Running Northwest

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An Interview with Brandon Schoessler of Sportland Tea Company

We had a chance to chat with Brandon Schoessler, the Founder and CEO of  Sportland Tea Company, the makers of The Runner’s Tea and a fiercely proud-to-be-Oregon-based business. Sportland Tea Company is composed of 5 partners, all from different backgrounds, but all unified in the idea that a cup of tea can change your life.

Welcome Brandon, first off can you tell us a little about the company and the product?

We make Runner’s Tea, which is an all-natural performance tea for athletes, made with 100% organic herbs and matcha green tea. Our custom blends have been designed to increase endurance, be gentle on the stomach, and stimulate athletic performance. High in antioxidants, Runner’s Tea is great for your body and brain with increased levels of L-theanine, mood enhancing herbs, and thermogenic properties to help your body burn fat for energy.

Our goal is to provide a drink that allows people to push harder, run farther, and recover faster. We also have some less intense versions of our blends (under the Sportland name) arriving in retail markets soon. New Seasons has been a real supporter of our product, and we’ll have our line of teas on their shelves starting in April.

I would think that people who get into tea making must be very similar to winemakers, brewers, coffee roasters, etc. It’s very much about passion and having a commitment to the quality of your product. Was tea always something you are passionate about?

For some of us, yes. Tea has been a main ingredient in our lives for as long as we can remember. The others came to tea later, discovering it was a more powerful performance enhancing option than sports supplements.
And now, it’s all about refining blends and creating combinations of natural ingredients that taste great, and benefit the body on multiple levels. Plus, messing around with flavors is a lot of fun.

Basically, you have to be an artist of sorts?

I definitely consider chefs to be artists, and I’m a huge fan of anyone that can take someone on a journey through flavors and culinary experiences. I would love to be grouped into that kind of talent. I feel like more of a designer than an artist, if that makes any sense.

How did you go about experimenting to come up with your first teas?

Oh there were some pretty terrible initial results. Like, really terrible. We spend a lot of time with the ingredients, and a lot of time on the National Institute of Health website. You know how sometimes things that are really good for you taste terrible? We try to not do that. We use research and information to determine a health benefit combo we want to provide a consumer, then build it up with natural, organic ingredients and refine and refine to build up a good flavor profile. We experiment on ourselves, and our friends, a lot.

The Runners Tea - Ginger Berry

So now you are a chemist as well?

Well, it WAS one of my favorite classes in high school.

People are more focused on whats in their food and drinks now more than an ever and because of that ingredients are everything and the tuning of those ingredients is the most important piece. How do you select your ingredients and where are they sourced? How do you ensure quality of the product?

All of our ingredients are certified organic. We won’t purchase them if they’re not. We get our teas direct from organic farms in Japan and Taiwan, and the other herbs and spices are from organic suppliers here in Oregon.

Getting into that energy drink market seems almost as challenging as getting into the tea market, but it is clear you have a very niche product. How has the reception been in the community?

Honestly, we thought it was going to be a tougher sell than it has been. The response has been amazing! We know that we’re not competing with Gatorade and Red Bull…and that’s fine. We’d rather own the natural/organic end of the spectrum because we don’t feel like synthetic anything should be a part of our products. If you are consuming something to help you perform at a higher level, wouldn’t you want a cleaner fuel source that didn’t damage the equipment on the way through?

How about among the runners who have tried it?

It’s been received really well. Lots of positive response. We have a group of ambassadors that were all originally customers, and they have been promoting the tea like crazy on social channels.

I’m personally a huge tea fan as I have always felt coffee was a bit too earthy for my palate especially before a run (which is sacrilege in the Northwest), but how do you get a whole region of coffee drinkers into tea?

Is that even possible?! For us, it’s less about converting coffee drinkers then it is about getting athletes a great tasting, healthy, and hydrating beverage. That’s how it started for us… coffee before a run soured our stomachs and tea doesn’t do that. And the added ginger and mint helps to soothe the stomach even further. A small dose of caffeine has been proven to increase endurance, we’re still delivering that, just without all the acids usually found in coffee.

The one thing that threw our team right away was the idea of drinking a hot beverage just prior to going for a run. We all know tea can be either an upper or a relaxant, but “energy” just didn’t seem to fit. Where did this idea originate?

Brewing tea and herbs releases all the essential oils and compounds they contain. If you’re an early morning runner, a nice cup of tea warms you up and gets your metabolism moving faster. I, personally, am an afternoon/evening runner, so I brew it up and pour it over a glass of ice. Both blends are fantastic as iced tea (wholeheartedly confirmed in our review) and several studies show that drinking a cold beverage before strenuous activity increases endurance.

The energy comes mostly from the caffeine in the matcha tea. It bonds to compounds in tea that are slower to absorb into the body than the caffeine in coffee. So you get a nice sustained release of energy, rather than the spike and rapid decline you would get from coffee.

There is also ginseng, an energy booster, and ginger, which is really invigorating to the body.

What sorts of benefits should most runners expect after they’ve tried The Runner’s Tea? 

We hope that anyone that tries the Runner’s Tea blends sees it as a way to increase their endurance and push past those training walls we all encounter. We wanted a way to give ourselves that extra push, but we weren’t about to resort to sugary drinks that leave us with depleted energy reserves, and feeling terrible, midway through a run.

By creating a custom blend of green tea and herbs, we have been able to increase our running performance, feel great while doing it, and recover faster post-run. We just want to help others do the same.

Can you give us a breakdown of your current lineup? What are some things we should be expecting taste wise?

We have two main endurance/performance blends. Our Citrus Mint blend is just that…minty, a little bite from the ginger, and a bright citrus flavor. Our Ginger Berry blend is a tart hibiscus-based blend, with a hint of natural sweetness from cinnamon chips. By the time this interview comes out we will also have a pretty incredible Recovery blend. It’s a GABA oolong blend with turmeric, and Devil’s Claw. Turmeric is amazing at combating joint soreness, and Devil’s Claw is like natures ibuprofen.

Are you familiar with GABA? In all humans, naturally occurring GABA plays a principal role in relaxation of your body as well as muscle tone regulation. GABA oolong tea contains off-the-chart/supplement-grade levels of the amino acid GABA.

And when will the products be available and where? Any word on pricing and any plan on tea bags in addition to the loose?

Runner’s Tea is currently available online at therunnerstea.com, and the Sportland blends will be in New Seasons stores starting in April. We’re planning a wider retail rollout after that. Runner’s Tea starts at $7 for an ounce, which is about 10 servings. The Sportland blends will be 2oz packages and retail for $12.99.

We have done a lot of thinking about loose-leaf vs. bags. Ultimately it comes down to two things keeping us from bags: tea needs to expand when brewing in order to release all the compounds and flavors into the water, and it can’t do that as well in a bag. Also, matcha, because it’s a powdered form of tea, needs to be in the water so it can be directly, and fully, consumed. A lot of the crucial elements in tea are in the leaf itself, and steeping only releases about 20% of the active compounds. By consuming the wole leaf, in its powdered form, you’re getting 100% of the good stuff. And second, we’d rather keep one less thing out of the landfill if we can.

If you look five years down the road, where do you see The Runner’s Tea within the landscape of not only fine teas, but also athletic energy/recovery drinks?

In five years? Good question. We hope the current trend of people looking for healthier alternatives to energy drinks continues, and they find Runner’s Tea and the Sportland blends the option that works for them.

I’m confident we’ll continue to develop unique and interesting blends to address other mind/body health benefits.

And finally are you a runner as well? If so, any favorite events, routes, or trails you would like to share with our readers?

I am! Oh, man, this is kind of embarrassing, considering that our ambassadors and fans are all these amazing ultra runners, but I am a total sucker for those obstacle course races. I’ve done the Spartan Race a couple times, and it’s just so much fun.

I’m a trail runner, most days. I’m really looking forward to a couple 10k off-trail scrambles on Mt. Hood this summer. My favorite Portland run is Tryon Creek Park. It’s beautiful with lots of short steep hills. It’s damn close to perfection.

We definitely concur and as a thank you to our readers, The Runner’s Tea is giving 15% off just by using the promo code “runningnw15” at checkout.