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Manish Shah continues to bring May Tea to the Tucson tea-drinking masses

Shah: Just call him Mr. Tea.

Courtesy photo

Shah: Just call him Mr. Tea.

Walk into Maya Tea Company's warehouse, you'll notice the bright smile of owner Manish Shah and the rows and rows of tea product—but what really matters is the smell—on this day raspberries mixed with sweet spices.

"Would you like some iced tea?" Shah asks. "Tony just made some fresh tea."

Shah is referring to his right hand man, Tony Gonzales. At his fingertips are rows of loose teas, which Gonzales mixes as the last concoctions sold under the Maya Tea label.

"Today I mixed some vanilla spice with coconut and rose petals," Gonzales says.

Though there aren't a lot of options as far as the local ingredients he can use in his products, he does his best to incorporate local as often as he can, such as prickly pear pulp, dropped off by his longtime friend Noel Patterson.

"We have known each other since high school. ... Noel is a beekeeper and he takes a bunch of guys out to pick prickly pear," says Shah, raised in Tucson since the age of 8 after relocating with his family from New York, he considers himself a Tucson native to the core. "They extract the nectar to make prickly pear brandy and then bring us the pulp. We have all the things we need on site for drying out the pulp to use in tea."

It started for Shah as a hobby with chai, bringing the Indian beverage to the American market in 1997 with MY Chai. In 2002, he took on other company's products, and repackaged and sold them. But he also understood that in business, the only way to succeed is to make it yourself.

"You have to bring the bottom line home," Shah says. "There's no other way to get ahead in business. You have to do it yourself."

Maya Tea operated a retail location for a period of time, but it's now closed. The warehouse at 1605 N. Grant Road, is open 10 a.m. - 2p.m., Monday through Friday. But the Tucson area farmers markets have the company's home.

"At the time (in the late 1990's,) there was only one farmers market in the area," Shah says "After about a year, we branched out and began to attend trade shows, where we have made a lot of contacts through random meetings. You never know who you're going to meet or how that relationship will pan out and for us, it has really worked."

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