This is a story about a dude named Chris. Chris is a dude who builds — builds flavors, builds a community of customers and builds a family business as The Tea Dude.
Chris Charek was working as a cook when he got into tea. “I started getting a loose leaf tea just because I wanted something to drink on the line when I was cooking,” he says.
When he got bored drinking basic teas, his instincts as a cook took over and he began building flavors.
Around the same time, Chris’s mother was dealing with some health issues that affected her job as a bookkeeper. For the dual benefit of helping her keep busy and giving him something to do between gigs, Chris became the Tea Dude.
“Everybody’s just always called me dude. So I felt like Tea Dude fit,” Chris says. “So I went with it.”
What he expected to go for maybe a year has now endured for seven and continues to grow. And his mother still does the books.
“Our first show was a Crafty Mart. We only had two blends of tea and we made money. So we kept doing it,” Chris says.
One thing that catches people’s attention about the Tea Dude’s teas are the unique names. Chris draws on his lifelong fandoms to give his blends names that build an instant familiarity with pop culture fans. The recognition draws potential customers in and the quality that he demands of his product keeps them coming back. His two most popular flavors both have fandom-inspired names: “Tonberry,” a fruity green and black tea blend, is named after a character in Japanese role-playing video game series Final Fantasy, and “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” a classic black tea, is a recurring quote from Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Chris’s commitment to flavors has also led to some failed experiments along the way. His two “white whales” are a s’mores tea and an elevated version of the classic Red Zinger herbal tea. Through many attempts of both blends, he’s been unable to achieve the flavor balance he strives for. He’s confident he’ll achieve both one day.
For more adventurous tea drinkers, he recommends his personal favorites: Meegs Tea, a self-described “fall-in-a-cup” tea, and J’rk’s Vicious Mockery, his take on a classic mulled wine flavor.
One of his most recent creations is “The Old Man and The Tea,” a rooibos and cinnamon non-caffeinated tea. He created the blend at his sister’s request for the Just Write Ohio high school writing competition. His sister, Brit Noble Charek, is a teacher and one of the competition hosts. Chris is helping sponsor the event by donating $1 from every tin sold on his website.
As to why he went with teas over coffee, he credits the range of flavors he can achieve with teas. “It’s a lighter flavor. For my purposes, I like diversity. There’s only so much you can do with a flavor as overpowering as coffee,” Chris says.
For the gaming enthusiast looking for the perfect Tea Dude tea for a long gaming session, Chris recommends “Code Black (black tea with spearmint, peppermint and cinnamon) with a little bit of bourbon.”
“One of the things I’m actually really good at is balancing flavors. I think that’s what kind of sets me apart from everybody else,” Chris says.
While the past year has wreaked havoc on many small businesses, he has managed to maintain by reallocating his resources. With no Crafty Marts or Oddmalls to show at, Chris has gone heavier in advertising his website. With so many people stuck at home, his online orders have seen an increase.
Following COVID-19, the Tea Dude’s long-term goals are expanding his catalog and customer base. He’d also like to get into more local stores.
And true to his roots as a builder of flavors, “in a perfect world, [I would] have someone else stand in as the new Dude while I just play in the kitchen.”
Tea Dude teas are available at www.TeaDuder.com, Northside Marketplace in Akron, Farmers Exchange Market in Medina and the Canton Art Museum Gift Shop in Canton.
Michael (he/him) is a life-long resident of Highland Square, a performance artist, a traveler, a writer, and a part-time mad scientist.