Americans typically speak of ambitions as dreams, but Teeccino founder Caroline MacDougall’s business really began with a dream. In the mid-’90s, while working for the Republic of Tea, she dreamt about an herbal espresso named Teeccino. The idea shocked her awake, and a business was born.
Two decades later, Teeccino is the leading coffee alternative in the country, with an ever-expanding roster of health beverages and foods. The Carpinteria-based company is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with a roster of products far beyond the seedling dream, like the gluten-free quinoa-amaranth-chia cereal TeeChia, or the new Dandelion Draft, which debuted this year. Run with son Galen MacDougall and husband CFO Jerry Isenberg, the family-owned Teeccino is now widely known, thanks to a slow, steady process of finding fans of its nutrition mission.
MacDougall hails from a long line of beverage entrepreneurs. On her paternal side, great-grandmother Alice Foote MacDougall opened successful coffee stands in early-19th-century New York at a time when female entrepreneurs were unheard of; on her maternal side nest the originators of Old Crow whiskey. MacDougall developed an interest in health-food and herbal remedies as a teen, scouring health food stores before they were in fashion and seeking cures to aid her ailing father.
In her early twenties, her nose for helpful herbs led to a trailblazing position with Celestial Seasonings as a globetrotting herbalist, where she would fly solo to places like Egypt to seek out ingredients. The traders were more than surprised to see a woman doing the job. “We’re talking about utter shock,” she said. “They couldn’t believe it. They’d look at me and say, ‘Only in America,’ and I think, looking back on it, it was true.”
She moved on to similar positions with Yogi Tea and the Republic of Tea before the fateful dream, which spurred her into concocting an herbal coffee taste-alike, without the stress-inducing and acidifying effects of coffee. After some trial and error, Teeccino was born but found few takers amid the latte-crazed coffee-shop trends of the ’90s. The nutrient-based energy boost, however, did find Teeccino a home in health-food stores.
With numerous nutrient-rich ingredients, such as chicory, which features energy-metabolizing and kidney-detoxifying chemicals such as potassium and inulin, the effects soon drew heaping praise from customers, who also applauded Teeccino’s ability to regulate energy without as many ups and downs as coffee. But expansion has endured many ups and downs, from unconvinced cafés to suppliers who folded.
MacDougall’s secret ingredient is determined perseverance; in her company’s first years, she continued to work two other jobs and raise two children as a single mother. “My mom was way ahead of her time and has had amazing perseverance,” said Galen, who watched his mom hatch the product in the home kitchen when he was 6.
But as her children have matured, so has the business. MacDougall found a business partner in her home-brewing, rock-climbing son, Galen, who offered to showcase Teeccino products around the nation after graduating from UCLA. Steering a Teeccino brand van and camping in national parks, Galen brought a new level of exposure to the product.
He’s also the main brain behind Teeccino’s newest beverage: a nitrated Dandelion Draft. The nonalcoholic drink pours from kegs like a beer and comes with a roasted flavor reminiscent of coffee, but it gets its deep flavor and effects from dandelion root and ramón seed, a long-forgotten Central American crop that was once a Mayan staple food.
Teeccino sources many ingredients from rural farmers, and MacDougall prides her company on the mutually beneficial relationships forged with her suppliers. “Being able to provide a sustainable source of income that also helps to preserve the natural environment really motivates me,” she said.
Teeccino hopes to crowdsource funds for the Dandelion Draft, for which they are seeking a new brewer after Caribbean Coffee Company ran out of capacity. The company continues to seek ways to innovate, and their efforts have recently been featured on programs such as The Dr. Oz Show and A Healthy You & Carol Alt. As more and more consumers seek alternatives to caffeinated energy boosts, Teeccino’s broad palette of herbal and cereal concoctions, 20 years in, may yet have its brightest years ahead.