College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Nutrition & Food Science

Honestly, Terps Make the Best Tea

Alum and Team Create Popular Organic Beverages

(Three food science alumni featured in the following article for TERP Online:)

When the leader of the free world says he target="_blank">loves your drinks, you know you’re doing something right.

President Barack Obama’s favorite, Black Forest Berry, is just one of the many “Just a Tad Sweet” organic beverages that originates from the surprisingly modest test kitchen Mike Petrone ’05 oversees at Honest Tea’s Bethesda headquarters.

That’s where the director of research and development and his all-Terp team, Marisa Tan ’13 and Milo Li ’11, create teas, lemonades, children’s juice drinks and new zero-calorie sodas. Their space could almost be transplanted into your home kitchen—though the reclaimed rubber floor and glass countertops set it apart, as do the fridge full of multicolored test beverages, the homemade carbonator that looks like a fire extinguisher and the pantry stocked with aromatic tins of loose-leaf teas.

Petrone’s road to Honest Tea started with a bottle he bought at the Maryland Food Co-op in the Stamp Student Union. The transfer student from Montgomery College, less than enthused about his biology major and a previous internship shaving mice for Army Ebola research, had finally settled on a new focus: food science.

“I looked at the back of a bottle and saw ‘Bethesda,’ and I literally called the number and asked if they could use any interns,” he says. Soon, he was working there one day a week, and then as a summer intern. He was offered a full-time job after graduation, making him the company’s first food scientist. (“Their old equipment included medicine droppers from CVS,” he says.)

But with just seven people in its headquarters in 2005, Petrone had to pitch in wherever he could and do “lots of strange things.”

At one point, “they needed more tea, so they told me to rent the biggest truck I could legally drive, load it full of tea from the production plant and bring it back,” he says. He worked night shifts at the plant, sleeping in his car and doing anything to help the young company, founded in 1998 by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, save money.

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