Did you ever see something once, and all of a sudden, it’s everywhere you look? I first caught a glimpse of VIBAL Energy Tea on Instagram. Then, when I would make my weekly trip to Dulce De Leche Bakery in The Heights, there they were again. Glass bottles staring back at me from behind the refrigerator doors. As an avid tea drinker and someone who brews their own kombucha, you could say my interest was peaked.
Hoboken’s VIBAL Energy Tea is exactly what it sounds like. Their organic iced tea beverages act as an upper, but one that can keep you focused and give you a boost, without the weird buzz. While all that sounds great, I still had to try it for myself. And because I’m used to using tea as a downer for when I can’t sleep or feel stressed, I was skeptical. VIBAL Energy Tea founder and Hoboken resident Dan Levison was kind enough to throw his positive energy and good vibes my way.
Now, I’m not the type of person to rely on caffeine. Not even through my busiest times in college or scrambling to meet my most demanding deadlines. I don’t wake up overly energized, I just have never found coffee, or energy drinks, to sit well with me. VIBAL Energy Tea, however, is a game-changer. No jitters, weird headaches, or upset stomach. All the flavors are delicious and super refreshing, but the Spicy Ginger was my favorite for sure! Maybe even better with a squeeze of lemon? It’s something I will turn to again when that midday slump hits.
Following a recent redesign (new look, who dis), I spoke with Levison about his early days in the food and beverage industry, the inspiration behind VIBAL Energy Tea, giving back to the Hoboken community, and of course, the ways that positivity can lead to a healthier and happier life.
First, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your background?
Sure! I’m originally from Northern New Jersey, Bergen County. Growing up in a really healthy household, I actually decided to join my father and go plant-based at the age of 6. Ever since, having a healthy, balanced diet is the foundation of my lifestyle.
I worked in the food service industry on/off throughout high school and college doing various jobs. Pot scrubber, dishwasher, delivery driver, line cook and eventually up to sous chef. (I even had a job as a “fruit picker” down in Australia, but that’s an entirely different story!). Eventually, I naturally fell into getting a degree in Food Science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with a concentration in health and wellness.
How did your journey with energy tea begin? What was the inspiration behind VIBAL?
I started playing around making energy tea at my apartment back in Englewood, NJ almost 10 years ago. First, as a fun side hobby making healthier alternatives to energy drinks based on green tea. Once I became a food scientist/product developer, creating a healthier version of an energy drink was top of mind.
Personally, I’ve always had some trouble concentrating (like many others) and didn’t like the other options out there. Coffee and energy drinks weren’t cutting it. Coffee just doesn’t go with most foods. It also tends to stain your teeth more than tea and can upset your stomach if you have too much. And energy drinks—most of them are full of sugar, artificial ingredients and are way too acidic. With both of these options, you see a huge variation in terms of even just the amount of caffeine, so it’s hard to count on them for consistent routines.
I wanted to address all of these issues as the foundation for my energy teas. Having a history of diabetes on both sides of my family, it was really important for me to bring a product into the marketplace that was relatively low in sugar. (Just 3 grams per serving—less than a teaspoon.) I wanted to create something that was delicious, safe, reliable and effective for anyone to have consistent energy and balance.
I’m a big tea drinker, but I’m used to turning to it as a relaxant. Can you tell me more about the role it plays if you’re looking for a bit of a boost?
Right! So most teas are low in caffeine (like green tea, black tea, etc.), and then herbal teas are mostly caffeine-free. For me, I love green tea for its health benefits and light flavor, so I wanted to use it as the basis of our energy teas. When I started out, I would keep adding green tea until the caffeine was enough to give me that buzz we typically expect only from coffee. Now, our energy teas are still green tea-based but boosted with natural caffeine from green coffee bean to give you that kick—about 100mg caffeine per 8 oz serving, just like a cup of coffee!
What sort of benefits or effects should people expect after trying VIBAL? Compared to coffee or other energy drinks?
Besides the consistent caffeine level, I also mindfully made VIBAL to have a balanced boost using ginseng and theanine. Ginseng is one of the most widely known adaptogens. Adaptogens are a natural product that helps our bodies increase our resistance to biological, chemical, and physical stress. Theanine has been shown to increase the alpha brain waves, helping to promote a more alert yet relaxed mindset, which works synergistically with caffeine. Theanine is actually naturally present in tea, especially green tea, which helps balance out the caffeine buzz.
We boosted our energy tea with extra theanine to help balance out the caffeine, similar to how it is in nature. Theanine is also being tested with naturopathic doctors as a more natural alternative for anti-depressants and anti-anxiety, along with a myriad of other potential health benefits for mood, anxiety, and focus.
There’s a huge theme of positivity and mindfulness that runs throughout your brand. How did you blend that with your product and why was that important?
I got really into the power of a positive mindset when I first read the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale a few years back. I thought the book was really empowering and can’t stop recommending it to people this very day. (Have you read it?!) When I decided to commit to bringing my energy tea to life, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just another brand out there selling a product. I wanted to help inspire others to be better versions of themselves, to follow their dreams, and live a healthier and happier life.
I’ve had my ups and downs just like everyone else, and for me, feeling good consistently started with drinking this tea every day back in 2012. With the combination of caffeine and L-theanine in particular, it was really the catalyst to all the rest of the positive energy in my life. I started going to the gym five days a week and lost about 35 lbs. It’s like, what you put into your body is directly proportional to the energy you expend, so being energized every day helped me stay focused. I wanted to share that with everyone else.
Right now while building this business, I really enjoy just sharing samples with people. I know when they have our energy tea, it’s going to make that day a lot better for them! And hopefully, help kickstart them into healthier habits that they can build off of and spread to others.
As a Hoboken-based company, how has the reception been in the community? Where can people find VIBAL locally?
So far the reception has been great in the Hoboken community! We have done a few demos (prior to COVID-19) which were just amazing. Everyone that tried the tea really loved it. Now we doing online giveaways, partnering up with local fitness instructors, nutrition coaches and local meal prep companies. People are always looking to try new products and especially new ways to get healthy, balanced energy into their diet.
Locally in Hoboken, we are at Organic Basic, Aspen Market, Natural & Plus, and at many of the prime convenient stores. In Jersey City, we’re at P&K Market, Hudson Greene Market, Downtown Pharmacy, and Dulce De Leche Bakery in The Heights. You can find the entire list of stores here.
I saw you’re also matching donations to support the Hoboken Front Line Group. What motivated you to incorporate this as part of your platform?
Yes, we are matching some donations to support Hoboken FLAG during COVID-19. We also donate 5 percent of revenue to other causes we care about, like mental health, environmental health, and bee health. It’s really important for us as a manufacturer to be supporting both people’s health and the food system in a responsible way as we grow so we can make as much of a positive impact as possible!
What’s the future of VIBAL look like going forward? Any plans?
In the immediate future, we are excited about our brand relaunch with our new tea bottles, improved flavors, and upgraded online shop as well. We also just launched an 8 oz. single-serve option which we are really excited about—more of a ‘grab-n-go’ style product.
Besides that, we’re really looking forward to continuing to share the product with other health/wellness/fitness enthusiasts, doing more giveaways, and demos where possible in a safe manner.
We’re also chatting with potential distributors and retailers to find the right partners to continue to scale and grow the business. We want to continue to share the POSITIVE ENERGY and GOOD VIBES worldwide. Well, eventually.