David and Susan Sullivan weren’t expecting to be blown away when they visited an HteaO in Midland, Texas last year. Then it was love at first sip.
“Susan and I looked at each other and said, ‘Why aren’t we doing this in Florida?’” David Sullivan said.
Fifteen months later, they started doing this in Florida.
The first HteaO franchise in the state — the first full-service franchise store in the entire HteaO network — is now open at 3920 S. Florida Ave. next to Fuzzy’s Tacos, Jason’s Deli and Mission BBQ. The store opened June 21 and the Plant City residents are excited to show people how this Texas twist on tea can change the way they drink.
When they landed in Texas on Good Friday 2018 to visit their son and daughter-in-law, HteaO was one of the first stops they made. Their son recommended a cup of their tea over the coffee David Sullivan said he wanted, and it only took that one cup to make a lasting impression. The Sullivans visited the Midland store several more times during their stay in Texas and left knowing they wanted to franchise one in their home state if they could.
Luckily for them, David Sullivan learned the company had gotten approved to franchise just three days before he spoke to CEO Justin Howe about the prospect of opening one in Florida. The Lakeland store became location number 81 for the company, which made Florida the fifth state it has a store in.
Two things separate HteaO’s product from the rest, according to David Sullivan. First, all of the tea leaves are steeped at the same time as whatever fruit is going into the tea. The fruit is dried and added to the tea bags, which lends the brews their natural flavors and deep colors. Keeping with the natural approach, the only kind of sugar used in the sweet teas is pure cane. The other thing is the water, which David Sullivan said is processed in the store to make sure it has a specific amount of minerals to help the tea’s flavor profile.
“Water is a key part of tea,” he said. “Tea needs minerals to flavor because tea doesn’t really flavor water. The molecules in the tea attach to mineral molecules. Without the proper amount of minerals in your tea, you won’t get a real robust flavor.”
The water is softened, charcoal-filtered and subject to reverse osmosis in the store’s treatment plant, run through a UV light and stored at 38 degrees. It’s pumped throughout the store to wherever customers would use it. Customers can take home containers of the HteaO water or get their own refilled there if they wish.
HteaO has 23 bold flavors of iced tea made with natural ingredients and also offers its own water, which is processed and filtered entirely in-house. Its most popular products are the Sweet Blueberry Green tea and the Sweet Georgia Peach tea, but there’s something for everyone on the tea line. One particular standout is the Turbo Citrus, a citrus and caffeine-infused black tea meant to give drinkers a gradual release of caffeine for energy without the peaks and crashes some coffee drinkers experience. This happens because of an amino acid called L-theanine contained in tea leaves that slows the body’s absorption of caffeine. David Sullivan, who is managing the store just about every day, always has some in a 44-ounce cup.
“You kind of get a gradual uplift in your spirits, if you will, from the caffeine,” he said. “You start drinking it and 10 or 15 minutes later, you’re like ‘ Wow, I feel really good.’”
There’s also a fruit bar, healthy snacking options and other items, including Yeti brand cups, for sale in the store. HteaO offers a “happy hour” from 2 to 4 p.m. every day where customers can get any size cup at half price.
The store is open from 7 a.m. to 9:05 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 9:05 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9:05 p.m. Sunday.