When the mosquitos were bad Paulo pulled blades of citronella and gave us some to smear on our skin. He told us the citronella also protected the tea plants from insects. As the manager of the fully organic farm, Paulo is proficient in the ways different species work together for mutual benefit. Pesticides aren’t used on the tea farm so Paulo and his team rely on plants like citronella and the abundant bird population to protect the tea plants from insects.
The farm itself is tucked inside a nature reserve where tree removal is forbidden. To expand the treeline, Paulo and his team nurture young ones until they are strong enough to be planted in the farm or made available to the public.
As we walked through rows of saplings in the nursery, I thought about the three tenets of the farm’s mission: sustainable farming, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. I wondered how many companies that claim these values actually fulfill them?
The plantation is so healthy more species of animals live on it than in the surrounding forest. The company’s efforts to restore the neighboring river, the water source for the farm and the locals, have been recognized by a German organization that is investing in its continued decontamination. The tea farm has in fact had a positive impact on the local ecosystem and environment.
Paulo led us up a ravine and through the overgrowth to an expanse of leafy tea bushes. The pickers plucked at impressive speed. Each wore a hat and mask to protect them from mosquitos. They carried baskets in front instead to protect their backs. As effortless as they make it seem, their work is hard. They are standing all day with backs bent, sweat dripping off their noses, mosquitoes whirring in their ears, and snakes sunbathing in the nearby bushes.
These employees receive a standard wage so they have greater security (common practice on tea plantations is to pay pickers by the bushel). They live in the town encircling the farm and their children attend the schools the tea company helps support.
The wonderful Sonia, who manages these projects, later showed us around the schools. She introduced us to the kids who playfully yelled random English words at us. Some of the programs the company sponsors are computer classes and environmental classes for which they’ve hired teachers and supplied computers.
We walked to town at sunset – trying to avoid death by moto. Music spilled into the street where smiling women braided their daughters’ hair and middle-aged men in plastic lawn chairs drank and teased each other.
In other places I visited in Colombia, I saw people finish their bag of chips and toss the empty plastic behind them. I took long bus rides with schoolchildren on their daily commute to distant cities and later saw them doing homework in internet cafes. Against this backdrop, the tea farm’s commitments to environmental and social sustainability seem radical, especially when you remember that it is tea that made it all possible!
Coffee is king in Colombia, but some folks in Colombia are trying to make tea queen.
In the supermarkets tea options are skimpy. You will find a lot of herbal tea bags and maybe, if you’re lucky, one lone box of green tea.
During a month of travel I witnessed “tea” drinking only once and that was a lemongrass and mint infusion.
So, why start a tea farm in coffee country?
In 1946, the government of Colombia wanted to diversify agriculture and received the first tea plants. The mile high elevation, with its rapidly changing weather and naturally rich soil, made the Llanos family’s land ideal for tea. At first, the Llanos wanted to begin the tried and true path to success through coffee cultivation but one of the Llano sons pushed for tea. He had lived in England and developed a taste for tea.
Over the past 55 years the company has slowly carved out a foothold in the Colombian market with herbal tea bags and recently has broken into the domestic and international scene with fine loose leaf varieties (Cloud Forest Green, Andean Princess Black).
We got to see the present day operations with a new state-of-the-art tea processing facility with plenty of space for expansion. In our minds, their future is secure because one thing is abundantly clear, the tea tastes good and stands up next to its Eastern counterparts. But they have a lot of work to do by way of shifting the collective tea drinkers’ consciousness from the old world heavyweights of China, India, Japan. If Chile and Argentina could establish an independent wine culture from their European forebearers, then why not Colombian tea?
Selling this tea in Missoula, Montana shows we recommend its flavor profile – it’s a good tea! – but it’s more than that. After experiencing the culture and community that supports it, standing behind this farm tucked away in the Colombian cloud forest is our pleasure.
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 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.
The legend of Genmai Cha Tea and its Health Benefits – Genmai Cha is also called Roasted Rice Tea
or ‘Popcorn Tea’. Originally rice was used as a filler for Japanese that couldn’t afford the higher price of normal tea leaves. That rice tea was known as “the People’s Tea”. It became popular for religious fasting reasons and to the public who found themselves in between meals for long periods of time.
There is a legend about Genmai cha in which a slave of a Samurai named Genamai accidentally dropped rice in the tea he was preparing for his master. In a fit of rage, the Samurai swung his sword and cut off the slaves head. After the deadly deed, the master drank the tea. He was impressed with the flavor and named the tea Genmai Cha in honor of the of the slave he killed (cha is ‘tea’ in Japanaese)
Genmai Cha health benefits include increased mental concentration and is an immunity and metabolism booster. It can lower cholesterol and protect you from heart disease. Known for its weight loss abilities, it also provides antioxidants/catechins. These protect the body’s cells from free radical damage, which can reduce the spread of cancerous cells. This tea can also improve bone and joint health from arthritis and rheumatism.
A traditional way of selling Genmai Cha is also with matcha and sold as Matcha-iri Genmai Cha!
Japanese Tea House Teaism in Missoula, by Christina
In a still, mellow lit room, the iron kettle sings. However faded the aged tea-room, everything is absolutely clean and orderly. You hear nothing but the roll of boiling water and your own breath. There are no distractions from this experience. You begin to relax and appreciate this moment.
To a Westerner, the tea room, or tea house, may appear to be a dilapidated house for an antiquated tradition. To properly appreciate its important lessons, a little background is needed.
The Japanese term for the tea room is “Sukiya” and
the original ideographs (数奇屋) have different meanings. “place of pleasure,” “place of emptiness,” “place of tastefulness,” are a few. The first tea room was created by Sen-no-Rikyu. He perfected the tea ceremony (the Chanoyu) in the 16th century.
The tea house is about ten feet square and consists of the tea-room proper. It accommodates no more than five people. There is an anteroom where utensils are washed and arranged, a portico in which guests wait to be summoned, and a garden path. The tea room is constructed with simple materials but its details are worked out with great care. Like the Zen monastery, its modest design aims to inspire feelings of serenity and purity and to uplift visitors above ordinary thoughts.
Inside the tea room, symmetry and repetition are avoided. This is an expression of the Zen view that true beauty is found in the incomplete. No color or design is found twice. If you have a living flower in the room, no painted flower is permitted. If you are using a round tea kettle, the water pitcher should be angular. The placement of vases or incense burners should not be symmetrical.
To initiate the tea ceremony, guests silently approach the tea room. One by one noiselessly bend low into the room through a door not more than three feet tall – an action intended to inculcate humility. Each will take their seat after paying their respect to a picture or flower arrangement (the Tokonoma). The host will not enter the room until all guests are seated. Only the boiling water in the kettle can be heard. The light is subdued. Nothing in the room is new except for the bamboo dipper and the linen napkin. Both are immaculately white. Matcha, the powdered form of green tea, is eventually prepared and shared with guests. It is believed that in this empty, simple, temporary surrounding guests can concentrate on their present experience, undisturbed.
In a culture where respite seems harder than ever to find, do we not need the tea room more than ever?
Black Currant Black Tea-History of the Forbidden Fruit – had a rough start in the U.S. Black currants, native to Europe and Asia, were once popular in the U.S. However, farming the shrub was banned in the early 1900’s due to white pine blister rust. White pine blister rust is a fungus that jumps form white pine to black currant plants and back to white pine. Blister rust can eventually kill the tree. The infamous plants were banned in the United States with the hopes of eliminating the fungus. However, black currants are not the only plants that host blister rust. Banning black currant plants hasn’t elimintated blister rust. Gooseberry and other plants in the Ribes genus are also a hosts.
The federal ban was lifted from some states starting in the 1960s. The fruit remains largely unknown in the U.S. and has yet to become popular like it is in many other parts of the world.
This fruit is high in vitamin C and E and antioxidants. The flavor is tart yet sweet, just like our Black Currant Black Tea.
Thank you for your love of Tea, cheers to 2017! All of us at Lake Missoula Tea Company thank you for your business. We truly appreciate your trust in us to meet your tea needs. Lake Missoula exists because of your love and appreciation of fabulous tea. We look forward to bringing you the best in tea in 2017. Happy holidays to you and cheers to 2017!
Visit Lake Missoula Tea Company in Missoula, Montana the next time you are downtown. Stop in the tea shop. Try a new kind of tea, mingle with others, read a book. We can serve any tea we carry and we offer carry locally made scones and jam. We sell the best tea in bulk sizes to fit your needs.