If you’ve ever traveled to India, Thailand, or Singapore, chances are you’ve seen a tuk-tuk zipping around with passengers in the back. Our electric ETuk, Camillia, does do some zipping around too, but we don’t carry people, we carry tea.
The search for a unique three-wheeled vehicle that could act as a food truck began after a trip to Northern California in 2014. My husband, Randy, and I were drawn to the concept of using a unique vehicle as a food stand to sell coffee and lattes. We wanted to bring the beverage truck concept to our neck of the woods. After an extensive search, we learned that ETuk USA was importing tuk-tuks from the Netherlands with a vendor box on the back. It was a perfect fit for what we wanted.
We wanted to sell something uniquely beverage based and after throwing around a bunch of ideas (coffee, cold-pressed juices, smoothies) we decided on tea. I grew up drinking tea with my Nana and have always been a huge tea enthusiast. My husband spent some time in Georgia as a child and learned to brew great sun tea. In 2015, we founded Tuk Tea Company in Buffalo, New York.
Together, our passion for tea and owning our own business has allowed us to create a company that continues to grow. Being mobile has played a significant role in our success.
By May of 2016, our little Camillia was ready to go—clocking in at a blistering pace of twenty miles per hour—and we set out on the streets of Buffalo to sell tea.
The city’s food truck industry was booming, with over fifty different food trucks offering anything from wood-fired pizza to bánh mì sandwiches, cheesecake desserts, and everything in between.
Operating from a thirteen-foot orange tea truck—tiny by food truck standards—made us stand out from the crowd and grabbed everyone’s attention. Our product also attracted curious customers: selling small-batch brewed iced tea and made-to-order loose leaf hot teas was something new for Buffalo.
Our patrons come from all around. Some are huge tea enthusiasts, but most are just looking for a cold drink that’s not filled with sugar. We do this well. Most of our iced teas are fruit-based tisanes and have no sugar. Our menu is simple, never more than five iced teas and a few tea lemonades (our hand-shaken matcha green tea lemonade is one of our best sellers).
Even with a small menu, people have lots of questions about our offerings. The menu includes a list of each tea’s ingredients, which leads to lots of inquiries about rose hips and hibiscus.
Between answering questions about our unique vehicle, and educating our customers about tea ingredients, caffeine quantities, and the green powdery stuff that goes into the matcha lemonade, we spend a lot of time talking. But the opportunity to educate such a vast population on tea and introduce them to new flavors and origins is one we cherish. For every curious customer, we take time to explain ingredients, brewing methods, and our sourcing practices.
Jeffrey McIntosh’s article on paring down tea menu offerings in the name of accessibility rings true for our customers. For the most part, Tuk Tea’s visitors are new to the world of tea and quickly become overwhelmed with information about varieties, names, processing, and so on. After all, Buffalo is best known for its chicken wings, pizza, and snow storms—not tea. A simple menu that is short and easy to explain has worked well for us. We enjoy introducing people to tea from the Camellia sinensis plant, but also to yerba mate, rooibos, and more.
We’ve also learned that when it comes to engaging customers, naming our teas is as important as what goes in them. Our featured teas include Summer Strawberry, Buffalo Blue, Island Green, and Redlight Zen. Add to that a matcha lemonade and an in-house blended take on a Thai iced tea, and we have something for everyone.
With each outing we take, we find new people eager to taste and talk about our teas, who are quickly converted to returning customers. We often get asked if we have a brick-and-mortar location where we sell our teas. We do not—we enjoy the mobility afforded by the truck and all the new audiences we’re able to reach. We’re even thinking about adding a second truck, opening the doors for Tuk Tea to travel even farther and faster.
—Beverly Fortner co-owns Tuk Tea Company with her husband, Randy, in Buffalo, New York.