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.”
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.”
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.”
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.