Supporting Small Kenyan Tea Farmers in a Big Way | EP 178: Paul Bain, JusTea

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By Molly Stillman - Blogger, Speaker, Believer, and Social Change Agent, Molly Stillman - Blogger, and Social Change Agent. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Can you guess which country in the world is the largest exporter of tea? Did you guess Kenya? That’s right, Kenya provides for tea drinkers all around the world from black tea to green tea, and now a new delicious purple tea that has more antioxidants than any other type of tea and has only 40% of the caffeine. Unfortunately, a large part of the tea industry is using exploitative labor on their farms. My guest this week is trying to change that. Paul Bain is the “Tea Captain” of JusTea. JusTea is a company that represents family tea partnership with small scale Kenyan tea farmers. Paul has traveled from Vancouver to Kenya every year for the past seven years. Aside from Canada, Kenya is the country Paul has spent the most time in. In many ways, it’s become home to him as he works directly with small scale farmers and living with them on the tea gardens, processing tea together. Paul is passionate about connecting you back to the farmer who made your cup of tea possible. Join me as I hear more from Paul about the ways that small scale tea farms are changing lives and communities in Kenya.

4:09 – The Paul 101
  • JusTea is a family business with Paul, his wife Sally, and their three-year-old daughter, Cleo. They started JusTea in 2012, not long after Paul graduated from university with a focus on East African Studies and International Development.
  • Paul had spent time in Uganda doing charity work as well, and after talking to his family about the needs the witnessed for projects on the ground, he wanted to find a way to raise awareness and create more impact on the ground.
  • There wasn’t enough money raised for the projects that local Ugandans were trying to help with in their communities. Paul went back to Uganda in 2012 to try to find partners to help up a social enterprise. Their intention was to focus on trade rather than aid and to create sustainable wages.
  • Their first partnership was with tea farmers, and Paul and his team learned all about the ins and outs, the joys and struggles of working on a tea farm. After researching for about a year and a few trial runs, JusTea was born in 2014.
6:53 – The Largest Exporter of Tea in the World
  • While Kenya is relatively new as a tea growing country, as a former British colony, the country has a huge demand for tea exports to the UK. Tea farming has been passed down from generation to generation, and there are now over half a million small scale tea farmers.
  • Tea is also a regular part of Kenyan culture. When you visit a Kenyan household, you’ll always be greeted with a cup of hot Chai. The country has become a powerhouse in the industry is just 100 years. They also have the perfect conditions for growing tea: the farms are chemical and pesticide free and they’re right on the equator at a high elevation.
  • Even though Kenya is the largest exporter of black tea, no one really knows about it because the story of the farmers in Kenya isn’t told. JusTea is trying to change that to present a whole-leaf, flavorful cup of tea directly from farmers who have sustainable employment and stories that are known.
11:14 – Partnering with Farmers
  • Larger, well-known tea brands have cut corners to down grade the product. Both farmers and the environment can be hurt when big corporations want to obtain their tea as cheaply as possible.
  • When researching the Tea Act in Kenya, Paul quickly discovered it’s not set up to benefit the small-scale farmer. Massive factories and corporations are the ones allowed to produce the tea. It was actually illegal for farmers to pick the tea and make it into a finished product. JusTea worried they might even be shut down at the very beginning of their business.
  • JusTea was able to present to the county governor and Tea Board of Kenya about the quality of their tea and their goals to tell the Kenyan story and put Kenya on the map. Farmers loved the plan because they were earning more without having to go through brokers, distribution houses, tea shops, etc.
  • Kenya actually changed their Tea Act to make it legal for farmers to set up a cottage industry license to set up a tea producing factory on their own farm or in a cooperative.
  • Kenya and Kenyan farmers face an uphill battle for independence as a former British colony. Whether farmers own their own few acres of farms or are tea pickers working for larger corporations, there is little opportunity for people to leave the industry. They have their basic needs met but have no way out of the cycle.
  • Farmers only earn a portion of the amount of pay for tea leaves that they drop off at the factory. They typically receive a bonus at the time of year when school fees are due, but when there is an oversupply of tea, they receive very little bonus or no bonus at all.
19:00 – Shifting from Trade, Not Aid
  • JusTea realized that farmers were not able to sustain their families as tea pickers or small-scale farmers. JusTea set up the first small-scale farmer owned farms with loans and training on how to make their own tea. Farmers pick the tea and process it themselves and JusTea buys it directly from them as a finished product and farmers earn more that way.
  • JusTea is creating awareness at the same time as they’re creating demand, so there’s still a long way to go. Most of the world still doesn’t know that Kenya is the largest exporter of black tea, so JusTea is focusing on Purple Tea to draw attention to Kenyan tea.
Purple Tea!
  • Purple Tea is completely delicious and completely unique to Kenya. The purple pigmentation you see in Purple Tea and in foods like cabbage, eggplant, etc., is created by an antioxidant called anthocyanin. Purple Tea also has the lowest amount of caffeine out of all the different types of tea.
  • JusTea is the first company to bring this healthy Purple Tea to North America and have won numerous awards for it already.
  • Purple Tea is also helping JusTea’s mission of helping connect farmers to consumers by introducing the farmers on the packaging of Purple Tea tins. Even the wooden scoops included in the tins employ carvers in Kenya!
  • Paul is also a professional Tea Taster. Technically, a Tea Sommelier. What a job! He’s tasting JusTeas Kenyan teas at least once a week. They’re constantly doing tea cupping (tea tasting) and even offer small classes for local businesses to learn more. All you need to know about tea tasting is whether you like the taste or not.
The Exciting World of Tea!
  • Tea is the second most widely consumer beverage after water in the world. When Paul hears that someone doesn’t like tea, he thinks they just haven’t tried very much of it. He loves helping people explore the wide variety of flavors and health benefits of high-quality tea.
  • If you’d like to explore tea on your own, Paul recommends you take a friend to a tea shop or tearoom and ask to smell the different teas they have. If you a tea smells good to you, you’ll probably like the taste as well. Follow your nose and find your own tea adventure!
  • Paul recommends adding a little milk and sugar to your tea. If you’re trying to cut back on caffeine, Paul recommends a Black Tea Breakfast Blend or Earl Grey. They still have caffeine but won’t have the crash that comes with coffee thanks to an ingredient called allithiamine that balances out caffeine. You won’t get the jitters either. Black teas also hold milk and sugar well.
  • In Kenya, tea is prepared by boiling a pot of water and add 1/3 tea, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 sugar. It’s traditionally a sweet, milky treat in Kenya. Paul also likes to drink it pure with nothing added. JusTea isn’t a tea bag tea, they are whole-leaf ingredients. There are many teas that are sweet enough on their own without milk and sugar. You typically only add milk and sugar to tea that is intense and strong on its own.
  • It’s also fun to experiment by adding honey or almond milk or steaming milk and making tea lattes! There’s no wrong way to do it, it’s such an eclectic and creative beverage!
35:15 - Getting To Know Our Guest

Find out what most influenced Paul to what he’s doing today with JusTea. At 38:16, check out Paul’s answer to some light-hearted get-to-know you questions like “What is something I’d never guess about you?”, “What makes you feel most alive?”, “ and of course the question I ask all my guests, “What does it mean to you to run a business with purpose?”.

Are you ready to try that PURPLE TEA?! I know I am! Paul is even giving you a discount code! Memorable Quotes:

8:43 – “We want to present a whole-leaf quality cup of tea with incredible flavors that are fresh and farmer direct, and creating sustainable employment for farmers and allowing the tea drinker to know who made the cup of tea possible.”

17:45 “How the industry is currently set up for these small scale farmers is that they (farmers) suffer when the corporation that’s selling the tea doesn’t find new markets.”

19:45 - “We’re creating awareness at the same time as we’re creating demand for this product since no one really knows about Kenyan tea, even though they are the largest exporter of black tea.”

24:55 - “I take pictures of the farmers and add their profiles to the Purple Tea tins. When we bring some extras back to Kenya and extras to give to their friends they get so excited and say “I’m a celebrity!”

ABOUT PAUL BAIN:

Paul Bain is the Tea Captain at JusTea, the first farmer-direct tea partnership between Kenya and Canada. Born and raised in Vancouver, Paul is passionate to connect tea drinkers with the small-scale farmer who made their cup possible. JusTea’s healthy new Purple Tea won the top food and beverage award in BC in 2018: Gold Medal for “Product of the Year”.

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