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Thrive Market Organic Loose Leaf Teas Support Female-Owned Farms in the Himalayas

March 28, 2022

There’s a science to relaxing with a cup of tea. All teas contain L-Theanine, a rare amino-acid that is correlated with the production of alpha waves, which our minds make when we are most relaxed.

And unlike brewing tea from a tea bag, preparing loose leaf tea is even more blissfully methodical. The ritual forces you to slow down a bit while you wait for the whole, unbroken leaf to release its complex flavor after being steeped in hot water, then savor the subtle changes in the tea’s taste after a second (and even third) steep. 

That ritual is only one part of what makes our new Thrive Market organic loose leaf teas so special. The rest comes down to the way they’re farmed: by a team of 90% female farmers in the Himalayas, who care for the land and their own families by harvesting these ancient teas. 

Loose Leaf Tea Grown in the Shade of Everest

While visiting the Indian region of Kumaon as a grad student in 2013, supplier Raj Vable saw the damage that urban migration was having on the area’s rural farming communities. “The people who are left behind are largely women who have to shoulder this double burden of taking care of the family by themselves and also looking after the land,” Vable says. These women are skilled farmers growing tea on rich, fertile land; the only thing missing was an international market where they could sell their teas at prices that would enable them to achieve financial independence. He approached the women with the idea of harvesting high quality, organic teas to sell internationally, and that’s how the first farm was born. 

“It was a social element at the start, but what’s cool is that it very naturally ties, as agriculture always does, into the environmental pieces,” Vable muses. Though the land in these regions is quite rich, the soil begins to deteriorate into waste as people leave for cities and farms are abandoned (a pattern called urban migration). Monsoons wash out the fields, and according to Vable, climate change has made the weather patterns so erratic that “the problem is only getting worse.” 

Because tea grows on sturdy bushes, it’s the perfect crop to help prevent this soil erosion. “The farmers are using the tea plant to reclaim this wasteland, and not only are the villages getting jobs by creating the teas, but the ecosystems themselves are getting stronger as a result of the plants growing,” Vable says.  

After observing these positive changes in Kumaon, Vable and his team set their sights on neighboring Nepal. They wanted to replicate the success they’d had in both producing high-quality loose leaf teas and securing long-term work for the farmers. They chose Darjeeling and Assam, two of the oldest and most well-known tea-producing regions in the world, to set up two more farms. While tea producers in Nepal often grow tea in co-ops, it was important to Vable to also create the first community-owned processing facility (typically, these facilities are owned by the government). “It demonstrates what happens when community ownership of a different part of tea’s value chain shifts into the hands of the locals,” Vable explains. 

One of the most meaningful things that happens? “The youth get involved,” Vable says, creating an antidote to the urban migration that empties these rural farming communities. 

Today, Vable’s Assam tea farms are among the first tea farms in the world to go through the regenerative certification process. Their experience will help to inform how other, neighboring tea farms can do the same, sparking more sustainable farming practices for the entire industry. It’s a cycle that’s better for all: the land, the farmers, and even the tea itself. Higher quality teas are more valuable, which creates higher paying jobs for those who produce it.  “There’s an art to bringing the most out of such a simple, single-ingredient process,” Vable says. “And for that reason, we feel that these people should earn good money for what they do.”

Thoughtful Farming, Better Tea 

The teas produced by these Himalayan farmers aren’t turned into the tea bags you may recognize from grocery store shelves (which, Vable explains, were created to fulfill a demand prompted by high-volume tea farming that values profit over quality). Rather, the whole tea leaves are preserved and packaged fully intact. 

Unlike tea that’s farmed in massive quantities and chopped up to put into tea bags, Vable says that the best quality teas depend on three factors:

  1. The type of plant that’s grown (just like wine, certain leaf types are better for certain types of tea)
  2. Healthy, well-maintained tea plants
  3. The “plucking standard”, which refers to picking only the bud and top two leaves of the tea plant where all the polyphenols that give tea its flavor are concentrated

Preserving teas in whole leaves allows for the most flavorful tea drinking experience; it even invites more than one steeping per batch. According to Vable, it’s perfectly okay to steep the same loose leaf tea leaves more than once (in fact, you may even discover a deeper and more complex flavor the second or third time around).  

How to Prepare Loose Leaf Tea 

So how, exactly, do you make a cup of loose leaf tea? Simply allow the loose tea leaves to steep in boiling water, then strain them out with a simple strainer. Though all types of teas have different steep times, Vable recommends always allowing the leaf to open up during steeping. That means avoiding the metal “tea ball” or infuser, which packs the leaves too tightly together to really allow the flavors to emerge. He also advises against brewing tea in a pot you use for cooking or a French press you also use for coffee, as this could taint your tea with leftover flavors.

While he often mentions the personal ritual of brewing a cup of tea, he muses that it shouldn’t feel intimidating or overly complicated. “We always tell people to not be intimidated by the process — just do it however you like it.” 

How to Choose the Perfect Tea from Thrive Market’s New Loose Leaf Teas

Try Thrive Market Regeneratively Grown Organic Nepali Golden Black Loose Leaf Tea

This black tea has a luxuriously smooth and creamy body with undertones of dark honey and thick milk chocolate — a decadent and complex blend that drinks like your favorite Earl Grey, but offers a surprisingly bright bouquet with an aroma of apricots. 

Our Nepali Golden Black Loose Leaf Tea is grown by the Tinjure Cooperative in Nepal, the country’s first cooperatively owned and operated factory. It’s made by preserving the terminal bud and top two leaves of the tea plant, and it’s this delicate bud that gives the tea its complex flavor.

Try Thrive Market Regeneratively Grown Organic Nepali Green Pearl Loose Leaf Tea 

This multifaceted green tea is processed using a hot vapor that sucks moisture out of the leaf after harvesting, creating its smoky flavor notes. The leaves are then rolled in their own essential oils and tossed in the air in a hot pan, giving them their pearled shape. The painstaking process is repeated for three hours, which creates the tight balls that will later produce a flavor explosion with each steep. 

The first steep should be light and short to avoid creating an astringent flavor; during this steep, our Nepali Green Pearl Loose Leaf Tea will produce a bright citrus bouquet. With the second steep (which can be longer and hotter), the tightly wound pearls relax and produce more savory flavors, ranging from briny seaweed to smoked artichoke. 

Try Thrive Market Regeneratively Grown Organic Kumaon Black Loose Leaf Tea

With sweet layers of caramel and a tart, fruity body, Kumaon Black Loose Leaf Tea is difficult to over-steep, only relaxing even deeper into its fruit-forward notes on the second and third infusions. Black tea lovers will enjoy this tea because it’s so versatile and approachable, whether you brew it strong, light, or somewhere in between. 

Tea makers harvest only the newest growth when creating this black tea, so this tea has a high presence of highest quality tea buds. After a complicated four-step process involving withering, rolling, oxidizing, and drying, tea makers then hand-sort the leaves and buds to achieve a specific ratio and flavorful, well-balanced taste. 

Try Thrive Market Regeneratively Grown Organic Kumaon White Loose Leaf Tea

Many common white teas are so minimally processed that they’re nearly flavorless. Contrarily, our Kumaon White Loose Leaf Tea is somewhere between what traditionally defines green and white teas: juicy and full-bodied, with clean and floral aromas of new growth. When steeped, you’ll taste peeled cucumber alongside honeydew melon, with a spicy-sweet cinnamon finish.

The majority of the tea bushes used to make this tea are more than 150 years old, and in fact, they were some of the first tea bushes ever to be planted in India. like the bushes used to source the leaves, this tea only gets better with age; no matter how long you have it in your cabinet, it will only become smoother and deeper with time. 

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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