When Grayson Bain spoke recently at the Vancouver Tea Festival, he described how he and the JusTea team in Vancouver are creating partnerships with Kenyan tea farmers which will allow those farmers and their families to retain the value of their labour – and the rest of the world to enjoy “some amazing tea.”
His talk examined the work of charities, fair trade organizations and business in the tea hills of Kenya, all in the spirit of what might be considered his motto, from Micah 6:8: ‘JusTea: Doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with our God.’
Following is an article about JusTea from the Vancouver Tea Festival site. JusTea took part in that event November 21:
A cup of JusTea holds more than just tea, it holds the heart of Kenya – the people, the land and a rich tradition of tea growing.
JusTea was born when the founder Grayson, and his son Paul Bain were looking for sustainable, job-creating business opportunities in Africa. He had already done charity and aid work in Uganda but over time these projects fell through for the simple reason that long-term success depended on ongoing charitable donations.
He met Davidson, a tea farmer in western Kenya. “My dad had a deep connection with him right from the start,” says Paul. “They had the Kenyan typical boiled milk/tea/sugar chai together.”
They met again the next day but the conversation wasn’t about a tea business, but about how people can live together, understanding each other.
“Yesterday you wanted to talk about business, today I want to talk about your family and I want to tell you about my family. My dad walked away and thought there’s something here, I know there’s something here,” says Paul.
While Davidson would eventually leave tea farming, something he said left a deep impression. When they asked him, how can you make a sustainable income from tea? His response was simple: the farmers need to do what the factory does – process the tea and build the markets for export. Kenyan tea farmers pluck the tea leaves, sell it to the factory, the factory processes the tea, and then sells it for a higher price.
Kenyan tea farmers will threaten to uproot their bushes, go on strike or plant crops in between the tea bushes because they can’t afford to live off the meagre wages the factory pays them. Davidson gave up tea to raise goats.
Today, JusTea builds partnerships with tea farmers to buy green “wet” leaf for many new types of tea. They’ve made investments in processing equipment and they’re setting up “tea villages” where the tea can be processed. “We’re at the tipping point to where we’ll get some fantastic teas from the farming families and we can just grow from there creating jobs. That’s what makes it sustainable,” notes Paul.
Because JusTea works so directly with the farmers, the supply chain is short, allowing more money to go back to the farmer. An important part of that chain is knowledge transfer. JusTea works with Buddha, a tea expert from Darjeeling, who has about 50 years experience hand crafting small batch tea, to provide training to Kenyan farmers.
With Buddha’s expertise, Boaz Katah, JusTea’s team lead in Kenya, have been experimenting with processing different teas. One day, they decided to make the “tea rainbow.” They did a cupping with white, green, yellow, purple (a Kenyan cultivar), black and oolong teas.
“Boaz was losing it, he was so excited,” remembers Paul. “Probably the most rewarding thing for us is when tea farmers try their own tea.”
culture of Kenya deeply influences every aspect of the products. The colourful fabrics that cover the tins is purchased directly from a woman’s co-operative. The wooden spoons that are packaged with the tea tins come directly from the carvers.
JusTea currently offers six teas: two herbal blends, Kenyan Black, English Breakfast, Earl Grey and African Chai.
“Kenya has some amazing tea and not a lot of people know about it. We want to put Kenya on the map again for the teas they have.”
To learn more about JusTea products, and where to purchase them, visit www.justea.com. They are widely available in stores across Metro Vancouver, including Stong’s and Kitsilano Whole Foods Market on the west side, Robson Whole Foods Market and a couple of Nesters Markets downtown, and Famous Foods, a couple of Donald’s Markets and Second Nature on the east side. Stores from Bowen Island to the Fraser Valley also carry JusTea products. Go here for the whole list or to purchase online.
Grayson and Grace Bain attend Nelson Avenue Community Church in Burnaby.