Courtesy of Erin Hu

Dante Motley ’24 and Alyssa Michel ’24 are stirring up excitement as they officially launch “Ms. Darling’s Sorrel” — a Jamaican-style hibiscus drink business steeped in cultural heritage and family history. 

The name of the business, Michel told the News, combines Michel’s grandmother’s nickname, “Ms. Darling,” with sorrel, a traditional Jamaican drink made from the sepals of a hibiscus species called roselle.

Michel previously was a podcast editor at the News, and Motley serves as the News’ public editor and is a former managing editor. The origins of the business lie in the News’ building, as Michel shared the drink with Motley one night. At first sip, Motley was “really impressed,” he said.

After this initial tasting, Motley said he suggested that Michel sell the drink. Michel initially laughed off the idea, but after Motley sent Michel a marketing plan document, Michel, who received encouragement from her family, decided to start the business. 

“The catalyst was really when Dante sent me that document,” Michel told the News. “I showed my parents and said, ‘This man is insane.’ I told my father, and he said, ‘What’s the most you can lose?’ I guess money and time, but I love a project!”

Michel and Motley met throughout the summer while Michel worked to perfect the sorrel recipe, according to Motley.  

Michel’s passion for making sorrel stems from watching her grandmother brew the beverage during her childhood. Michel said that her grandmother has always been a huge source of creative inspiration for her and is someone she goes to whenever she thinks about her Jamaican culture and the significance of holding multiple identities. 

Michel said she felt joyful and validated when her grandmother first praised her sorrel.

“During the summer, when my grandmother was visiting from Jamaica, she would pass by and smile — she would tell me it’s so dark and pretty,” Michel said. “That was the biggest test. For such a long time, I was afraid to reveal her name was connected to it.”

Motley told the News that he also has a passion for food and spent his summer doing social media work for a chef. 

Both Motley and Michel see the business as a “passion project.”

“We believe in it, and we know it’s good,” Motley said. “Entrepreneurship-wise and as a product itself, it’s really good.”

Michel and Motley said their entrepreneurial journey has recently focused on bringing Ms. Darling’s Sorrel to market. Over the summer, Michel sold 300 bottles at her family’s home-improvement store.

This semester at Yale, they began selling their drink in several residential college butteries. Both co-founders told the News that their connections with Yale and its student life have served as major sources of support and encouragement.

In addition to butteries, the Yale College Dean’s Office and the Yale College Democrats have both purchased bottles of the drink, according to Motley. 

Mustafa Zewar ’25, the buttery manager for Saybrook College, said that he is very excited about the drink’s arrival in Yale butteries, especially given the story behind Motley and Michel’s business.

“I think the taste speaks for itself by how quickly it has moved around campus, it’s obviously great,” Zewar said. “Besides that, it’s wonderful to have a drink that’s local, made by students with their own vision and cultural identity, especially at butteries that are filled with otherwise mass-produced and low-quality products.”

Motley and Michel also said that they hope to expand to local Jamaican businesses in New Haven. 

Michel and Motley started the semester with over 550 bottles; but after just two weeks of presale, they have sold almost all of their stock. 

“People love it,” Motley said. 

Michel told the News that the product differs from many unhealthier soft drink options offered in stores. 

Ms. Darling’s Sorrel is made with only four ingredients: water, hibiscus, organic ginger and sugar. Motley said that they worked to perfect the balance of these ingredients to remain authentic while also allowing a wide range of people to enjoy the drink. 

“We want to be authentic toward the drink and what it is, but at the same time palates differ between cultures, and we’re very much trying to balance that through product testing,” Motley said. “In Jamaica, it’s usually sweeter, but we’ve had really good feedback from native and non-native drinkers who say the reduction in sweetness allows them to enjoy it even more.”

While the business continues to grow, Michel told the News that she and Motley are not losing sight of the values that make Ms. Darling’s Sorrel so meaningful to them. 

When creating Ms. Darling’s Sorrel, Michel and Motley said they wanted everything — from their branding to the ingredients — to represent their honesty and devotion to the business. 

For Michel, the creation of the drink also signifies the role that food can play in preserving culture. 

“One way we can track lineage and genealogy is through food, and even though languages or religions may die, one thing people can usually agree on is food,” Michel said. “And so, in my family, food has always meant a lot in preserving culture.”

Motley is a first-year counselor in Grace Hopper College, as is Michel in Branford College.

Landon Bishop covers Accessibility at Yale. He is a freshman in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics.