#112 Wize Coffee Leaf

Max, co-founder at Wize Coffee Leaf

“The whole reason why we are doing Wize and why we are still here today is because everybody wins. We offer products that help both the consumer and the farmer who are at opposite ends of the supply chain. The consumer gets to enjoy a really delicious and healthy drink and at the same time, they are also helping farmers make a year-round living. This is the ultimate way to spend your money and have it as your daily routine knowing that every time you have our product, you are directly impacting someone’s ability to live a sustainable life. We hope people want to wize up to coffee leaf iced tea.”

Max learned the hard way of the negative effects of coffee when he was studying in France for his master’s degree in 2012. During finals season, he had an acute caffeine overdose and was advised by his doctor to stay away from coffee and switch to tea – for the rest of his life if he could! It was challenging for him to drink tea because he never liked the bitter taste and he found commercial iced tea beverages too sugary or loaded with fake sweeteners.

Some time later, he and his French classmate Arnaud were looking for a topic for their new sustainable development class project, and he came across an article about health benefits of the coffee leaf and how it has been consumed as an herbal infusion in Ethiopia and Indonesia for hundreds of years. They began to look into it further and discovered the coffee crisis that has never been highlighted by the majority of the world.

VOICE(V) : “What did you discover about the coffee crisis?”

Max(M): “First of all, coffee farmers suffer from extremely volatile market prices. What we also realized was that the coffee industry is extremely seasonal. The coffee bean harvest is only 3 months of the year, and every single coffee farmer suffers through a long off-season for 9 months. They have no option but to migrate elsewhere to find another job and eventually come back to the coffee farm in the bean harvest season. This means they constantly uproot their family twice a year. Imagine when you are growing up, you are never settled and change schools twice a year. As a result, the average age when children drop out of school is 11 years old. They significantly lose the drive to gain education that opens up more options later in their life. Nobody mentions the seasonality of the coffee industry. Nobody ever talks about it, not even local, super-craft, socially aware companies. The coffee crisis is looming more than ever with climate change reducing the viable lands to produce the bean, yet the leaf can still grow at lower elevation. We believe the leaf will be the parachute of the entire industry within 20 years.”

Further into their research, Max and Arnaud found that the farmers who remain on the coffee farm in the off-season, which accounts for only 10% of employment, are working to trim off excess leaves as a part of the maintenance but not using them for anything. They had a hunch that if they applied traditional tea crafting techniques to coffee leaves, they would make a delicious tea from something that has been overlooked for centuries. At the end of the school year, they set off to Nicaragua. What intended to be a month-long trip with a week of holidays at the end turned into 3 months of deep research and pursuit for a solution to solve the biggest problems in the coffee industry with tasty refreshing tea innovations.

M: “I was looking for a solution for the coffee industry, and at the same time, I was pursuing to solve my personal consumer problem that is to find a tea beverage with light caffeine and with very low or no sugar. I thought that coffee leaf could be it. When we first tasted our first ever steeped coffee leaf, my hand was shaking with excitement and fear. It happened to be so smooth and pleasant! It tasted almost like a nice Oolong tea without the bitterness or acidity. At that very moment, we could tell that we could really do something great out of the coffee leaf and we could provide a massive solution to the coffee industry.”

Max and Arnaud launched Wize in 2014 and Enrique, a third-generation Nicaraguan coffee farmer, joined the team and became a co-founder one year later. Coffee leaves are hand-picked and crafted on his farm in Nicaragua, then shipped directly to Vancouver for processing and packaging.

V: “What does coffee leaf tea taste like?”

M: “There are many varietals of coffee leaf and they actually change the flavour of the final tea. You can get so many levels of complexity from the terroir, varietals, and processing methods. This creates unlimited selection of flavours like woody, earthy, sweet, or floral. Coffee leaf tea is not only delicious and refreshing, it also features polyphenols and rare antioxidants that support a healthy metabolism like mangiferin, chlorogenic acids, and theobromine among many others.
We have 8 blended flavours for dry teas in plant-based corn silk teabags. Our tea boxes, inner bag and teabags are all recyclable and biodegradable. We also have loose leaf option in tins.”

As their dry teas progressed and quickly entered into the retail market including Whole Foods, it was then time to create a ready-made beverage. They launched a much anticipated new lineup in July 2020 – canned iced teas featuring mango, lemon, and grapefruit flavours. Each can has only 1g of natural cane sugar, 35mg of caffeine and 10cal. No iced tea can get healthier than this.

M: “We love food innovation, and it took us about 3 years to create the original base recipe for the straight tea. We actually came up with the recipe by accident when we were slow roasting the coffee leaf and it unlocked incredible, dessert-like sweetness from the leaf. What I love about this iced tea is that everyone can enjoy it anywhere because it is ready to drink in a can. Every single can translates to 2 minutes of employment for coffee farmers when they need it the most. It adds up quickly as we have a 12-pack available to enjoy and incorporate into a healthy lifestyle. The pack translates to 24 minutes, and we’ve created over 100,000 hours of employment to date.”

V: “Wize has a lot to say about the mission, the coffee industry, the impact …how do you tell all the stories effectively to people?”

M: “It is still a thin slice of the population that can really resonate with the stories and our mission. It is hard to always talk about or make people understand the impact of the beverage when the problem is so far away and they haven’t seen it first hand.
What I like about our business model is that everybody wins. The consumer gets a low-sugar, delicious refreshing beverage packed with healthy antioxidants, the farmer makes a better living through year-round employment and we get to upcycle the by-product of their main export (coffee bean). On our iced tea can, it says “ Wize people know life is better when everybody wins.” We make something that tastes good and people enjoy it and be a part of this new sustainable, socio-economic growth without necessarily knowing they are making the impact. If people want to know more about our stories, they are always available on our website and on our packaging.”

Wize is not only helping the problem of far and away. They connect people with the local impact through their apparel goods. There is a clothing collection including face mask, tee, hoodie and hats, all designed by Max himself. All profits of facial masks in the month of February went to Black Lives Matter. Profits from hats go to St. James Music Academy, a non-profit music school that provides free music lessons and music therapy to low income families in Downtown Eastside. They plan to sell all the apparel at break even and get all the profits to specific local charities. In this way, they can give not to just one but to a variety of different causes.

M: “The ethos that we live by is “If you don’t go and create your own future, someone will do it for you and maybe not to your liking.” If you are feeling passionate about something, don’t sit around waiting for it to happen because it never will. You have unlimited possibilities and you can write the future that you want. Just believe in yourself. This is an attitude we take to all the things we do and we learned a lot about that when we were in Nicaragua for the first few years.”

When you drink Wize either in hot or iced tea,  you will feel good because it tastes so delicious and healthy. You will feel even better knowing that you are creating direct impact for the coffee farmers and their families. Why not use your small buying power to be a part of the positive change in the coffee farm history?

You can buy Wize in many local stores and online.

Max’s Wize Lifestyle: In the morning, he starts with Lemon Iced Tea. It is a very refreshing pure tea with a hint of lemon. Grapefruit Iced Tea is always his afternoon choice. If he wants something sweeter at the end of the day, he will finish off with Mango Iced Tea.

VOICE`s Favorite: A cup of Chocolate Dream hot tea at any time of the day! It is a guilt-free hot chocolate with premium arabica leaves blended with Dominican cocoa shells.

VOICE Community: JusTea

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