Rethink What You Drink, with Namasthé Tea

I went to school with a girl whose parents were missionaries in Bangladesh. Whatever you might think of their faith or sense of mission, they were undoubtedly people who acted upon their convictions. But it was their beverage cupboard that impressed me most. They were so upset, Jo told me, by the inequities perpetrated in the name of the tea and coffee trade, that they felt the only ethical thing to do was to drink hot water. No earl grey, no lattes, no nothing. Just a cup of hot water.
Isabelle Ranger is a person of conviction, too. A herbalist by trade, she began developing medicinal teas for clients suffering stomach aches and other ailments and crafting tea here in Pemberton back in 2005. Even though her HQ is in Whistler and home in Squamish, her tea growing patch is here in Pemberton’s sweet soil at RootDown Organics. So I asked her to explain whether Jo’s parents were right : do we need to think harder about what we’re steeping in our hot water?
Weeding and planting in the high summer heat. This is how I spend my summers to avoid the bugs.
Everyone’s heard the saying, You Are What You Eat. How do you adapt that for what you drink?

The key is pure mountain water which the ancient tea masters would say has the highest Prana (Chi).

This fresh water warmed to the right temperature for the type of tea is the oldest, purest and simplest form to hydrate healthfully and take herbal remedies.

Organic pure tea leaves are key, as pesticide residue and chemical “natural flavourings” lace well over 75% of all teas sold in teahouses, cafés and grocery stores. (The “flavoured” teas contain laboratory-made “natural flavouring” or “organic natural flavour”  that can even be considered organic under the FDA rules. These are used to lure your senses into believing you’re sipping on a trendy healthy fruit tea when in fact it is an aging lower-grade commodity tea sitting a long time in a warehouse. They are then blended with ornamental flowers, pretty berries and nuts for looks, but mostly what you smell, crave and sip is a lab-made smell and taste engineered by chemists that is far from its original source.)

So when choosing a tea, read the labels and choose a real pure tea from a good clean Organic FairTrade Tea Farm co-op imported by a trusted local importer with certifications.

Better yet sip on tisanes or tea blends with locally grown botanicals from the Pemberton Valley that are above any current quality standards in the tea industry.

Cornflowers row

How did you get interested in tea?

I always loved tea as a kid but my love of tea started at 18 when I moved to Whistler and bought my first herbal medicine volume called The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody. I started blending my own medicinal teas. It awakened something innate and ancient in me…. my calling.  I went on to study Herbalism with Rowan Hamilton, Don Ollsin and BC First Nations. I have dedicated my life to the leaves of plants in one form or another ever since. I also had a vision in 1999 about everything we grow, blend and TeaCraft at Namasthé. The ideas have been brewing a very very long time. Slow Tea, one could say.

You’re almost 10 years in to Namasthé. What kind of volume are you doing these days? What has the growth curve been? How’s the learning curve going? How long did it take for people to get it?

As an herbalist, I have blending hundreds of medicinal teas since 1999, but Namasthé got our first boxes in December 2007 after almost a year of planning, design and R&D. I still have many years ahead to build what I envision. It is a longer term project of some amplitude.

Globally, tea is the second most popular beverage after water and actually a cleaner and safer source after boiling. Tea is growing fast globally due to its health benefits and versatility. It contains caffeine in moderate amounts but the fascinating aspect is the amino acid called L-Theanine is one of tea’s finest attributes because you get the caffeine but in even dosage to the brain over 6-8 hours instead of a jolt of jitters. Along with blood sugar regulation and cholesterol reduction it is a fine habit to have with much poetry written about its praises in history.
Handharvested and calyx removal done by Namasthe so just the pretty petals grace our Divine Earl Grey with its floral notes to complement the rich black heirloom tea and Bergamot citrus.
What is the healing potential of tea? For sure, on a gloomy day, a nice cup of Earl Grey can wash the blues away. But is it more than a psychosomatic reaction?

Earl Grey is one our most popular and we love drinking it hot like JLP on the Enterprise because we use real Cold Pressed Bergamot from true Sicilian Bergamot Oranges it actually gives our Earl Grey tea uplifting properties for gloomy days. We also blend our Pemberton grown, hand-harvested Cornflowers to the mix which gives our Earl Grey citrus & floral notes that have been used traditionally as anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antiseptic, digestive botanicals.

(I drank “uterus-toning tea” made of raspberry leaf during pregnancy… Do you think it worked? I mean, it made me feel like I was doing something proactive, so I was happy to be drinking it… and it tasted fine!)

I actually had severe anemia in my first pregnancy that was not responding to prenatal nor ferrous pills to the dismay of my midwife. A simple tea, 3 times daily for one week of Nettles, Rosehips, Burdock & Yellow Dock did the job better than 7 months of tablets.

Water & botanicals make truly amazing broths, teas and cooking ingredients.

Does tea go stale?
Some teas can age well but most teas and botanicals do go stale. Most teas are meant to be savoured within a year or two.
Our teas are always really fresh seasonal teas and our local grown Thérroir Botanicals are dried whole and we only grind them on demand  that day to keep the essential oils fresh and potent with medicinal qualities, which is rare in the tea industry. It makes for unsurpassable aroma, taste and health benefits so we don’t have to add chemicals to make them smell like the real thing because they are fresh and pure that is what tastes the best!
What is an infusion? Is it different? A tisane?
Tea comes from varietals of a unique tree Camellia Sinensis that may grow to 30 feet or more. Only this plant is called Tea or Cha whereas all others are called tisanes or infusions. We grow herbs so technically they are tisanes and we do grow tea (Camellia Sinensis) too for fun and testing in Pemberton & Squamish.
Canadian Oolongw ith our Tea Plants single leaf and buds. Delicious.
What is the best way to drink tea? Tea pot? Tea bag? Iced?
Loose leaf tea in Gaiwan or seasoning teapot are the best or a loose leaf to-go mug like Timolino is excellent.
Also, the Loose Leaf Teapouch that we craft in Whistler is the same amazing loose leaf Tea in a simple, convenient Teapouch.
Iced cold brew is best in summer but hot tea everyday is excellent for health and morale.
The best is to make sure you have the right amount of loose leaf tea, right temperature of water for your tea and proper infusion time.
How long did it take you to learn how to grow and harvest your teas? I imagine the understanding starts with books, and then moves to jars of dried herbs, and then goes back to the earth. Is that how it was for you?

I am forever a student of tea and herbalism and I love experimenting with the plants’ innate survival strategies. I have been growing in Pemberton for 5 summers and we are constantly out-putting less than our demand. It is a very intensive labour of love but with great farm partners like Sarah & Simone at RootDown Farm, it makes it easier.

Currently a group of our tea plants are shivering in this cold snap under layers of Burlap Coffee bags from SaltSpring Coffee so we hope they make it past this test.

Burlapping the Tea Plants with coffee from our partner Saltspring Coffee to help them survive the cold in PembertonWhy grow in Pemberton?

I love summers in Pemberton. I love weeding in 35*C and I love the people and of course, the amazing black gold under our toes. Love the local food spots, too. We love growing at RootDown Farm with Sarah and Simone – they are amazing, hardworking role models and run a great farming operation with rich soils, great eggs and the best carrots! We get better each year and it is great to have two inspiring women farmers to work with.

The TPatch at Rootdown Farm, Spring 2013

What is the size of the tea-patch?

The TPatch is 1/6 acre of hand-harvested & hand weeded herbals. When we moved 2 years ago we had to leave all our Peppermints behind from lack of space, so we hope to add more growing area next summer to get new ones going. We don’t grow volume, we grow the Thérroir, taste and rare botanicals unique to our blends. If we run out, no one else grows these commercially. So planning is key.

What are your favourite tea flowers/crops?

Tulsi is so special to the bees, for use in some of our favourite teas and to so many communities for health and spiritual purposes.

Lemon Verbena is a tough cookie to overwinter but so amazingly fragrant!

Wintergreen,White Buffalo Sage and Camellia Sinensis (tea) are so fun to grow to make Wulong but tough in Canadian winter.

Goji berries – fresh and juicy – were a favourite this summer, but hands down the most useful is dandelion and burdock that we weed and use in our Rootbeer Tea.

I love each and everyone one.

Cedric weeding dandelion roots that we reclaim, dry and blend into our popular Wild Roots beer TeaCraft syrup

Let’s get political for a moment. What is the big deal about conventionally grown tea? Is a cup of Twinings really so bad?

Most mainstream multinational brands are conventionally grown which means not organic, not FairTrade and most have a lot of pesticide and artificial or natural flavouring. There is a real social inequity that needs to be addressed globally and it affects mostly women and their children. Also pesticides residue have been found during testing of many common grocery store mainstream brands and these findings are getting posted on blogs more and more.
Tea Lovers want to enjoy a healthy tea without feeling worried or guilty. Choosing wisely, just in the simplest beverage choice of hot water and a leaf, has a large impact across the globe and in your own backyard.
Isabelle rototilling the weeds and prpping to expand the Wintergreen row
Also supporting local TeaCratftsmanship which is actually quite uncommon in the tea industry makes not just a most exquisite cup of tea but a huge impact globally.
We source our teas so carefully, they get tested rigorously to EU, USA and Canadian standards for Organic, Fair-Trade and we know what we grow.  No one goes to the lengths that we do to offer an increasing selection of quality local grown. 
What are the benefits of local?
Local growing and crafting keeps the flow of money circulating in the community and strengthens that community in so many ways.
We prefer knowing who makes our food, who grows our food and who serves it. It’s like a larger family gathering of sharing and caring that gives so much more support, fuels creativity, and connects us closer as humans to our roots so we can reach for the stars, to inspire each other while creatively pursuing our callings.
The bees also really get a special buzz in the Tulsi and Wild Mints – maybe its like catnip for them or it is truly as the ancient books say about the sacredness of Tulsi. It’s probably both. I think it is like for us – it boosts their immunity as part of their survival tools. We should plant more  for them, as their medicinal cabinet to fight off mites and get strong.
Farm sun drying pre indoor drying of our Tulsi. These are humungous Tulsi plants.
What are your most exciting new products? 

Our line of TeaCraft Sodas Tea like Wild Roots Beer, Pemberton Cola, Wild Ginger beer have getting a lot attention  – so much that we will be launching them as simple syrups for foodservice, bartenders and restaurants that have soda on tap. They are just simple botanicals, spices and tea – but no phosphoric acid, caramel color, HFCS, or “natural flavouring”. They are actually tea syrups that have health benefits.

Also our new Hibiscus Love is perfect hot or cold as iced tea without sweetener for kids. It’s full of superfruits like maqui berries, blueberries, Hibiscus and Rooibos for a spiced zing of tasty vitamins C for the cold months ahead.
Labrador tea foraged in Whistler
Where can people find you/follow you?
We will be updating our website by end of January which was long overdue and make our teas more accessible anywhere. 

We post updates and info on our Facebook page : Namasthé Tea Co.

Instagram: Namastheteaco
Twitter: namastheteaco

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