Our Spice Farmers
All of our black tea blends (such as the Sticky Chai, Vegan Sticky Chai, and Welsh Cake tea) are made from Mr and Mrs Borah's Prithivi tea leaves - but of course, our spice farmers are just as important!
Kaunang and Hans
A lot of our spices are grown in Sulawesi, Indonesia, on a farm lost to beautiful wild mountains. The air smells like caramel and pepper.
On a little farm known as the Celebes live our two wonderful farmers: Kaunang and Hans.
Their farm certainly isn’t easy to get to. A visitor must drive to the middle of the jungle, slalom through branches and lianas, and take a little scooter up the mountainside. Kaunang and Hans practice old-fashioned organic farming by allowing many varieties of spices grow on their plots of land: nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, red ginger, peppers, vanilla... This polyculture system produces breathtaking biodiversity, enriches the soil, and attracts many animals of different species. Of course, everything is harvested by hand.
To retrieve the cloves, Hans leans a homemade bamboo ladder, straps a bag to his shoulder and delicately climbs to pick the flower buds. During drying, they take on this deep, rusty flavour, which the spice is so well-known for.
In the couple’s spare time, they both smoke kretek - those famous clove cigarettes!
Our organic nutmeg is cultivated between huge heads of coconut palms, and harvested using a pole fitted with a net.
In the middle of the jungle, Kaunang and Hans plant cinnamon trees (AKA “money trees”) and wait patiently. When they need money, they return to the trees and collect some bark.
Finding the balance between pungent, sweet, and bitter notes is not easy. The older the tree, the more bitter the cinnamon. The size of the tree does not help to assess its age; instead, the picker relies on the cinnamon leaves which have become darker and thicker over the years.
Our Ceylon cinnamon is - rather unconventionally - grown on Pemba Island, Zanzibar. In the past, cinnamomum verum was only found in Sri Lanka - but it has since been acclimatised to other places, notably Madagascar and Zanzibar. It is because of this that it thrives so well on the rich lands of Pemba Island - so much so, that it now multiplies naturally there!
This small island is still wild, with the land covered in thick, tropical trees. The cinnamon that grows there is what is called ‘true cinnamon’ or ‘Ceylon cinnamon’. Cinnamon trees grow on the steep hillsides rising above the beach, where they thrive under the warm sun, salty breeze, and sandy soil: a terroir that contributes to a complex, intense, sweet flavour without any bitterness. The rinds are hand-cut and sun-dried and shipped out to us throughout the year to ensure the freshest and most fragrant flavour.
Our cinnamon comes from a local cooperative in Zanzibar which brings together farmers from the three islands within the archipelago, and a few farmers from the Tanzanian coast. Today, this cooperative brings together more than 100 farmers, supports them in their conversion to organic farming and helps them to carry out the procedures for export.
One of the main spice producers in the Pemba cooperative is a man called Mr Mohammed. To visit his farm is to commit to a very long walk, dense and constantly scented - the land is so rich that trees are growing all over the place! Each step requires caution not to crush a cinnamon sword, a clove seedling, or a wandering vanilla vine. Mr. Mohammed cultivates his spices in a very interesting way - simply, he allows nature to flourish, rarely getting involved in the plants’ lives until harvesting.
The Usambara Cardamom
Our delicious cardamom seeds are grown on the Tanzanian coast, in a place lush with forest. At the top of Mount Usambara lives our farmer, arguably the most dedicated cardamom farmer alive.
His land is no longer fed with pesticides, as he made the brave decision to cut them out entirely. The reason this is brave is because his plots are less productive than chemical-fed farms, and considering that cardamom is one of the most processed spices (more than 25 times before harvest), he is unique in this mindset.
His cardamom is absolutely delicious, and you can taste his handwork, passion, and skill in each of our Masala Chai blends. Our farmer is not yet authorised to sell his spices as ‘organic’, and as such, is in a dangerous waiting period. We believe that it is so important to support him during this pivotal moment.
Johny and the NGO
Our organic ginger comes from small traditional farms in Kerala, India, where polyculture and biodiversity the most important aspects of farming. Perched atop a flower-covered mountainside amongst fruit trees, vegetable plants and orchids, our farmers grow the most delicious, sweet ginger.
The farmers own half a hectare of land - which is very little - where they grow between 30 and 100 different species of plant: such as coconut, passion fruit, and even traditional medicinal plants.
To purchase the ginger from these farmers, we collaborate with an NGO created more than 20 years ago by a young man called Johny. After travelling through India, he realised that - as in many places of the world - the farmers who produce our food do not even have the means to feed themselves. He then decided to create this secular NGO to help spice producers in the region. It trains them, supports them, manages their organic certification, pools tools and procedures for exporting, facilitates the integration of women, and above all, guarantees good income for all.
The ginger spends 10 months underground before being picked. Then, they are blanched peeled to remove the bitterness, sliced, and dried in the sun.
The Akkar Women's Cooperative
Carob molasses is a traditional food from Lebanon where it is most often eaten for breakfast. In Middle Eastern countries, carob powder replaces cocoa. This is why we find ‘fake’ chocolates all over the place… made from carob.
It is because of this that we source our carob molasses from the place that does it best: Lebanon. We work with a small women's cooperative located in a mountainous village in the Akkar region in the north, where the women peel, squeeze, filter, cook and bottle their production. In an area where life can be extremely unforgiving, we found it incredibly important to support the backbone of this rural society.
The fruit of the carob tree is very rich in sugar, and takes the form of a thin brown pod. To make molasses, the dried fruits are cut into pieces, soaked for twelve hours and then pressed. The juice collected is then reduced in a cauldron for several hours in order to obtain a thick and creamy texture. This results in a sweet, rich taste, blending notes of cocoa and caramel. All from the most talented carob farmers in the world!
The Ulusena Locals
We also purchase our black pepper from Sulawesi, but from a village in the southeast of the island, called Ulusena. The journey there is dry and dusty, and doesn’t prepare you for the magic you are about to witness.
The air is sweet and tangy, and with local fruits being jackfruit and papaya, these delicious flavours impart onto the pepper.
Whilst the region is traditionally a producer of white pepper, the soil and the topography make for very interesting black pepper flavours. For example, black pepper usually grows at an altitude of 800 to 1800 meters and preferably on clay soil. However, this village is located only 300 meters above sea level, on a very sandy soil rich in minerals.
Our black pepper comes from a small group of inhabitants who come together to sell their peppers together. Despite the fact that the plantations are less than one hectare, the villages come together to collect the organic pepper. They harvest in October, and for a whole month, the villagers are all busy in the fields, tending the crops and assessing their neighbour’s quality. When the harvest is over, two-thirds of the men go back to town to do other jobs, while the women stay to work in the fields. There is so much to do.
The Gujarat Coriander
Have you ever tried true Indian coriander from an organic family farm? There’s certainly nothing like the real thing, believe us!
Luckily for you, our coriander has that exact origin, and you can taste just how fragrant, woody, and citrus-y it is in our Masala Chai.
Located in Gujarat, India, lives our coriander farmer. His family grew up in poverty - as is the case of everyone else in the area - and he saw how much the farmers were struggling to make ends meet with their spices. So, accompanied by his father, he decided to set up a structure to help farmers in their efforts to export and thus allow them to improve their income.
Our Usambara Cardamom farmer is currently awaiting his organic certification. He needs to prove that his crop meets the necessary standards, and whilst its a long and difficult time waiting for the news, he believes that gaining this certification will help his spices reach higher prices at the markets.
Our Ulusena farmers began harvesting their delicious black pepper!
The Southwest monsoon begins in Kerala, and our farmers are able to finally celebrate the wet season!