacao tea to communities all over the world and help improve the lives of others by promoting health, wellness, and social responsibility. Our philosophy is "be healthy. do good."
We use the husks of 100% organic cacao beans to create a unique tea experience that’s both healthy and delicious. It’s light with a hint of chocolate and packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals – everything you need for a healthy mind and body.
We ethically source our cacao by working with suppliers who operate under the highest standards of quality and in accordance with international fair trade policies. Our work also provides an additional revenue stream for our partners since cacao husks are typically discarded during the chocolate making process.
What inspired you to start your business?
As Army veterans, health, wellness, and service have always been important aspects of our personal and professional lives. Having a positive impact on the lives of others and helping people accomplish things they would not be able to accomplish on their own are things we care deeply about. These ideas, which have continued to stay with us even after leaving the service, are the same ideas that drove us to start MiCacao. We first came across cacao tea a few years after leaving the military and thought it was an amazing product that we wanted to introduce to family and friends. Soon afterwards, we decided it was the perfect vehicle to help us deliver our message and allow us to continue to have a positive impact on others. That was the inspiration that created the idea for MiCacao.
From the start, it was very important that our product was something we truly believed in and helped promote health and wellness. We then integrated service into our operating model by choosing to act in a socially responsible manner and ensuring we did business the right way. The last component was a promise to give back to our veteran community by sharing a portion of our proceeds with organizations committed to helping veterans.
How are your teas grown, harvested, sourced and (if applicable) blended? How involved are you in each step of the process?
Our tea is grown on small family-owned farms, within the remote jungles of Ecuador, known for their famous ‘Arriba Nacional’ cacao trees. These small farms grow, harvest, and prepare the cacao at their own micro-wet mills where they naturally ferment the beans using banana leaves. The beans are then left to dry on elevated tables, using solar dryers in order to protect against the rain. We use the shells of these beans as the base for our cacao tea.
We travel to Ecuador to meet with our partners in order to continue learning about the growing, harvesting, and preparation process of the cacao. We do this because it allows us to build deeper connections with our partners while ensuring we deliver the highest quality tea to our customers.
What makes your company different from other tea companies?
There are a lot of other tea companies doing some really great things out there – which is awesome. In terms of what makes us different, I’d say the fact that we’re both veterans has provided us with unique experiences that have helped drive our commitment to the values that are foundational to our company.
Operationally, something that sets us apart from others is that we’ve made the strategic decision to focus on a single product. We only offer cacao tea, which allows us to spend all our time thinking about how to constantly improve our product. We seek to source the best ingredients and work with the best partners so we can offer the very best cacao tea to our customers all over the world. It’s that simple.
Does your company have any social initiatives?
Yes! We give a portion of our proceeds to organizations committed to helping enrich the lives of veterans! Some of the organizations we have worked with in the past are the HomeBASE Program, Team RWB, and the Nightstalker Foundation.
What is your relationship to tea? When and how did you become a tea drinker?
Honestly, I was never a tea drinker until I came back from serving overseas in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While deployed, I would meet with local leaders fairly often as part of the job. During these meetings, we would always sit down and drink tea (mostly chai with lots of sugar) together while discussing whatever business we planned to address that day. I remember thinking how important this activity was in both the Iraqi and Afghan cultures and how tea was always something that was served whenever people got together. I realized that it was more than just a formality. It was a way to genuinely connect with people and the first step towards building a trusted relationship. And in that environment, establishing a strong relationship was one of the most important things you could do. In Afghanistan, there was a saying that you don’t really know someone until you’ve had 3 cups of tea with them. This meant it would take at least 3 separate meetings to earn the trust of the people you were working with. This idea really resonated with me and when I came back to the US, I thought it was something I could take with me and implement in my own life. This is where I believe my relationship with tea really began.
If you could only drink one type of tea for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I’m sure I’ll get a hard time for this, but it would have to be cacao tea. It’s one of the healthiest things you can drink and I love the subtle bitterness of the cacao. Hot in the winter, iced (with a splash of almond milk) in the summer – it’s great all year round!
Aside from cacao tea, there’s this amazing Mango Black Tea from Trader Joe’s that I really enjoy. It’s the perfect balance of black tea, herbs, and mango.
Do you have any insider tips for brewing the best cup of tea?
For me, it’s all about the steep. I like my tea very hot so I always boil the water (212 °F) regardless of what tea I’m drinking. I then pay close attention to the steep time to make sure I get the flavor profile just right.
Learn more about MiCacao:
About Sips by: We’re a female-founded and led startup that makes discovering tea fun, personalized, and affordable. The Sips by Box is the only multi-brand, personalized tea subscription box. Each month, we match tea drinkers across the U.S. with delicious teas from over 150 global tea brands that we’re sure they’ll love. Based out of Austin, Texas, we are adept at savoring a hot mug even when it’s seasonally inappropriate.