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Tea-infused ice cream brand started in Norwalk by ex-banker

Ice cold brew: Tea-infused ice cream brand started in Norwalk by ex-banker
Updated 8:22 pm, Thursday, January 2, 2014

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  • Masala Chai is one of the tea-infused ice creams made by Tea-Rrific Ice Cream. Photo: Paul Johnson / Fairfield Citizen contributed

    Masala Chai is one of the tea-infused ice creams made by Tea-Rrific Ice Cream.

    Photo: Paul Johnson

 

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Mario Leite has been a lifelong tea drinker and ice cream aficionado, but it took a pivotal career change to give him the inspiration to put the two together.

In 2011, Leite left the world of investment banking and began to germinate the idea of creating tea-infused ice cream, letting the subtle flavors of familiar brews like Earl Grey and chamomile meld into the creaminess of the dessert. The resulting brand, Norwalk-based Tea-rrific, is co-owned by Leite and his wife, Souvannee, and now offer a variety of different flavors, selling to local markets and national chains alike, which inlcude Whole Foods, Palmer's Market in Darien, Balducci's in Greenwich and Ridgefield Organics & Specialty Market. Nationally, Tea-rrific is sold in 180 stores.

Leite's initial experiments blending tea and ice cream led to his first flavor, London Mist, a combination of Assam black tea, bergamot and vanilla. Other flavors incorporate ingredients like ginger and Matcha green tea, chamomile and honey, and chai-spiced tea.

"I always thought Earl Grey would make a great flavor," Leite said. "The reaction was so positive from people who were trying it. I never thought tea-flavored ice cream would really do well in the market. But there's nothing else like it."

Tea-rrific focuses on natural ingredients, free of gums and preservatives that can give some commercial ice creams a heavy, cloying feel on the tongue, Leite said. Like a good cup of tea itself, Tea-rrific's flavors are intended to be light and palette-cleansing. The teas are brewed fresh from loose leaf blends and mixed with an ice cream base manufactured at Buck's Ice Cream in Milford.

"We love supporting local companies, and it is wonderful to see Tea-riffic truly break the mold with its products," said Daniel Fortin, marketing team leader at Whole Foods in Darien. "Tea-riffic offers a food experience to customers that is not only delicious and incredibly unique, but memorable. We are excited to continue an already amazing partnership with Tea-riffic, and we look forward to seeing the company continue to grow in its success."

For Leite, Tea-rrific is not just a blending of tastes, but also of his skills and interests. Before working as an investment banker for pharmaceutical and biotech companies, he spent time as a researcher in molecular biology, a discipline that fostered his interest in food science as much as investment banking honed his business skills. Still, the transition to Tea-rrific required a bit of experimenting.

"There's definitely some learning to do," Leite said. "I think the everyday customer doesn't realize what it takes to launch a retail product. I think my business training helped a lot in terms of structuring the company."

ojust@scni.com or 203-964-2291.