You’d be hard-pressed to find a link between tea drinking and hip-hop. But for Shanae Jones, the connection is clear. It’s all about community.
As the first-born US American to British-Jamaican parents, tea was another member of her family, Jones shared.
“Some of our most important moments happened over tea,” she said. “I didn’t even realize that people weren’t accustomed to waking up or going to bed with a cup of tea in this country until I was much older.”
Although the drink was a staple in her household by way of her parents’ British roots, Jones said she found her connection to American culture through music.
“Hip hop taught me how to be American,” said Jones. “It’s not something that’s always discussed, but I look Black American, and I talk like an American, but growing up, my cultural experiences were different than my friends’. The way I was really able to bond with peers was through our mutual love of hip hop. After hearing my first Nas verse, I was hooked.”
Over time, her love of both tea and hip hop culture merged into a hobby, then eventually, a business.
“I launched my tea line, Flyest, in 2016 and didn’t take it seriously initially,” Jones said about the brand, who was named after Nas’s 2001 song. She also shared that she was unsure of how a hip-hop themed tea brand would be received.
“I just wasn’t promoting it,” she shared. “I was still very scared to tell anybody I was doing this because I thought the idea of a hip hop-inspired tea company…I didn’t want people to laugh at me or think it was silly. I wasn’t really that confident in the business or in myself at that time. And so it was probably around January of 2017 when I really started. I was posting and people said it was a cool idea. Then they started buying.”
From there, Jones said she began to rethink the viability of her business idea, and began fine tuning it to include stronger hip-hop influences through out the branding. Now, nearly five years into business the company has more than 12 products including brews like Nip’s Tea, inspired by Nipsey Hussle, C.R.E.A.M., which is a take on Wu-Tang’s hit and The Blueprint in recognition of Jay Z classic album.
Jones acknowledges the unique space she occupies as a Black woman herbalist that founded a tea brand that celebrates hip hop culture.
As of last year, more than 93% of brewery owners and brands are white and more than 58% of breweries are male-founded, with just 2.9 percent being woman-owned.
“I’m in a unique position for sure, but fortunately I have received an outpouring of support, particularly from Black women, that never made me question whether I made the right decision moving forward in such a white-dominated space. It’s the merging of two worlds I love so much.”