“Very grateful for the support that we have received especially in the past year. For our partners in Kenya, I want to say “Mambo” and “Habari Yako”(Hello! How are you?!). These past 9 months have really shown us the strength of our relationship in Kenya to work through all of this. We are very fortunate to face no supply issues, because we work so closely with them. We are fortunate to have our community of JusTea drinkers who keep on drinking Justly Made Tea.”
Paul`s first trip to Africa was when he was still an undergraduate student at UBC. Interestingly, he worked in JJ Bean for over 10 years and was mostly a coffee drinker at the time. He spent a month in Uganda and it was from this trip that his passion for social business grew. Paul and his father, Grayson Bain, had undertaken a series of charitable work in East Africa, and they found challenging at times to translate projects back to Canada and make people get excited enough to raise donations. They also questioned about unsustainable nature of African nations on the systematic aid dependency.
The idea of running a tea company happened when the father and the son met some tea farmers in Kenya through local NGO`s. After listening to their joys and struggles with tea farming and living on their beautiful tea gardens, one thing became very clear. If they could make a finished product at the farm level instead of just selling tea leaf to large-scale factories that make all the profit, they can help to create sustainable and steady employment and to pay fair wages for the vulnerable community.
Not knowing anything about tea, Paul and his father embarked on a new journey. In 2013, JusTea was built on a trust and a partnership with the Kenyan tea farmers in the name of justly made tea! It has always been the Kenyan-the Canadian family business ever since.
VOICE(V) : “ Most people hardly even realize that Kenya grows tea. Can you tell us more about Kenyan tea?”
Paul(P): “It is interesting that no one really think Kenya when people think about tea. They think about Japan, China, India or Sri Lanka, but actually Kenya is the largest export of black tea! There are half a million small-scale farmers, but no one really knows who they are or think about their teas. It is just because Kenyan tea is ground up into tea dust for tea bags as CTC leaves (Crush, Tear, and Curl) for large-scale tea companies. Those buyers often don’t pay them fairly nor tell the story of the farmers who are at the very start of the supply chain.
The tea gardens in Kenya are passed down from generations since 1903. The farmers ran through the gardens as kids, played hide and seek there, and helped their parents picking the leaves. It is quite unfortunate that all those leaves go straight to the huge factories and get exported without the farmers having an opportunity to taste the tea they grow! It was very exciting and proud moment when I witnessed our partnered farmers tasted their tea for the first time.“
V: “ What varieties of teas do they grow in Kenya?”
P: “ Kenya can grow all types of orthodox teas: Green, Oolong, Black, and the incredible new Purple! Purple tea is grown only in Kenya, in colder and higher elevation of Nandi Hills region where our tea farm and “Artisanal Tea Cottage Factory” are located. It is a new category of tea and it has exceptional health benefits with more antioxidants than green tea and less than half the caffeine! We want to put Kenya on the map for this artisanal super tea! Our Purple Tea has won gold for BC`s Product of the Year. ”
V: “What is JusTea`s mission as a tea brand?”
P: “JusTea will always be farmer direct and fair trade. We are one of the few tea companies that is a member of the Fair Trade Federation. Our whole-leaf tea is hand- picked in Kenya and blended and packed in our factory in Surrey, BC. The source of every other ingredient in the teas is also fair trade. We stay away from flavouring unless it is unavoidable. Purple Rain is the only product with natural passion fruit flavour in it.
We stay focused on our social mission in Kenya and we always ask ourselves how do we create awareness of the story? Our product has either 100% Kenyan ingredients or as many ingredients as possible from Kenya. We have a farmer talking about Kenyan tea on every package. That hopefully makes people more excited about purchasing our product.”
Tea is not the only story JusTea is trying to showcase. A small hand-carved spoon that comes on every package helps employment of a hundred different wood-carving families there. All spoons are sustainably sourced African olive wood, and they are a nice compliment when you measure a spoonful for a cup of tea. (Until Feb 14th, you will get the heart-shaped spoon for free when you place an order of $60+ on their online shop with coupon code: freeheartspoon)
V: “ How are things in the Kenyan community with Covid-19? “
P: “ It is definitely tough there. They don’t have as much testing and resources that we have here. They are surviving, but the pandemic also wiped out their whole tourist season last year. Carvers, for one, typically carve a large volume of different wood crafts for the tourist market. Since their earnings rely heavily on tourism for 6 months of the year, they were really happy to be able to keep working and carving for those tea spoons. The employment of spoon carving business has been almost as same as the tea now!
Our farm team is doing OK, following protocols of face masks, social distancing, and washing hands. They are still making tea, but they are also facing with many different challenges in the community.”
V: “Also, how has Covid-19 affected you personally?”
P: “ I really miss going back to Kenya! I used to fly there at least once or twice a year to get my feedback on the ground. Spending time there really reassures the purpose, the drive, and the excitement. It grounds me on why we do this. In these very uneasy times, I challenge myself by asking, “Is this the right decision?”, “How do we stay true to who we are?”, and “How can we be there for our community and our partners?” Having those conversations with myself and with our partners helps to keep the close connection in this tricky time. The next chance we get, I would be jumping on the plane with my 4 year old daughter! She has never been to Kenya, and she is very excited to fly there together.”
Speaking of the connection, did you know that JusTea has a top-notch customer service? When you go on their website, your question will get answered in the most prompt and friendly manner – by Tea Captain himself! He is happy to answer any of your questions or to chat about tea or new blend he is working on….
P: “ I do blending myself and it is the most fun and frustrating part of my work! I have to think of what Kenyan ingredient I can put in the blend and stay true to who we are. We have limited edition monthly, in a form of pop-up online. Currently we are having Thrive Lemon Lavender for a limited time. We barely do a new permanent flavour, but this year we are launching 2 new flavours, Golden Green and Turmeric Ginger, all in new stylish packaging!”
JusTea not only speaks about the artisanal Kenyan tea, but also about the culture and the connection to the people and the planet.
Not to mention, they also love working with different local suppliers here in Canada, and partnering with other small businesses to do giveaways, events and collaborations. They also offer cute, hand-painted mugs by PotteryWorks, a collective of BC artists overcoming disability through their art.
Paul’s Favorite Way of Tea: Start a day with matcha during the week or coffee on the weekend (surprise! no tea!). At work, make a big pot of pure teas that gives good caffeine, like Nandi Gold – his favorite black tea. Re-steeping it throughout the day. At the end of the day, unwind with herbal tea. Try Purple Rain!
VOICE Friend’s Story: Culture Craft Kombucha