Journey to the Source of Andean Tea in Colombia
Journey to the Source of Andean Tea in Colombia – In February I left Missoula bound for eastern Colombia to visit the home of our South American tea varieties with my parter, Ben. On the road for about a week, we’d seen just two signs of tea: my sister’s house en route to Bogotá (I reminded her our Mammoth Matcha needs refrigeration), and at a supermarket in Cali, Colombia (nearly all are herbal save for one “Chinese Green”). (But do not fear fellow tea enthusiasts, I packed my favorite Kenyan black and to-go steeper from Lake Missoula Tea 😉
Still, our immersion into tea country couldn’t have come soon enough. At 7am our taxi dropped us at the farm’s Administrative Offices in one of those nondescript commercial complexes at the outskirts of town. We wondered if in our limited Spanish we had mistakenly told our driver to drop us in a random back alley. But relief washed over us as a glowing sign of tea leaves appeared.
Employees trickled into the lobby. Obviously surprised by the waiting gringos, they still greeted us with a warm smile and ‘Hola’ or ‘Buenas.’ The woman who mopped around our feet and backpacks even brought us tea with milk! Soon Santiago, our friend, guide, and the International Sales Representative at the farm arrived and we piled into his car. We climbed higher and higher for an hour – no surprise as tea requires high elevation – and Santiago translated between us and his colleague, Maria, all the way. His patience became invaluable to us during our stay as no one else at the farm spoke English.
When we finally reached the property we met Paulo, the manager of the farm. While the health of about 130 acres rests on his shoulders, he found time to guide us and playfully warn us about the snakes we were sure to find on the farm. After several hours of touring the plantation, we chowed on a family-style lunch of tamales with the staff and even the CEO who inquired about our business and the city of Missoula. We shared that we use their Andean Summit Colombian Black as the base for our House Chai, which is sold at different venues throughout Missoula and Montana. Both Santiago and the CEO smiled and nodded with satisfaction.
At the end of our first day, we were ushered to a beautiful guest house on the property where we watched futbol with Sanitago. All of our meals there were prepared by a local woman who fended off our best attempts to help with the dishes. Given a gracious and sincere reception at the farm, no one worked to impress us or put on a show. The staff simply welcomed us into their daily activities and seemed to want us there as much as we wanted to be there.
I will never drink our Colombian teas without thinking about the people we met, from the woman mopping in the lobby to the CEO who shared his table. Now I know that tea is more than a leaf or a drink. For me it has become a symbol of the culture, community, and relationships with individuals at the farms we visit.
written by Christina Bovinette
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