Pureblend: Pure. Tea. Period.

As promised, I spoke with another tea company that sells only Fair Trade and organic teas, except this time I hit closer to home.

I spent some time on the West Chester Grower’s Market website and scrolled by the name Pureblend, a local tea vendor located in Downingtown, PA (20 minutes from my hometown). About two weeks and a few emails later, I was set to interview the winner of Main Line Today’s Critic’s Choice for Tea.

Kari Dandrea, the creator, owner, and tea blender genius took some time to sit with me and talk tea, fair trade, herbs, and remedies at the Downingtown Kimberton Whole Foods café.

“I grew up in a household that was really geared toward holistic and natural remedies; my mom had all kinds of herbs and spices. At the time I wanted soda and cereal like my friends, but now that I am older and have my own child, I am very glad to have had that type of upbringing,” Kari reflected, “So when my daughter was about five, I started noticing she when would say she has a stomach ache, or a headache. I didn’t want to give her over-the-counter medication, so instead I started to buy herbs and spices and make teas out of them; so we had a belly tea and a headache tea and so on.”

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Kari at the West Chester Grower’s Market.

She took a moment to collect her thoughts between my questions and opened a bottle of Kombucha, a fermented tea shown to help with digestive needs over a prolonged period of time—talk about a tea/herbal remedy; she swears by its enzymes and probiotics.

I continued to ask her about how “Pureblend” came to be. She said that after creating about eight blends for her family and friends, they encouraged her to take her teas to a farmers market. She applied to the West Chester Grower’s Market in 2009, figured out her branding, and from there Pureblend snowballed into a full-fledged business.

“I chose the name Pureblend because I wanted to keep it a company that only used fair trade ingredients and organic ingredients: pure product, nothing artificial, no refined sugar, no gluten, just something that people could rely on and trust that it was whole and real.”

Kari said that life changes dramatically when you own your own business; she became her own boss and the face of her company. Her personal values became intertwined with her values as a businesswoman. She has experience teaching elementary school, being a yoga instructor, and sales. Other than that, Kari claims to have been “winging it” as a business owner for the last few years.

After another sip of fermented tea, she added, “I represent the company, I’m the face of it, so who I am and how I handle things, my value and moral system, is very much [a] reflection of the type of company that I want people to feel that I am running. It is definitely a spiritual journey to operate something that you also are creating an income for yourself and a livelihood for.”

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Alice in Wonderland: one of the most popular and complex blends (white peony tea, lemon balm, peppermint, lavender, orange peel, lemon peel, strawberries, and blueberries).

 

The process from a blend to a finished product is time-consuming (naming, labeling, designing), but it’s the creative process that is the biggest reward for Kari, a so-called “life force” that drives her to continue.

“I have 25 blends right now and they all started out as an idea. I would go back to the shop and just start playing. I pretty much use black, green, and rooibos (never decaffeinated tea); we only use full tea or herbal and then I’ll add, slowly but surely, bits and pieces of things that I think go nicely with it until I feel like the flavor is complete.” Thus, a new blend is born.

Kari elaborated on her Alice in Wonderland blend, a tea that is exceedingly popular with her customers. This light, crisp, and flavorful tea is full of antioxidants.

“It was probably the tenth blend I ever put together and it is a very complex blend. It has the most ingredients of any of my teas, the most expensive to blend, and people like the name.”

At the end of the day, what makes Kari passionate about Pureblend is that it has a purpose and a positive goal.

“I’d like to offer people an alternative to over the counter drugs—I’m not saying Western medicine is not fantastic, but just little things, like blood pressure, weight loss, anxiety, digestive issues— through a sustainable and organic tea that is produced through fair trade ingredients that’s, in turn, helping to sustain an economy where tea is the vital income.”

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Kari invited me to her shop to take some photographs of her blends. These are a few more favorites.

 

Kari is at the West Chester Grower’s Market year round on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month. Check her website for more details on other markets and locations where Pureblend is sold.

“Call us green, sustainable, crunchy, organic—we’re all of it!”

Fair trade:

Noun

Trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries (Thank you, Google).

I’ve focused on some unique teahouses inside and outside of the Philly area over the last year. Each of them has their own mission to, in some way or another, improve the lives of their customers through tea and its benefits (both physical and psychological). This post and the next few following will showcase companies that sell Fair Trade, USDA organic tea.
In 2004, the husband and wife team of Aubrey and Jeremy Lopatin created Arbor Teas in Ann Arbor Michigan. With a shared love of food and sustainable living, their dream of a family business was possible. I had the opportunity to ask them a few questions  about their company, their tea, and why they sell fair trade. Here’s what they had to say:

 

What is Arbor Tea’s mission?

Our daily mission is to find the world’s most fantastic USDA certified organic teas and deliver them to our customers as sustainably as possible. We believe in a world where successful businesses engage responsibly with local and global communities. Likewise, we make it easier for our customers to play a hand in looking after our planet!

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Left to right: Assam Tonganagoan Estate, an organic black tea (a good morning/afternoon tea blend)/ Wild Tree Mini Tuo Cha, an organic pu-erh tea that is very strong but good if you’re a coffee drinker transitioning to tea.

Why sell Fair Trade? Is it a personal value? A business value? Both? Neither?

We feel that we have both a personal and commercial responsibility to support higher standards of living and more sustainable futures for the millions of growers and workers worldwide who have dedicated themselves to the production of tea. We have their knowledge, skill, and artistry to thank for this exquisite product. Much of our efforts celebrate the Fair Trade communities where many of our teas originate. The best tea gardens and cooperatives understand that high-quality specialty teas depend on the people and the environment that produce them. Fair Trade certification verifies and acknowledges the commitment of these producers to meeting internationally recognized Fair Trade standards where fair, quality working conditions create quality farmers who harvest quality tea!

What are some of the most popular Fair Trade blends?

One of our most popular Fair Trade Certified teas is our Organic Jasmine Green Tea from the Da Zhang Shan Tea Garden in China. The wonderful jasmine fragrance of the tea does not come from flavoring nor from bits of jasmine blended into the tea leaves—the aroma is actually acquired from jasmine flowers picked after dark (when the blossoms are fully bloomed). The flowers are layered upon the tea to impart their fragrance. By morning, the jasmine fragrance has transferred to the tea and the blossoms are then discarded. This process is carried out on multiple successive evenings to impart the superior flavor and aroma.

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Left to right: Jasmine (organic green tea), a delicious green tea light on its feet but full of flavor/ Ceylon Greenfield Estate, an organic light-bodied black tea perfect with a touch of milk anytime of day.

Can you share more information about the farmers of Da Zhang?

Situated in the Wuyuan Mountains of China in the Jiangxi region, the Da Zhang Shan Tea Garden maintains the region’s 1,200-year reputation as the “golden triangle” of exceptional tea production. The farmers of Da Zhang Shan are traditional tea cultivators and have never used chemical fertilizers or pesticides on their property, which made it easy to achieve organic certification in 1997.

In 2001, the Da Zhang Shan Organic Tea Farmer Association became the first producer organization in China to gain Fair Trade certification. The group has more than 5,400 member households; moreover, the proportion of women members has increased dramatically since its inception. Today, women make up almost 35 percent of the membership. The association extends membership not only to farmers but also to the technicians and tea processors who handle the teas and prepare them for sale to buyers. Da Zhang Shan farmers earn 15 to 20 percent more from tea sales than other families in the area.

What image does Arbor Teas wish to portray to its customers and how does it want to be perceived by its community, both locally and nationally?

Call us green, sustainable, crunchy, organic—we’re all of it! Arbor Teas is a company rooted in sustainable business practices and fantastic tea. While we often find that our commitment to better tea and greener business practices speaks for itself, we also want our customers to know that there are actual, live people on the other end of this business. Even though the Internet limits our face-to-face interaction, we try to create a personal connection with our customers by hand writing individual notes (making us feel like we have pen pals all across America) and by trying to deliver the best (and warmest) customer service.

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Left to right: Kenya Silver Needle, an organic white tea (one of my personal favorites) is slightly sweet but clean and thirst quenching/ Thai iced tea, good for the beginning of fall, especially when it’s not cold enough for a sweater.

 

 

*Aubrey and Jeremy were kind enough to send me some samples of their best selling Fair Trade/Organic teas to sample and photograph.

More than loose tea

Okay, I know I was so against using tea bags when I started this blog, but I have come to realize my “budget cannot survive on loose tea alone.” And I’m pretty sure some people can relate!

It is cost effective to reuse loose tea leaves, trust me, I do that all week long. But, what about convenience? I live a fast-paced life and sometimes cleaning out my infuser takes up time if I’m running late to class, have a lot of dishes to do, or it’s late and I just want an easy clean up. Or, maybe I’m just lazy and a newbie to loose tea.

Anyway, the point here is to give tea bags a chance and to include people who do not have access to a tea gallery or if ordering loose tea online is not appealing.

Sometimes using a tea bag sounds so easy, so convenient and portable! But, that is a lot of “throwing away,” so keep in mind that tea bags can be environmentally friendly. When I buy tea bags not only do I try to make sure the brand uses organic and fair trade tea but also biodegradable packages and tea bags.

This weekend I went to the Whole Foods Market near me to go tea shopping, in light of my re-acceptance of tea bags.

I bought four different brands, two I think are well known and the other two I’ve never seen before. I think that’s a pretty fair balance, don’t you?

Four tea bag brands

Mighty Leaf Tea

These tea bags aren’t really tea bags at all. They’re little mesh pouches with loose tea! I’ve bought this brand before and loved the variety pack. This is a pretty good step for tea drinkers that are curious about loose tea. Mighty Leaf Tea has many organic teas available and has a compostable tea pouch.

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Numi Tea

I’ve had Numi’s Jasmine Green Tea before but I wanted to try something different this time. The Golden Chai is perfect for fall! I think it should go right up there with the pumpkin spice latte. While I did not add milk for that creamy chai taste, it will be happening next time. Numi is USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, and has Eco Responsible Packaging.

Numi

Teatulia

This is a new brand to me, but I thought the packaging was different so I decided to give it a try. The package was right, the black tea does have a unexpected sweet finish. This brand is USDA Organic and is a Certified B Corporation, which means they aim to help solve social and environmental problems.

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Guayaki

This brand, also new to me, is all about the environment! This green tea was just as good as some of the loose green tea I own. They are Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic, don’t have GMO’s, are Kosher, and a certified B corporation.

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