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For more than 1,000 years, tea has been the most consumed beverage next to water. Rishi Tea has a commitment to both. As a winner of eleven First Place Awards for Best Tea at the 2009 World Tea Championship, they prove that their direct-from-the-source Fair Trade business model results in a superior product.
But their community commitment doesn't stop at the source. Since 2008, Rishi Tea has also partnered with Clean Water Fund donating more than $10,000 to their efforts of cleaning and restoring North America’s waters through the sales of their Organic Cinnamon Plum seasonal blend. We asked Rishi Tea founder Joshua Kaiser to tell us more about Fair Trade tea, clean water, and -- bonus -- a third beverage, his favorite organic soy milk, for blending the perfect chai.
Green America: What does your business do?
Joshua Kaiser: After drinking so many great teas during my post-college travels through Asia, I noticed that the numerous teas I encountered abroad were not available in North America. At the time, the majority of tea in the U.S. was low quality, non-organic tea packaged in non-biodegradable teabags. Because of the lack of quality tea available here, I began directly importing high quality loose leaf teas from various origins and hand blending unique tea blends in my home of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and so in 1997 Rishi Tea was born.
What makes your company green?
Tea farmers pluck leaves from the trees in the ancient tea forest in Yunnan, China.
Joshua: Rishi Tea is one of the few companies in the specialty tea industry that operates a model of direct trade, where we work with the tea producers directly and on an ongoing basis, as opposed to buying through other non-direct trade channels or making the occasional visit to a tea garden. This direct relationship, combined with the fact that we are one of the largest importers of organic loose leaf tea by volume and a major payer of Fair Trade premiums for tea, allows us to offer a unique combination of direct, organic, sustainable and socially conscious teas.
Our tea, herbs and teaware are produced in China, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India, Egypt, and South Africa. We partner with as well as have initiated our own Fair Trade Certified tea and herb producing projects. We initiated Fair Trade tea projects in Yunnan and Hubei, China which have both helped foster community development and environmental sustainability through the fair trade premiums generated from tea.
Our entire line of iced teas is packaged with paper manufactured with 100-percent renewable wind energy on 80-percent post-consumer waste (PCW) paper that is elemental chlorine free, acid free, 100-percent recyclable, and printed with soy ink. We’ve also been hard at work creating original 100-percent PCW paper packaging for our current retail tins.
What's the next green step that you're working on now?
A tea farmer sifts tea into a basket in Mannong Manmai.
Joshua: We are incredibly excited to have partnered with the Jane Goodall Institute and support her Roots & Shoots global youth program with our new Masala Chai Concentrate. Our chai is made with all 100-percent organic certified ingredients and a single origin black tea harvested from an ancient tea tree forest in Mannong Manmai, Yunnan, China. We partnered with the Mannong Manmai Ancient Tea Association in 2007 and helped them initiate Fair Trade Certification. They have since used the Fair Trade funds generated by the sale of their tea to develop clean water distribution, access to education, improved transportation, build temples, develop sewer systems and create a central community center. Our Chai Launch Party video with Dr. Jane Goodall has some great information about the Fair Trade tea and our work in Mannong Manmai.
Also, we just launched 12 really different and innovative organic loose leaf teas including 6 herbal wellness teas, 3 chai blends, 2 green teas and an oolong. You can learn more about our new teas here.
What have been some of your challenges in maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?
Joshua and Nishi-san in the green tea fields in Kagoshima, Japan.
Joshua: Organic certification for small tea farms can be difficult as it is often a large financial cost which gets passed on to the consumer. Additionally, organic harvesting is difficult for farms in smaller countries like Taiwan and Japan that do not have natural barriers to protect from wind drift. Pesticides from a farm may drift, polluting neighboring farms that are harvesting tea naturally, without chemicals. We are very thankful to work with Mr. Nishi-san, a cultivator of Organic Certified premium green tea in Kagoshima, Japan. We’ve learned a lot from working with such a dedicated and passionate individual who embraces the balance and harmony offered by nature and can use that knowledge to share with other tea harvesters.
What has been your proudest moment as a green business owner?
Joshua: We were approached by the Jane Goodall Institute last year which resulted in our Masala Chai Concentrate partnership. Partnering with JGI was an incredible honor and a very proud moment in Rishi Tea history. Dr. Goodall has worked for almost fifty years to protect animals, habitats and communities around the world. There is no individual more inspiring to work with than her.
What do you find most inspiring about the green economy today?
Joshua: In the last few years, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of tea businesses offering organic and Fair Trade loose-leaf teas. That’s an indication that greater demand exists for sustainably harvested tea that are of higher quality as well as deeper care and concern for the farmers, producers and communities harvesting and processing the tea. It’s wonderful to see that more people are making an effort and educating themselves on where and how products they purchase are made.
What green products (besides your own) could you not live without?
Joshua: Organic Valley’s Organic Unsweetened Soymilk (from a fellow Wisconsinite business!) is our soymilk of choice which we use when sampling our Jane Goodall partnered Masala Chai Concentrate. It adds the perfect amount of creaminess and body to our chai without the chalkiness or sweetness of most soymilks.