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When Raphael Ogunrinde was growing up in Nigeria, one vivid memory he has is collecting hibiscus flowers to make his favourite rich, vibrant drink with him mum; a drink that was always on tap whenever his family came to visit, or Christmas rolled around.
Fast forward several years and, when Raphael moved to England to study, he was perplexed to discover that most of his fellow students had never heard of such a thing, let alone tried this special concoction for themselves.
Given that he was studying food quality management in Manchester, creating his own business around food and drink almost seemed like the natural step for him.
Raphael says: “When I graduated, I knew I wanted to go into a business role, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. I’d always made my hibiscus drink at home in Manchester for my friends and they loved it.
“Then one New Year’s Eve, we were queuing at the bar for soft drinks when one of my mates mentioned that I should start selling my homemade floral mix to bars and it sparked the idea of turning my hobby into a real business.”
He then decided to take the bespoke hibiscus-based beverage to the NOW Food Centre at Chester University – along with some samples of course – and the team there liked what they heard, offering to help assist the development of the (then nameless) product. It was produced in Chester for two years before Raphael decided to make the move to Lancashire
Although Raphael lives in Manchester, after being introduced to the team from an established brewery in Burnley and learning more about the town, he decided that it was the ideal place for a small business to grow. And grow it has.
Already, a deal has been agreed with the USA, and Calyx are now the sole distributor and manufacture of SWTSTEVIA in the UK, part of a $2Bn group of companies from South America.
Raphael attributes a large part of this success to the support and mentoring he’s received from both the council and other people in the Burnley area.
Raphael says: “It’s all about being able to provide people with more options. Calyx is a natural, healthy drink with no additives, preservatives or other things that you’d find in most soft drinks. The drinks are also vegan and vegetarian friendly.
“It’s something that a lot of people have never had the chance to try before and hibiscus – which forms the very core of each Calyx drink – means different things to different people in different parts of the world.”
For example, it’s the national flower of both Haiti and Malaysia. In Hawaii, if a female wears a hibiscus on the left ear, it means they are married. If they wear it on the right, it means they’re single.
In China, handing a hibiscus flower to another person is to declare your undying love for that person (so be very careful when buying a bouquet!).
In Africa and South America, it’s used to welcome people in the streets and in Turkey, if you visit someone’s home and they offer you a red drink, it will probably be traditional hibiscus tea. Every day is a school day…
Whilst bringing a little cultural richness to Lancashire, the production team go through a meticulous process when creating new blends, experimenting to find the right spices and fruits to compliment the flower and mixing up flavours to create bold and new products. This process can take months of work, but the end result is something rather wonderful.
At present, the Calyx product range consists of three drinks – Wild (Apple, Hibiscus Flower and Ginger), Shine (Pineapple, Hibiscus Flower and Lemon) and Blush (Strawberry, Lavender Flower and Cinnamon). However, this really is just the beginning for Raphael and Co.
There is a Batch Brew x Calyx collaboration in the pipeline and, with these two innovative Burnley companies putting their heads together, I’m curious to discover what kind of creations will come from this project.
Calyx drinks are non-alcoholic, however, they can also be enjoyed as a mixer with your favourite spirit if you fancy a tipple or two – you’ll find plenty of ideas and inspiration for creative cocktails on their Facebook page, or on their website.
Raphael also teased about an upcoming flagship product that will feature Calyx’s Lancashire roots; quite literally in the form of the Lancashire Rose.
“When people in Dubai or America are enjoying our drinks, I want them to know they are made in Lancashire – I’ll always shout about that!”, says Raphael.
Lisa Valentine | Burnley.Social