News & Guide Article

Tea startup balances taste, herbal benefits

Founder wanted what herbs could do for him but preferred not to be overwhelmed by the taste.

James Keller Tea Entrepreneur

Herbal teas on grocery store shelves were a little too herbal for James Keller.

“My problem with those has always been you always taste the herbs,” Keller said. “Unless you really like peppermint and licorice and some of those more stringent types of herbs, I’ve always been turned off from those. I’ve always wanted to drink a tea that tasted like real tea, but you still get the benefits of the herbs.”

That pursuit, and a battle against allergies, led Keller to experiment with making his own teas. After researching an “essential oil bible” and some tinkering he invented a tea that tasted good and included a combination of 17 herbs that cured his serious year-round allergies. He said the trick was using herbal extracts, which have a lighter touch than essential oils.

While finance is Keller’s day job, there’s always a cup of tea on his desk and he’s always had an “entrepreneurial spirit.” He knew he was onto something.

In November he launched Headwater Teas, offering nine flavors of loose leaf organic tea, from Earl Grey to coconut rooibos red. Each is customizable with a suite of herbs that provide either an immune boost, an allergy remedy or general “cleansing.” To make the teas he set up a kitchen in a corner of local distillery Jackson Hole Still Works.

“We just hang out, and I make tea and they make booze,” Keller said.

Keller pitched the teas to Jackson Whole Grocer and Vertical Harvest, and they’re now available on those stores’ shelves.

“I would love to have it in every store in Jackson,” Keller said. “I think there’s a really big market for local tea producers.”

He hopes to soon expand to Lucky’s, the People’s Market and even neighboring states. His vision also includes offering tea catering.

Keller is planning tea tastings this month on Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m. at Whole Grocer and Fridays from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Vertical Harvest.

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063, or @JHNGcounty.