Have you ever sipped on bissap?
We’re guessing not. After all, it’s not as if the West African tea is a staple on restaurant menus or supermarket shelves. Iced tea appears in abundance on both, offering sweetness or simplicity depending on preference. Yet in terms of flavor, kombucha or even mulled wine come closer to resembling bissap’s fruity, spicy profile. Even so, they’re not nearly the same thing.
So what exactly is bissap?
To start, it’s a type of tea with roots in Senegal and West Africa. Before you ask, no, it’s not your standard pinkies up, English Breakfast variety. Instead, bissap draws its flavor from the bright hibiscus flower, a bud known for its earthy, fruity flavor. When paired with West African spices and just enough sugar, it transforms into a drink that’s at once spicy and sweet, pucker-inducing and refreshing.
It’s the drink that defines Akua Nettey’s childhood. It’s also the one that’s powering her present and future. As the founder behind Berry Bissap, the Hudson Valley’s very own bissap brand, Nettey is here to bring the flavors of her family’s heritage to the region.
For the Dutchess County entrepreneur, her journey with Berry Bissap began back in Oklahoma, where she grew up in a Ghanian household. Both of her parents are from Ghana, so she has fond memories of the cultural traditions they brought with them and passed along to her. One of those traditions, making bissap, was something she learned from her mother.
“I instantly fell in love with the flavor!” she recalls. “It’s tart, spicy and sweet, and full of antioxidants. For years, I would ask myself, ‘Why is this refreshing tea not in stores?’”
Surprised by the lack of bissap in her local food scene, she began experimenting with a recipe of her own at home. Her goal was to tone down the spices without compromising their flavor and find a way to incorporate organic fruit for natural sweetness. It was during this time that she developed her original, mixed berry, and pineapple bissap blends.
In November 2017, Nettey relocated from Oklahoma, where she had been helping to manage her parents’ restaurant franchises, to the Hudson Valley. Her experience in the food industry taught her the ins and outs of entrepreneurialism, so she felt well-prepared to launch a venture of her own. One year after setting up her new home in the Hudson Valley, she joined the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory as a launching pad for Berry Bissap.
“I am so honored and blessed to be part of this amazing emerging food and beverage entrepreneurial community right here in Poughkeepsie,” she enthuses, adding that she’s received guidance, mentorship, and support through her Factory membership.
Now fully up and running in the Hudson Valley, Berry Bissap is a BPA-free, direct trade, gluten-free, non-GMO, organic, and vegan spiced tea brand. The teas are a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and fruity, making them just as ideal for replacing soda at lunch as for drinking all on their own.
“Bissap is so special!” Nettey enthuses. “It’s a little tart, a little sweet with a unique kick of spices, but never burns the mouth. It’s light, refreshing, and soothing!”
To craft it, Nettey prioritizes the details, paying close attention to quality ingredients and thoughtful preparation. She sources bissap’s trademark organic hibiscus and spices from northern Ghana, while she uses strawberries from Greig Farm in Red Hook for her Mixed Berry flavor. For her pineapple- and citrus-based drinks, she works with organic wholesalers. In total, she offers four types of bissap: Cinnamon Citrus, Mixed Berry, Original, and Pineapple.
In regard to preparation, Berry Bissap sticks with tradition.
“We slow steep our organic hibiscus and crush our indigenous spices with a traditional African mortar and pestle, and then we brew all of our ingredients and chill for bottling and packaging,” Nettey explains. From there, her bottles go straight to locations like Adams Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie and Wappinger, Taste NY Todd Hill in Lagrangeville, Nature’s Pantry in New Windsor, and Sunflower Natural Foods Market in Rhinebeck.
While Berry Bissap is available mainly in the Dutchess County area for now, Netty looks forward to expanding to more locations in the Hudson Valley and Westchester, with an online store to come. Who knows? It might only be a matter of time before you find yourself reaching for a bottle of bissap the next time you’re at the supermarket.