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Today is May 9, 2021

Inaka Tea Company blends 2 cultures into 1 refreshing beverage

By Elissa Fulton

Inaka Tea Company blends 2 cultures into 1 refreshing beverage

Growing up on a catfish farm in Yazoo City, Chat Phillips has affection for entrepreneurship and his rural roots. He attended a small boarding school in Chattanooga, Tennessee before attending the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

As part of his liberal arts education, he was required to take a foreign language. He chose Japanese and picked it up rather easily before studying abroad in Japan. It was his first time out of the United States, and after traveling more than 30 hours to his destination in the northern mountains of Japan, in a climate very much like a summer in Mississippi without air conditioning, he was exhausted and hot. His host family immediately offered him a cold beverage which, for their culture, parallels sweet tea for Mississippians. The drink, made from a barley seed and blended into a tea called mugicha, was unlike anything he had ever had.

When Phillips graduated, he moved back to Mississippi and began working in economic development in Tupelo. Phillips met his wife, Stevie, in Tupelo before the newlyweds moved to Jackson and Chat begin working for a state agency, and then moved into the private sector. With his career, he’s made many trips back to Japan. Because mugicha is not common in the states, when he would visit, he always drank his favorite beverage and would pack his suitcase with it before he returned.

“This drink couldn’t be found in Mississippi and I missed it so much, I just started buying raw grains and roasting it for myself,” he said.

Because of the health benefits, Chat and Stevie started making it for their friends and families as an alternative to caffeinated teas and coffee. It wasn’t long before the young couple decided since it wasn’t available locally, and they were already providing it for many people they knew, they might just have a business opportunity that could combine Chat’s love of mugicha and the Japanese culture. It was then that Inaka Tea Company was born.

“We just started experimenting, and as far as we know, we are the first U.S. company to brew and bottle it,” said Chat. “And I believe we are the first company in the world to brew and blend it with flavors.”

Inaka Tea Company offers three flavors: original, mint and ginger.

Chat and Stevie had to build the supply chain from scratch. They researched and visited with more than 30-grain roasters and finally one of them agreed to take a chance. They worked on perfecting the product for more than six months.

In addition to being a unique product, the tea has great health benefits. There are many antioxidants and helps to regulate blood sugar and cholesterol, with calming agents such as melatonin and tryptophan.

The company name and logo are also quite inspiring and took time to perfect.

“Inaka is a Japanese word that means countryside, hometown or place of origin,” said Chat. “The reason I chose that name was because one, the first time I had it I was literally in the countryside of Japan, but two, I wanted to appreciate our roots as a company and a family.” Chat said he grew up on a farm in Mississippi and the couple intends to stay in Mississippi. “I wanted those two things together as our brand.”

The company was set to launch in the spring of 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic halted those plans. Though the Phillips admit that launching a business in the middle of a pandemic has not been ideal, the Mississippi-based Corner Market in Hattiesburg took a chance on Chat’s dream and is now carrying the product in three Hattiesburg stores and three Jackson stores. They are expecting a statewide launch in the near future.

For more information about Inaka Tea Company visit inakatea.com.

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