Qterra NOVO: A portable tea experience

I can’t speak for all tea lovers and enthusiasts out there, but I’m pretty sure it’s a universal truth that people associate brewing their favorite tea with moments of peace, relaxation, and presence. Having moments like these are important for our wellness, so what if we could capture these moments and release them during our commute, on a walk, a bus ride, a subway, in class, or at work?

Pierre Baston has proven that we can take these moments with us when we leave home. He is the inventor of the Qterra NOVO, a multi-steep travel tea brewer. Unlike a tea bag in a thermos, the NOVO brews tea leaves multiple times, releasing full flavor with each sip. Simply place your favorite tea in the bottom of the NOVO and fill the top with the appropriate temperature of water needed for the tea and you’re ready to go. This portable tea experience is spill proof and you won’t have to wait to drink your tea with Qterra’s CoolStraw technology, which cools the tea to 140°F when you’re ready to sip.

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Photo courtesy of Pierre Baston.

 

Pierre’s Kickstarter team includes Andrew Serbinski, an industrial designer, Tom Krol, an electrical designer/assembly manager, and Alexis Siemons, a tea consultant. This group of talented, creative individuals hope to gain funding by January 2015 to begin production later in the year. (I’m already thinking about a moroccan mint blend to brew)

An avid traveler, Pierre visited places like Argentina and China, where he fell in love with the practice of brewing tea.

“I’ve tossed a tea bag in a cup of hot water before, but I learned the appreciation of really taking your time and going through a ritual in order to arrive not only at great flavor, but also kind of meditative tranquil peace.”

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Photo courtesy of Pierre Baston.

 

Because of his love of Argentine mate and fascination with China’s gongfu tea ceremony, he wanted to find a simpler way for people to not only take quality tea on the go, but also that feeling of tranquility that comes with steeping loose leaf tea.

“Instead of trying to rush through certain parts of our lives in order to get to other moments that we value, I believe that we’d be happier if we could enjoy each moment no matter what we are doing.” Pierre said, “I know for tea lovers, if we could inject more moments in the day, we could stop and have a flavor that really brings a smile to our faces.”

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Photo courtesy of Pierre Baston.

 

Pierre believes that times like commuting to work, or “dead time”–time that we usually just try to get through or deal with–can be transformed with the NOVO, bringing us into that moment to, as he says, “brew and taste and respond emotionally to our favorite teas.”

Traveling and witnessing people struggle with thermoses  of mate and tea fueled his passion to create the NOVO and gather a team to set it into motion. He told me, “I don’t want people who want to take tea with them during the course of the day to have to settle for a tea bag in a travel mug and just accept that. [I want them to] actually have their favorite kind of tea, their favorite blend, their own blend that they put together, and I want them to be able to brew that tea multiple times and enjoy how the flavor changes from one steeping to the next. I want them to have the finest tea tasting experience that is possible to have outside of their home and I want to bring that quality to everyone’s life so that there will be one more bright spot in the day rather than just an okay moment that they tolerated.”

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Photo courtesy of Pierre Baston.

 

For more information and to support the Qterra NOVO Travel Tea Brewer with CoolStraw technology, please visit their Kickstarter page.

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.