Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tea With A Heart, Part 2

In the rat race to coin the hottest new food descriptor, terms of substance are quickly eroded by the corner cutting of corporations quick to jump on the bandwagon. Take the kind of "free range" chickens that have a door to the outside but whose legs are too weak to carry their enormous, genetically modified breasts. Among these organic snake oil salesman, Tetulia Teas stands out as different and refreshing as a breath of fresh air or nice cup of green.

Tetulia has chosen to label their tea "garden direct sustainable," but that's just the beginning. They're also a co-op whose membership benefits include getting a cow. This cow is paid for not with money, but in milk and dung (for fertilizer), and any offspring may be kept by the owner. The co-op also includes health programs and education both for young people and for area farmers interested in growing organically. The one room schoolhouse in which these classes take place, plus the playground equipment, are all built from bamboo donated by the community. Unlike a quasi-liberated chicken, this company's ideals can stand on their own two feet.

Tetulia is also the first and only organic tea garden in Bangladesh. While that's a far cry from being "local" for U.S. residents, tea is exactly the kind of provision worth using some fossil fuels to import, because you can't really get it here. The only commercial tea garden on the entire continent is in Charleston, is owned by Bigelow, and grows hundreds of varieties of tea only to sell them in one blend. It's a simple black tea that ices well, and the garden is an extremely pleasant place to visit, but it's also proof that you can't always get precisely what you want in your own backyard.

Despite the carbon footprint incurred in shipping, there's a case for using our first world purchasing power to make change in less developed countries. See Michael Pollan on buying asparagus from Argentina:

"You can make a good argument that my purchase generates foreign exchange for a country desperately in need of it, and supports a level of care for that country's land -- farming without pesticides or chemical fertilizer -- it might not otherwise receive."

(Though he adds that it tasted "like damp cardboard.")

Tetulia offers standard black, green and white as well as herbal blends featuring "ayurvedics." These are harvested from the very trees used to shade the tea plants and are used in such exotic flavor combinations as the Tulsi Infusion, with holy basil, and Vaska Laka, with malobar nut and ginger. Then there's Neem Nectar, which their website describes as "a purifying drinking experience from the magical Neem tree or Azadirachta Indica."

The tea bags and containers? Biodegradable and compostable, respectively. Tetulia is no pipe dream either, as it's been around since 2000 and the co-op has over 1,000 members, a figure they plan to quadruple within the next few years. As if it's near angelic qualities weren't convincing enough, they're also offering a 10% discount through the website. Now you really have no excuse.

For every time you walk into Whole Foods and get overwhelmed by the half truths of their many seemingly progressive labels, remember that there are companies like Tetulia out there who are only full of shit in the sense that their members pay their dues in dung.

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Carol said...

So interesting...I will look fo rthat tea. A post on Bitten made me think of you--did you read the guy who uses hotel coffee pots to poach veggies? You have probably already thought of this or something equally clever in order to cook on the road, but I found the idea eminently satisfying in a multitasking appliance sort of way.

Brianne said...

Thanks so much for helping us spread the message about Tetulia Tea!!

Jack M said...

Tetulia Tea rocks! I just got some samples in the mail yesterday "Bengal Breakfast" I beleive. I'm still enjoying it. This is a fabulous blog!