An Update From Kenya – In Their Own Words

In one of our recent weekly phone chats with the JusTeam in Kenya, we mentioned how amazing it would be to have regular updates from the team there. We talked about the possibility of live Facebook video feeds, Twitter parties, blog posts, etc. Without skipping a beat, the team was on it. Soon after this chat, they arranged for some students in the business program from the local university to design a document outlining a short history of JusTea (we’re still young!). We were blown away with the professionalism and aesthetic of it. And knew we had to share it with you! Take a quick read, and enjoy! If you’d like to talk to any of the JusTeam in Kenya, tweet with the hashtag #JusTeaFarmers. We’ll make sure they get back to you!

More than just tea -1

More than just tea - 2

More than just tea - 3

More than just tea - 4

JusTea has joined the Fair Trade Federation Family

October was Fair Trade Month and we are excited to announce that JusTea has just become a member of Fair Trade Federation (FTF).   FTF is a community of organizations, committed to 9 cornerstone fair-trade principles: Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers, Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships, Build Capacity, Promote Fair Trade, Pay Promptly and Fairly, Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions, Ensure the Rights of Children, Cultivate Environmental Stewardship, and Respect Cultural Identity (http://www.fairtradefederation.org/fair-trade-federation-principles/). 

Fair Trade Federation

We are proud members of Fair Trade Federation and committed to the 9 cornerstone principles.

Isn’t it amazing how in just 5 years, small-scale Kenyan farmers and a passion for good, healthy tea, can create this story of JusTea?  It’s exciting to join the family of similar companies in the Fair Trade Federation. It’s been a long process – balancing the competing demands of the tea trade and the social economic needs of Kenya.  FTF has helped us approach these demands with a practical eye. They have asked us hard questions and pushed us to identify the areas where we need to improve our credible information on the source of each ingredient in the teas. 

Hard questions…slow changes. It is more convenient for JusTea to take the easy way.  The easy way is to use our leverage – more money, bigger markets – to think we are wiser.  To falsely assume that we can “push” the changes on to our Kenyan farmers.  But we are learning not to overlook the importance of community. That rich African tradition of communities lending a helping hand, to bring each other up, and to help each other stay up. 

Fair Trade Federation Chai Break

Chai break! At the Women’s Herbal tea co-op where we source our organic herbal teas from.

You and I are “wealthier than we think”, No, not in monetized values, but when we stand as tea drinkers with these small tea farmers.  We together have the courage to seek justice. To choose wisely in our tea purchases, and to pay tea farmers fair wages, and to watch as they work changes in their community.

Photo Blog from our Recent Kenya Trip

This past July, the JusTeam made our 7th trip to Kenya to visit our incredible farmers. We’ve grown tremendously over the past year and it was a great opportunity to connect with those who grow and handpick your tea leaves. They make it possible for us to provide quality teas and we’d like to share some photos that were captured during this trip.  See the entire album here.

Grayson Jacob Purple Tea Fields

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grayson and Mzee Jacob have been working together for years now and it is a relationship that will last a lifetime!  Jacob is holding a giant tea seed in this picture!

Tea Field Landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The spectacular Nandi Hills tea garden.  Every leaf is plucked by hand for your tea cup!

Jacob Purple Tea Fields

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacab Katah proudly showcases fresh, hand-plucked purple tea from Nandi Hills.  Purple tea is a cultivar of camellia sinensis assamica and was discovered in Kenya 25 years ago. The reason it is called Purple Tea is because the bushes actually flush purple leaves due to a natural genetic mutation (non-gmo) in the leaf pigmentation. Very cool!

Green and Purple Tea Field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful purple/green tea garden.  Kenya is situated directly on the equator so farmers never spray any chemicals on their tea leaves.  So it is always a heatlhy, clean cup of tea for you!

Children Purple Tea Fields

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hide-and-seek in the purple tea leaves.

Chamomile Harvest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our organically grown Kenyan Chamomile is blended with our herbal teas to create exquisite caffeine-free teas.

Purple Tea Leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only the top two leaves and a bud of the Purple tea bush are carefully hand-plucked.

JusTea Tumoi Partners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bain and Katah Family: Gregory, Jamilla, Grayson, Boaz, Paul, Jacob.  These are our key team leaders in Kenya.

Tea Pluckers in Nandi Hills, Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plucking tea leaves is hard work and usually begins early in the morning before the day gets too hot..

Paul and Wycliffe ReunitePaul Bain and Wycliffe always love reconnecting.  Wycliffe is the star of our JusTea video!

Why you Should Care About Stopping the Trade

After over 24 hours of exhausting travel from Vancouver to Seattle to Amsterdam and finally to Nairobi, we were relieved to arrive and rest at our hotel. Little did we know an historic ivory burn, a call to end the ivory trade worldwide, was taking place in Nairobi National Park. We’d already planned to visit the the National Park for a safari tour, so we were grateful to have the chance to also see and experience this event first hand.

A call for a worldwide ban on ivory trade
The “Worth More Alive” Movement
We witnessed a pivotal moment in the ivory trade history: 105 tons of elephant tusks and 1.35 tons of rhino tusk were burned to protest poaching of elephants. Africa’s elephants might face extinction by 2025, so African leaders collectively decided to do something they’ve done three times before: destroy almost the entire stock of ivory expropriated by Kenya, equivalent to the tusks of 6,700 elephants!, Kenya hopes that the burning of ivory tusks will show their commitment to ending the illegal business and convince buyers that ivory is worth more on the elephant than it is as a jewelry.

Some conservationists argue against this action. They believe destroying such a significant amount of the outlawed commodity will instead increase its value and demand. Wildlife officials from places like Zimbabwe and South Africa disagree as well, where elephants are more effectively protected and profits go back into conversation. These officials describe the tusk burning, which takes at least a week to finish, as a publicity stunt with insufficient proof that it results in lower demand.

Burned elephant tusks
The Race to Save the Rhinos
The rhino population is in even more jeopardy than elephants. Once abundant, there are now fewer than 30,000 rhinos in Africa, compared to 500,000 in the early twentieth century. Many sanctuaries have been built and heavy protection has been implemented around the last three remaining Northern White Rhinos in Kenya. Although these persistent efforts have had some positive effect, the growing demand from Asian countries have been driving up rhino horn prices. Kenyan poachers can sell a single rhino’s horns of a single rhino for approximately $50,000.

Elephant tusks burning to call for a ban on the ivory trade
The Next Steps
Several different solutions must combat poaching and the glorified ivory culture: environmental education, community conservation programs, and strict anti-poaching measures. Although there are many sides to the argument, we do know is that the continuing existence and protection of these precious animals is incredibly important for future generations. Our treatment of animals reflects our societal values.

Although there’s no single perfect answer, any solution must start with awareness. We implore you to join the conversation: use the hashtags #WorthMoreAlive and #StoptheTrade. Help shine a light on these critical issues.

Our New Handcrafted Teas & Self-Reflection

Fresh teas have just arrived from Kenya! The Katah family shipped us some new handcrafted teas: Monsoon Black and Spiral Green! The Katah’s are very excited to be sharing these delicious teas with you as these are the only Kenyan teas in the world that are farmer-direct and handcrafted, woohoo!!

It has been a long journey to create these teas. L. McKeown writes that Great work is often built on the mundane. Great cathedrals start with bricks, great paintings begin with paint, and great novels start with words. He might have added that making world-class Kenyan chai begins with a cup of tea!

Over the past 3 years we have also learned about relational business from Jacob Katah. He’s our wise mzee with a 30 year tea history and one of the most senior Kenyans in the tea industry.

During this period to get to where we are, we have:

  • Made 5 trips from Vancouver to Kenya
  • Funded 2 trips for Buddha (our tea expert from Darjeeling) to train our farmers in handcrafting teas
  • Exhibited at the World Tea Expo in California and invited Jacob (our key farming partner) to attend with us
  • Received a Cottage-Industry Tea Processing licence from the Tea Board of Kenya (only one of 2 licenses offered nationwide!)

Boaz Handcrafted TeaSimilarly, Jacob’s son, Boaz, is persistent at developing these new handcrafted teas for JusTea. He’s driven mainly by the need for quality teas, and the kindness in him to help his neighbours. Their Nandi Hills tea processing kitchen is built on using unemployed youth as pluckers and as factory workers.

With YOUR ongoing JusTea support, we have opened the first farmer-direct tea processing facility in Kenya! Tea drinkers like you can now buy directly from small-scale farmers, so they can earn more from their crop and you can know exactly how your tea was made.

Asante Sana, Thank-you!

Wasted Rain

Rich soil washed down the headwaters of the Nile all the way to Egypt

Our friend Davison looks down from his tea bushes to the stream gorge below, and sighs,“Egypt should send us a big THANK YOU card because of how much us farmers love to send out our soil to them at no cost.” Davison explains that the soil from his steep-sloped farm is slowly washing from between the tea bushes, into the stream at the bottom of the gully. We are in the watershed of the Mighty Nile, and so this stream will eventually dump into the Nile itself, and all the sediment the stream carries will enrich the farms in Egypt along the Nile.”

Davison Tea Farm Kenya

When it rains in Kenya, it is a torrential downpour that immediately causes huge run-off.  Tea bushes are damaged as the fast moving streams course around the plants’ roots. The streams of water strip the dirt off the tea bush roots and expose the fine tendrils to the hot and dry sun. It slowly debilitates, even kills the tea bush.

But Davison is aware of this. In spite of the poverty of this region, he and his neighbours are working at solutions. Erosion is halted in part by the planting rows of tall tough grass called napier grass. This grass is chopped up with a machete and used to feed goats and cows.  Sometimes corn, used to make wonderful “ugali” is planted in terraced rows alongside of napier grass to create strong root network which stops the dirt from being carried away by the rains.

JusTea is working with Boaz Katah, a Kenyan with an undergrad commerce degree from the US. We are proud to have him as our Kenyan partner. He wants to come alongside these farmers to improve soil conditions for growing tea. He is looking to you to help in research into methods of organic tea farming, consistent with the economics of 1-acre smallholder farms. If you want to make a donation to the work in Kenya, please don’t! Boaz does not want your money as a donation. He wants investment in jobs, so please buy JusTea!

 

Goat Tea Field Kenya

Davison states “it is beautiful to see the rain, but in a week, my rain barrel will be empty again.  It is just not big enough for all our needs, and the animals.  Mama Grace will again have to walk all the way down to the stream at the bottom of the valley to collect our water.” Davison needs water for his family of 6, for the 3 cows and 8 goats, for washing and cooking.  In the dry season, Mama climbs this tiny steep path sometimes three times in a day to bring up the water.

He is trying to save money by selling goats milk, and recently weaned a goat from mother’s milk and sold it. It’s all to buy rain gutters and a second barrel so that he can collect the rain water from the other side of the homestead roof.

For us at JusTea, it is not that we want to give hand-outs to families like Davison. Instead with your purchase of tea, we can partner together with Davison to increase his tea income and allow him to invest in the barrel for rain.

 

 

Do you know where your tea is from?

Tea is isolated from most drinkers, grown near the tropics in highland farms, but JusTea wants you to be connected to the farmer, the place of production and the way it arrives in your kitchen.

 

When we walk down the steep path off the dirt road, chickens scatter and dogs bark ferociously. We are greeted by our friend’s aunt, plus 2, no make that 3 little ones scampering around the steep trail.  We are up in the foothills of Mt Kenya, with new friends that we met in Nairobi.  They wanted to bring us up into the back country – through winding roads swerving around the axle-breaking potholes, through jade hued tea bushes, to meet their relatives. It’s a sun dried 3-room mud hut, and as I duck to enter the dark windowless room, my eyes adjust to see the sofas, colorfully decorated with lace and red cloth, the walls arranged with over 30 family photos, many pastoral prints of pictures, including an English windmill on a river.

 

Then in the corner, there’s Grandma, slowly attempting to rise and greet us. She speaks only the tribal language, so we give a quick greeting and settle into the wonderful Kenyan hospitality – a thermos of Kenyan tea and Kigieri – roasted nuts and corn. Grandma stares cautiously at the three white faces across from her, through her daughter she tells us that we are the first Mzungus – whites – that she has seen since the British Colonizers left in the 1960’s. She says she holds no resentment to us for what the British did to her tribe. We don’t ask, but can only imagine the stories behind the sun-creased face. We thank her again for inviting us to share her home with us.

Tea Field in Nandi Hills, Kenya

The Nandi Hills. A perfect climate for growing tea.

Do you know where your tea is from?  

This Grandma needs more than a hand-out, she needs a future for these little kids, a farm that earns enough to support the family. Maybe if she was part of a tea processing co-op that was able to sell their tea directly to the export market, she could afford enough to buy uniforms, and send these children back to school.  JusTea is working to create these partnership opportunities for Kenyan tea farming families.  We want to connect you to where your tea is from and the farmer that made it all possible.  We encourage you to move from being unaware to informed, from passive to active!

Locals of Nakuru are creating social change by using WhatsApp

“No matter how many written petitions you sent to the county officials they would often end up in garbage bins or ignored somewhere in a shelf. Yet these were pertinent issues. By coming up with a WhatsApp group, the leaders felt challenged to answer the questions raised and it has lead to an informed discussion by all the parties involved. Journalists finally picked up the issues and highlighted them,”
– Elijah Kinyanjui, Journalist

Locals of the Nakuru County, located in Western Kenya, are finding innovative ways to make their voices heard to their government representatives. By using WhatsApp, an online messaging app, they have a new platform to address community issues that have long been unanswered by their local government.

Elijah Kinyanjui is one of the founding members of the Nakuru Analyst. This group, like many other groups in the area, is driven by the need for social justice and a representation of the people’s voice in the community. One of their biggest accomplishments of the year was preventing private developers from overtaking land that already belonged to a children’s school.

Similarly, another proactive group, ‘In The Streets of Nakuru’, is tackling local environmental issues through their #ISupportBanPlastic campaign. The campaign’s goal is to forbid plastic bags from being distributed in supermarkets and eliminate plastics of below 100 microns.

Despite being in its early stages, these movement’s outreaches are quickly expanding to beyond just a place for addressing and collaborating on social issues. They have built a strong community of people from diverse backgrounds- journalists, medical professionals, and political speakers are just a few of those who are regularly sharing information on the county’s events. There is so much in store for these platforms as they continue to shine light on the issues that matter most to the people of Nakuru.

Source: http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2016/01/26/whatsapp-groups-transform-citizen-participation-in-nakuru-county_c1270010?

Buddha, Tea, and African Thunderstorms (Part 2)

During our time in Nandi, we often ate our meals together with the Katah family and Buddha, our tea expert from Darjeeling. The conversation most often consisted of stories from the well-travelled life of Buddha, or as he is known in some circles, “Uncle Tiger”, because he used to drive an old Peugeot with the Lion emblem. We heard stories of political turmoil in Bangladesh, making wine and cheese with Roman Catholic missionaries and the apparently common occurrence of accidentally cornering a leopard in a tea field?!

 

In Nandi, Paul and I would go for runs in the morning before it got too hot. On our runs, we encountered lots of people on the road and they usually looked at us “muzungus”, or white people, as if we were from another planet. I wonder if they felt embarrassed for us, as we jogged along the dirt trails crisscrossing the tea fields. There was often the added impetus to run a little faster due to a gang of 15 or 20 children running after us giggling and pointing. Many of Kenya’s competitive long distance runners actually come from Nandi Hills so we were confused about why our running was such a novelty. But I suppose we mzungus must look pretty silly, with our pasty arms and legs and our sweaty red faces.

 

Over the last few weeks, we’ve also been trying to sort out a new packaging for the tea you buy, a project to add more value to the tea, right here in Kenya. So there have been many phone calls to box manufacturers in Nairobi trying to explain exactly what we want. We spent many hours, even days, assembling prototypes and taking them apart and starting over again.

 

By the end of our time at the Katah tea garden, we successfully developed four different recipes for handcrafted Oolong, Green, Black and even the rare Purple Tea! Unfortunately, since returning from our trip, Boaz and his team have faced challenges with multiple equipment failures. We are investing in more reliable equipment so that we can share these new teas with you, hopefully before Christmas! For the time being, we do have a small batch of handcrafted Black tea that Boaz crafted for us with his team. Available only while supplies last, have a taste of our tea journey here: http://justea.com/product/handcrafted-kenyan-black-tea/

 

Buddha, Tea, and African Thunderstorms

Paul and I arrived in Nandi Hills with Boaz on the weekend at the end of March. His Toyota pickup was slowly churning up the dirt tracks, billows of dust coating the edges of the tea bushes.  Everyone was anticipating the rain, eagerly watching the towering afternoon clouds only to see them dissolve into a clear evening sky. It hadn’t rained in Nandi for four months (an unusually long drought) and this causes small tea farmers to struggle financially. The dry season drastically slows the leaf growth, therefore very little tea is plucked. When the rains fall, the tea bushes flourish and offer fresh leaves to pluck each week.

After the long trip from Nairobi to Nandi, we were greeted by Jacob and Ruth Katah (Boaz’s parents) who are some of the sweetest people we’ve ever met. They graciously put us up at their house. The house is on their tea farm where we currently get most of our green leaf tea. Jacob and Ruth also grow papayas, guavas, avocados, cabbage, carrots, pumpkins and kale. There are also a lot
of vegetables we don’t recognize, mostly bitter greens that are pretty intense for the western palate.

Buddha, our tea processing expert from Darjeeling, was supposed to arrive by plane at the beginning of April. We drove out to the hills of Nandi to collect him at the Kisumu airport, one and a half hours away. We were delighted to get out of the rural hills of Kenya, so we left to do a few errands while we waited for his arrival.There is pretty much nothing within a 40-minute drive of the Katah tea farm. Later that evening, we showed up at the airport along with a sky full of ominous, rumbling clouds pierced with lightning. It rained a little, then seemed to be clearing up. But just when we thought it had passed, the sky opened up a deluge of water on us! Paul and I have both experienced our share of monsoons but this was totally apocalyptic! We were standing outside under an awning trying to capture it on video when all the electrical power went out in the airport. As the emergency generator kicked in, we knew this would not look good for Buddha’s plane to arrive. After a few more power outages, we eventually learned all flight arrivals had been turned away.

Good news though…Buddha brought the rain! We picked him up the next day, with rain still streaming down. Along with Buddha, we were joined by Emily, a graduate student working with the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya to learn about our project. Boaz had also hired a small crew of farmers made up of young men and women to help us make handcrafted tea. We began our experiments of trying to turn freshly plucked tea leaves into the dried tea leaves you steep in your cup. Right away we were delayed by equipment needing upgrades, as well as a few more blackouts. Power outages continue to be a challenge for Boaz and his team, but with a few innovations they figure out ways to work though them. Three days later, we had our first success in a bright and lively green tea! Yum!  When we first started making tea in 2013, we weren’t even sure green tea would be possible. There were many experiments that resulted in good teas and not-so-good teas. Each night ended with a cupping (tasting) of the day’s output and tales of adventure from two wise old men, or “mzees”, one from Kenya and one from India.