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Read the tea leaves: Buntin on path to success

Three-time Canadian champion's TeaBean company gets rave reviews

Former Olympian Craig Buntin promotes TeaBean, his post-skating business venture.
Former Olympian Craig Buntin promotes TeaBean, his post-skating business venture. (courtesy of Craig Buntin)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(04/05/2012) - Three-time Canadian pairs champion, six-time world competitor and Olympian Craig Buntin isn't getting much sleep these days, so it's a good thing his new business involves caffeine. His company, TeaBean™ White Coffee (www.teabeancoffee.com), officially launched at the Coffee & Tea Festival in New York City in February and he says, "We've been scrambling to keep up since."

TeaBean involves taking white coffee beans and baking them rather than roasting them as you would to make coffee. The process involves a dry heat and low temperature over a long period of time.

"The same all-natural bean -- it's just a completely different way of processing them," Buntin said. "We grind that up, and then we infuse it with different types of teas and spices. You get the flavor and the health benefits of the teas, and you get the richness of the white coffee beans with the caffeine."

According to Buntin, the finished product doesn't taste like coffee at all.

After ending his competitive days in 2010, Buntin was thinking about what to do next with his life. He had discovered a beverage similar TeaBean during a 2008 trip to the U.S. for Skate America. That sparked the idea that you don't need to roast coffee beans; you can bake them.

"I realized most of my life I was never all that good at following rules," said Buntin, 31, who began to investigate this unique idea and develop it while he was still skating.

People were really responding to the experiments he made in his own kitchen, and he felt he would eventually start selling the product. He formalized the business by incorporating.

"You can almost question what a tea is," he said. "You're starting to see people have chocolate, pears, caramel and different things in their teas. These become infusions. You've got all these flavors and the aromas of all these ingredients you wouldn't necessarily consider a tea outside of that context.

"It's almost what we're doing with these white coffee beans," he added. "It becomes sort of an infusion ingredient."

You prepare TeaBean the way you would tea leaves, by brewing them and then pouring the resulting mixture through a tea strainer. In addition to the different teas, also available for purchase on the website are little biodegradable infusers that go in cups.

As a vision for the business took shape, Buntin decided he needed to get an education to be prepared to make the business as big as possible. He applied to the Masters in Business Administration program at McGill University in Montreal, even though he had not attended college as an undergraduate.

"With essentially this company as my application," he said. "I wrote, 'Here's what I've done with my sport. Here's what I've done with my business. I'm very passionate about it, and this is what I want to do.' They made an exception for me, so I am pursuing my MBA at McGill right now."

Last year, he attended school full-time in addition to overseeing the development of TeaBean, coaching skating about 20 hours a week and planning his August 2011 wedding -- averaging about three hours of sleep a night. He stopped coaching last July and switched to part-time at school.

The products found on the website were presented at the seventh annual Coffee & Tea Festival in February and received an "unbelievable response."

"I like them and I assumed other people would too," Buntin said. "There were lineups all day. Everywhere you went at the festival, you heard TeaBean being talked about.

"We sold out of almost everything that we had when we went," he said. "We got back and we were cleared out of almost everything else through online orders the next week. Much bigger and better than I could have imagined the show to be."

Everything is produced in Montreal -- from the testing and blending to the baking and production. A good deal of the web orders come from the U.S., and he hopes to sell the brand to some national retail chains.

"We have some pretty big goals," Buntin said. "I would like this product and brand to be known across North America within the next year.

"We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of growth to explore."