​​Seniors Explore the World of Businesses and Beverages


Feldman and Zhuang began a joint venture in freshman year, which has grown into a successful tea company. (Courtesy of Duncan Feldman/The Fordham Ram)

In 2020, Duncan Feldman, FCRH ’23, and Zheng Zhuang, GSB ’23, founded their own tea company. During their freshman year, roommates Feldman and Zhuang bonded over their passion for tea, and the pair’s love for tea became the foundation of the Mullein Tea Company.

“Our mantra is ‘the leaves tell the story.’ We want our tea to bring people together,” said Zhuang.

Feldman and Zhuang first had the idea for Mullein Tea Company during quarantine in spring 2020. 

“The beginning of the idea came from him [Feldman] wanting to build me a website. He brought up the idea of tea and something just clicked,” said Zhuang.

Once COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, Feldman and Zhuang met up in-person to begin designing prototypes. The goal was to create tea bags which would make the tea-making process easier and less messy. The final result was a cotton sachet designed to go over the cup and a vacuum-sealed package which would allow the loose-leaf tea to last longer. Dubbed “Mullein Tea Pods,” the pods hold full tea leaves, as opposed to ground tea. Each pod makes three to five cups of tea.

Mullein Tea Pods are portable and can easily fit into a bag or pocket unlike products like tea pyramids, which are sold in unprotected packaging. Additionally, loose leaf tea has more flavor than traditional tea bags. With Mullein Tea Pods, all you need to make a cup of tea is hot water and a cup.

“This combines all the processes to make loose leaf tea in one step; this is the first time you can drink loose leaf tea in one disposable step,” noted Feldman.

Once the prototype was finalized, Feldman and Zhuang sent the idea to companies so that professionals could model the prototype. 

However, COVID-19 presented unique challenges. When the pair were quarantined in different states, the distance between them made communication difficult. Additionally, because the company’s tea is sourced directly from the tea fields of China, Feldman and Zhuang had to stay in constant contact with their Chinese distributors throughout the process.

“Because of COVID, we couldn’t always contact them. Supply chains were messed up, we’d have to call them during crazy hours, etc.,” said Zhuang.

Despite the challenges which arose due to COVID-19, the entrepreneurs persevered. Mullein Tea Company is on Amazon and it offers a variety of tea flavors such as peachy oolong, jasmine java and berry berry tea. In the future, the company plans to donate a percentage of their profit to aid various causes such as Ethical Tea Partnership, an organization which works to better the lives and incomes of tea workers, farmers and their families.

Although both Feldman and Zhuang are graduating this spring, they plan to continue building their company post-graduation. The pair have recently hired five interns, all Fordham students. Additionally, they plan to eventually represent teas from Thailand and India as well as China and possibly open storefronts in the future.

“Being an entrepreneur is about creating. Ever since I was a little kid I liked building Legos, playing with clay, so this is like an adult version. You’re molding, you’re shaping and you’re having so much fun doing it,” said Zhuang.

Feldman and Zhuang’s different backgrounds and culture are what initially brought them together and they hope that their tea products will also bring people together.

“A part of our main mission is the fact that tea holds cultures behind it. We want to connect the world through those cultures and show what they can do when they’re brought together,” said Feldman.