Hop-infused tea may not yet be the biggest thing since craft beer, but Christian Obendorf is surprised at how well his new company’s product has been selling.
Obendorf, who grew up on his family’s now seven-decade-old, 3,000-acre hop farm in southwest Idaho, recently started Hopster Beverage Co. Early on, one of the region’s major distributors picked up the bottled-tea offering and got it into about a dozen retail outlets including a high-profile Albertsons store near Boise State University.
“We’ve been out for four months. In our third month, we had a really good month,” said Obendorf, president and owner-operator. He said the fourth, December, started strongly.
Hopster Beverage exemplifies a novel use of hops while getting its farmer owner closer to the consumer. The Nampa-based company also provides a new type of customer for Obendorf Hop, though the separate and distinct beverage company would have to grow substantially before it becomes one of the farm’s high-volume clients.
“The tea is still moving pretty well and I am excited to see what the future holds,” said Obendorf, 26, Hopster Beverage president and owner-operator. He’s especially optimistic about summer, the traditional high-demand season for tea served cold.
Megan Harper, commerce development analyst with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, said that when an Idaho agriculture product is used in a new and innovative way, it helps producers in that industry while raising consumer awareness of what is grown in the state.
“It’s an innovative way to use hops from his family’s farm in a beverage made locally,” she said. “And it does have a niche in the market now, where the trend is buying locally.”
In hop tea, as in beer, the full hop — not a byproduct — is an ingredient. Hops, sugar, and black tea and natural flavor extracts are heated to high temperature as part of an in-bottle pasteurization process before the drink cools.
“It’s a different kind of microbrew,” Obendorf said. “We are trying to extract the health benefits of the hops,” Anxiety and tension reduction, and immune-system and cognitive health support, are among them, he said.
He first thought his teas would appeal to beer lovers who wanted a morning or afternoon drink. “But it ended up being such a good-tasting beverage that we hit a broader range,” he said.
About 25 varieties of hops are grown in southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon. Hopster Beverage uses Cascade, an “aroma hop” as opposed to a high-alpha hop used as a bittering agent. In Hopster Beverage tea, the hop is mellow enough that it does not need to be overpowered by sweetener or flavorings.
Hopster Beverage employs Obendorf and a part-time worker. They aim to eventually expand beyond the current three tea flavors, and possibly increase the variety of hops used, as demand and production capacity dictate. The company also may broaden its market coverage geographically and work to incorporate hops into other types of drinks.
The equipment can turn out 800 to 1,000 12-ounce bottles a day. Obendorf, who in childhood survived cancer that left him with limited use of a hand, can complete the entire process himself thanks in part to a local company’s design.
“I am super excited about how things are going, but we are so new,” he said. “We are on the right path.”