Kelly and Bryan Hackman, a tea sommelier and a craft brewer, are working together to grow their mutual businesses. Married for more than a decade, this year marks an important anniversary: 2021 marks the fifth anniversary of the couple’s business partnership.
Both are New Port Richey, Florida natives who grew up in the same town, went to neighboring high schools, and graduated within a year of one another; yet it was in their mid-thirties that their paths finally crossed. “We have been best friends since we met, and we fell in love very quickly,” Kelly recalls. “I told Bryan I was only marrying once so I had to get it right. I knew right away that he and I had something special that we could build on.” They married in November 2010 and their journey has been a tempest in a teapot ever since – in the best kind of energetic way.
Kelly is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Sommelier, a Tea Educator, and Etiquette Consultant. In addition to leadership roles in the greater Tampa Bay community, Kelly is also a member of Specialty Tea Institute, US League of Tea Growers, and is a Tea Mastermind.
After getting married, the couple found various ways to support their hometown. For several years, Kelly worked as the Executive Director of New Port Richey’s biggest event, Chasco Fiesta. “I absolutely loved being a part of that event, bringing people in from all over who have never been to our city,” Kelly says. Bryan was right by her side volunteering to help when he wasn’t at his full-time job in Tampa.
In 2016, with a desire in their hearts to do more for their community, they took the ultimate step and became business owners. They opened The White Heron Tea & Gifts – an award-winning destination for upscale tea service and blends. Kelly had a desire to create a beautiful destination in downtown New Port Richey that would highlight the best of the town and draw guests in to enjoy the quaintness and beauty the town offers. She wanted to provide the best business she could, so she studied tea through the World Tea Academy, Tea Mastermind, and by befriending some of the tea industries’ top professionals.
Bryan Hackman is the owner and originator of Cotee River Brewing Company, the first local brewery in the City of New Port Richey. He has been a home brewer and craft beer aficionado for many years and was enthusiastic to open a brewery in his hometown.
“Understanding your business and your offerings is so important,” Kelly states. “Whatever I was going to do, I wanted to dive into it and learn so that my place could become a complete tea destination and put New Port Richey on the tea map.” The business took off and before long it expanded to triple capacity.
Clever and insightful marketing and customer retention efforts have catapulted their businesses. The White Heron’s tea brand, Driftwood Tea Company, can be seen at local events and places such as at Tampa Bay Storm games and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
While some may have been satisfied with this success, the ambitious couple was ready for their next venture. In 2018, the Cotee River Brewing Company came to life on Main Street. New Port Richey’s first craft beer brewery, Cotee River Brewing was instantly recognized for their creativity and skill with a slew of awards in their first year.
“We spent so much time planning and building The White Heron that I decided Bryan could also have a business,” Kelly jokes, “Bryan kept telling me he wanted to be downtown and ‘play’ with us since we always seem to be having so much fun.”
It has been a lot of fun coupled with a lot of work. Bryan has been a craft beer aficionado for decades and it was the perfect fit for him to open a place of his own that focused on what he enjoyed. A homebrewer for several years, it wasn’t until he was watching a City Council meeting at home, where the council was discussing the changing town. A member of the Council mentioned that with all changes, all that was needed was a brewery. “It was in that moment that Cotee River Brewing was born,” Bryan recalls. “I remember looking over at Kelly and saying, ‘that’s our sign, let’s do it!'”
Cotee River Brewing Company opened in late summer 2018 and has been a hit with locals and travelers alike. “We really work hard to keep our craft local and create unique offerings that appeal to a wind range of guests,” Bryan says. “Using local and natural has always been very important to us. You can see that in our beers and in our local collaborations.”
No doubt that humor is a key ingredient in a successful partnership, but this couple shares more than one ingredient. Identifying the unconventional intersection between tea and craft beer has been the key to some of their top-selling beers at Cotee River Brewing.
Cotee River Brewing Company has a great selection of core beers that they brew, including IPA’s, Pale Ales, Reds, Porters, Stouts, and Blondes. However, it’s the collaborative beers that garner the most attention.
“We had always heard about using flavors in beer and one day Kelly asked me, why don’t we use tea?” Bryan says. “I know it has been done before with certain beers but what if we could make some really unique beers using tea’s unique qualities, then that would set us apart from other brewers in the area an give guests some really fun beers to try in addition to our traditional ones.”
In fact, the first beer commercially brewed in the City of New Port Richey by Cotee River Brewing Company was their Market Fresh Wheat Ale. This light wheat ale boasts fruit and savory flavors one might find at a farmer’s market. And yes, it was brewed with tea. The herbal tea for this beer, provided by Driftwood Tea, is introduced during the boil process and extracts many unique flavors. “It is a great, light beer,” Bryan says. “And because it was our first, many of our guests enjoy it and say it’s their favorite.”
Market Fresh was the first of several beer and tea collaborations that the couple has worked with over the past two years. Each time they introduce a new collaboration that beer tends to become a mainstay on their tap list. “It’s great working together,” states Bryan. “Kelly has such a love of flavors and creating pairings that developing beer using tea as the flavoring agent has been right up her alley, and what she loves to do. She’s always coming up with great ideas and I just can’t brew beer fast enough,” Bryan jokes.
Other beers that the pair have worked on in collaboration include: Sarazen Wheat Ale, using strawberry and kiwi herbal tea; NPR Engine 1 Smoked Porter (named for the town’s fire department) using Lapsang Souchong to create a smoky flavor; and the Red Headed Blonde which highlights a hibiscus berry flavor from an herbal tea. “We use the tea as a natural way of introducing flavors without using artificial flavorings that leave harsh aftertastes in the beer,” says Bryan.
Last Valentine’s Day marked the release of their hit collaboration, the Chocolate Covered Strawberry Porter. Brewed as a regular porter, the beer takes on the unique flavors of strawberry and chocolate when it is moved to cold crash in the cooler. Tea mixology is when tea from The White Heron is cold steeped in the beer. The result is a delicious and frothy, semi-sweet porter with notes of strawberry and a creamy chocolate finish. “The porter is traditionally cocoa in flavor, so it was only natural to add chocolate and strawberry flavors to bring out that cocoa-ness, making it perfect for Valentine’s Day,” explains Bryan.
If their first two ventures weren’t enough to stay occupied, the couple is taking on a new project together. The Coastline Salt Room will be the first of its kind in West Pasco. Located on Main Street, this facility will offer relaxing salt therapy sessions and a space for yoga and meditation classes while enjoying salt therapy. With so many businesses they’re juggling, Bryan and Kelly will undoubtedly take advantage of their latest.
In anticipation of opening, the couple travelled to St. Petersburg, St. Augustine, and Knoxville to experience different salt rooms. Even on vacation, Bryan and Kelly are constantly evaluating the successful elements of downtowns and bringing ideas back to NPR. A Florida destination tearoom, Kelly has created a unique tea escape at her tearoom, which has assisted in transforming her town’s historic landscape and assists in drawing guests to the area from throughout the Southeastern United States.
Images provided and copyright held by the Hackmans and used with permission