Foodie Friday: Moonshine Sweet Tea Offers True Homemade Taste

by Nick Bailey on December 18, 2015 in Food+Drink, Austin,
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If there’s one thing Texas considers a state treasure, it’s sweet tea. Not Earl Grey and those herbal options though — Texas appreciates good, old-fashioned sweet tea, and Moonshine Sweet Tea is bringing a classic to the table with their sweet tea varieties.

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

“We have a specific blend, only for what we’re doing — our tea is a sourced tea,” brewmaster Mark Fertitta said. “Most other people have blended teas, where it comes from who knows where. It’s got all the stick particles and it’s mass cut, and they blend that until they get the flavor they want.”

Moonshine Sweet Tea differs from other brands in many ways, but the most distinctive trait of the brand is their recipe. Although the brand is still in early stages of growth, the recipe brings the amazing taste all the way from 1946, with founder Joele Porter’s great grandfather Leo Cob Porter.

“[Leo] worked in a junkyard, and there was only well water and he wanted something to bring,” Fertitta explained. “So he had to come up with a concentrate so he could just add water. So he would make it as he wanted it and of course knock out that well water taste and he had good, sweet tea. He would make it late at night because he worked all day long, and he’d make it for the week, and this is how it started.”

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

It didn’t take long for Cob’s tea to gain local notoriety. Once people got a taste, they couldn’t get enough and expansion had to happen.

“As time goes on, they started making more and more to the point that they couldn’t make enough in his house,” Fertitta said. “His sister had a restaurant and she said ‘I’ll let you use this stuff, but you need to make it at night, from about 12 to 6 in the morning.’”

Fast-forward to about 2008, with company founder Joele Porter. After making it a few times and getting better and better a lightbulb went off and he said, “Ya know, my great-grandfather made it real late at night. I’m making it real late at night, under the moonshine. Perfect name!”

Even in those early days for Porter, the challenges were tough, but the tea spoke for itself.

“December 9, 2009, we went out to the Wimberly Market Days —it was 26 degrees when we left Dripping Springs,” Porter explained. “We got out there and it’s cold, it’s windy, it’s nasty and everybody said ‘There’s no way you’re going to sell ice tea out there in this nasty weather.’ So we got out there with 30 quarts — we sold 30 of them. Right then, I knew we got a good thing going. We went back in March with 50 quarts and we sold out of that.”

With success under their belts, Porter knew it was time to increase production, but he refused to sacrifice quality for quantity. Moonshine Sweet Tea is made with organic, fair trade tea leaves and natural flavors stay true to the original recipe and to ensure that their products are made in a fair and sustainable way. Every tea leaf is hand-picked to ensure quality. Despite having grown beyond brewing batches at home, They’ve kept the ingredient deck as close to the original formula

“Hand picked is better because you’re just getting the tips, the very tender pieces of the tea,” Fertitta said. “A lot of companies just go in with machinery, spitting out carbon monoxide  and just sawing everything down. Your tips are going to taste different than your lower leaves and your higher leaves.”

Joele Porter. Courtesy photo
Joele Porter. Courtesy photo

For the Moonshine Sweet Tea team, developing the base formula is where it all started. Comparing the “original” taste to that of the family recipe, Porter knew that there was only one way to know they had done it right — he asked an expert.

“My grandma’s been drinking this tea for 60 years, and making it over 50 when we started the company,” Porter said. “She knows how it’s supposed to taste. I had brought one or two home that weren’t right with another tea. When we landed on this tea leaf, it was like bingo. Let’s take this to Mamaw, and she what she thinks about it, and when she gave that thumbs up we were all ready. When the lady who kept the recipe around for 60 years says ‘yea, this is it,’ then we know it’s good.”

Now, Moonshine Sweet Tea is slowly taking over the market, spreading the delicious Texas taste throughout the area and other states. Their biggest hurdle now it making sure they can get it to the people.

“Our biggest task in that is keeping up with the growth and getting distribution to get it out there,” Fertitta said. “You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t have distribution and you don’t get it out there nobody knows about it so it falls on deaf ears.”

With the success they’ve seen over the years and six amazing flavors, many people would easily say that Moonshine Sweet Tea is the best tea in Texas.