Olive branch

San Antonio chef brews up new artisan tea company from unlikely source

San Antonio chef brews up new artisan tea company from unlikely source

Special Leaf tea is made from an ancient recipe based on olive tree leaves
Olive leaves are unexpected ingredient in San Antonio's newest tea brand. Photo courtesy of Special Leaf

As the former chef of Oro and Francis Bogside, culinary consultant Chris Cook is no stranger to the San Antonio restaurant scene. Now, he's brewing up a whole new project.

The seeds for his artisanal beverage brand Special Leaf were sown when Cook worked at a Texas olive orchard. While there, he began experimenting with everything that an olive tree can offer, making soaps and salves, oil and lotions. Eventually, he settled on the idea of using the leaves to make tea.

“Knowing the health benefits behind olive oil, I told myself that I really wanted to perfect my recipes,” Cook says.

Almost six years later, those recipes are now about to be commercially bottled — and sold — for the first time. In early January, Cook launched a Kickstarter campaign to help support the company's goals of raising enough funds to go through an initial two bottling runs in Waco. If funded, it would allow him to introduce the drink to a wider audience.

“After that, we will be off to the races and will work on a heavy marketing plan to try and solidify Special Leaf tea in the marketplace,” Cook says. Cook said he wants to sell to people who love tea first and foremost. The product’s health benefits are a bonus.

Among those are plenty of antioxidants, 200 percent more than green tea, according to Cook. The tea also offers a surfeit of Vitamin C and oleuropein, a compound that some preliminary research suggests may possess anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and immune-stimulating properties. Cook himself drinks two quarts of the olive leaf tea daily to help alleviate arthritis pain.

The taste, however, is more approachable than many teas sold as supplements. Sold chilled in three flavors — original, sweet, and lemon verbena — Special Leaf’s press materials describe it as being comparable in flavor to other popular iced teas, although Cook says it has floral notes and a semi-creamy texture that makes it unique.

Having been a chef for 22 years, Cook says he’s happy that his concept for mass producing olive tree tea is finally becoming a reality. He adds that Special Leaf lines up with the mission of the Chef Cooperatives, the local farm-to-table organization where he serves as vice president.

"I chose to pursue this to give something back,” he says. “Just as my chef career in hospitality was the main goal, so is what I want to do with my artisanal tea line. Our teas give back to the consumer not just in a unique flavor profile, but in so many healthful ways.”