Designed by a dentist with health and environment in mind, West Virginia-brewed Doc’s Tea is ready to become your go-to beverage.

Launching a beverage business has its pitfalls, but that hasn’t stopped one determined Eastern Panhandle dentist.

“We started the whole process in about 2010,” says Dr. Ken Banks, founder and CTD—that’s Chief Tea Designer, on the website—of Doc’s Tea of Inwood, launched in 2015. “I’m a hands-on kind of guy and I really wanted control over the making and processing of the tea and not have to go to a co-packer, so I had to learn everything from the ground up.” There were regulations to learn about and fees to pay as well as equipment to choose, a building to build, and distribution to get in order.

And naming. Even though the product’s original name, Dr. B’s Tea, received a trademark, it ran into a trademark spat with Canada Dry, which sells Dr. Brown’s soft drinks. Banks made use of the years it took for the legal battle to play out. “Certain things happen for certain reasons,” he says. “It was a painful time for us, but probably the best thing that could have happened because we actually changed our product pretty drastically.”

Re-launched in 2015 as Doc’s Tea, the product is still, like Dr. B’s, a rooibos-based beverage, “caffeine-free, full of antioxidants, probably the healthiest tea,” Banks says. It’s also still sweetened with monk fruit, the ultra-low-calorie natural sugar replacement. But unlike Dr. B’s, Doc’s is certified organic. The tea is now sold in glass bottles rather than in plastic. And the flavorings are now brewed right in. “For example, the island coconut is brewed with coconut water. The orange ginger is brewed with orange peels and ginger root—not as flavorings, but as ingredients,” Banks says. “Also, we used to filter everything pretty well, which is standard for most beverages, but with Doc’s Tea we filter lightly so you actually get the fiber coming through.”

With some social and environmental responsibility added in—solar panels provide about half the power they use and a portion of profits goes to local charities—the product is now right where Banks wants it to be.

He manages Doc’s with his son, Dr. Christopher Banks, both of them practicing dentists, and daughter Sarah Langford, a dental hygienist who now runs the beverage business full-time. A “brewmaster” and three part-time employees round out the current staff. They’re producing 20,000 to 25,000 bottles a month, Banks estimates, for distribution to 42 Whole Foods stores in the mid-Atlantic region and Kroger stores across West Virginia that have natural foods sections.

But watch for big things from this little start-up. “I did not go into this as a hobby,” Banks says. “I have lofty goals. Within a certain period of time, I’m not going to name what it is, I’d like for our product to be 20 percent of the bottled tea market. I truly believe that we have good branding and that the philosophy that we’re using is the right philosophy at the right time.”

photographed by Carla Witt Ford

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