A Visit in Vickie’s Kitchen with Linda Appel Lipsius:
Musings on Great Tea, Social Responsibility and Daily Life
I recently had the opportunity to have a chat with Linda Appel Lipsius, Co-founder and CEO of Teatulia. Linda, whose laugh is heartfelt and contagious, was a delight to interview. She’s the mother of two amazing cute kiddos and is proud of the work being done at Teatulia. Her philosophy is, “if you can do it better, then you may as well.” And, they are. Her company recently took home the “Focus on the Future” award at the 8th annual Naturally Boulder Autumn Awards Party. After sampling several varieties of Teatulia tea, I think that the taste of Teatulia tea, their business model, and Linda herself are all equally impressive. I hope that you, my dear reader, enjoy the following interview as much as I did.
VW: I wanted to talk just a few minutes about how you got into the tea business. I read that it involved a chance meeting your husband had at a coffee shop.
LAL: I am always surprised at all the stuff I put out there on the internet. Yeah, my husband met this lovely man, Anis Ahmed, at a coffee shop in New York. My husband has a habit of talking to strangers – to his benefit though. So, my husband met Anis at a coffee shop and we became friends. And a bit later, Anis was staying at our place while we were in LA. We knew that he and his family had started a tea garden and he was interested in bringing the tea to the States. My background is in consumer products, and we were getting out of our previous business. So, I offered to help him and do a market analysis. I was not a tea drinker, at the time, and didn’t really know much about the market. So, I started out just helping a friend.
VW: I think it is amazing in life when things like that just happen. Now that you are a tea drinker, how do you make the process special?
LAL: I think, for me, it is the whole experience. I usually use Teatulia’s pyramid bagged teas. So, the process is fairly simple. I like the taste and the beauty. It’s actually called the agony of the leaves – the twisting of the leaves as they unfurl in the water. It definitely does make you take a moment. I find that it is a very different experience than having a cup of coffee.
VW: I read that you like to watch your tea steep in a glass cup. What is it about the steeping process that you like to watch?
LAL: Oh, I think the glass cup is very important. The agony of the leaves is so cool to watch. We, half-jokingly, try to ban porcelain cups, just because you can’t experience the tea in the same way. We do use porcelain cups, but I think glass cups are best for tea. In a glass vessel you can really see the tea grow; it’s beautiful. It really is a multi-sense experience. But, it is only with tea. The herbs don’t act the same way. Our lemongrass herbal doesn’t do the same pretty dance in your cup that our black breakfast tea does.
VW: You mentioned coffee. I typically start my day with two cups of coffee and that is all the coffee I will have for the day. Do you start your day with tea? Do you end your day with tea? Or, do you drink tea all day long?
LAL: You ask that at an interesting time in my life. I am now ready to leave coffee entirely. I used to have two cups of coffee in the morning and then tea the rest of the day. But, here the last few months, I have really discovered tea in a new way. I love our black tea and have begun drinking the white tea a lot more. You know, I keep evolving. I had a cup of coffee today while at a photo shoot. But, I think if you speak with me next week I will be a tea all day person.
VW: I noticed that you have Black, White, Green and Herbal varieties of tea for sale at Teatulia. They all look amazing. For any of my readers who are not familiar with the differences, what are your recommendations for steeping different types of tea?
LAL: The recommendations are based both on temperature and steep time.
- Black teas are the heartiest, most robust and are fully oxidized. When you prepare a cup of black tea, you can use water that is at a full boil. Our black teas are best when steeped 3-5 minutes.
- For our white and green teas, you want water just off the boil. I think steeping them anywhere from 1-3 minutes is best. Any longer and the tea will start to burn and become very tannic.
- Herbals are very forgiving. You can use boiling water, you can steep them for 10 minutes, you can steep them for 1 minute. You can really do whatever suits your tastes on the herbals.
VW: Here at Make Life Special, I love to encourage people to get together over food and drink for conversation and connection. I know that tea can be used hot, iced, in cocktails and even in cookies. What is your favorite way to use tea to bring your friends and family closer together?
LAL: I think all of the ways you mentioned are nice. I think tea is so new to so many people. I like introducing them to tea, having them taste it and watching that big “ah ha” moment. We do a news letter where we tell people different ways to steep. Cold brewed iced tea is very exciting and interesting. I think that sharing all the different ways to use tea create dialogue and gets people excited.
Perhaps my favorite way of making tea time special is pulling out a beautiful tea pot when I have people over to my house. I think that creating ceremony is important. You get everyone to slow down and enjoy the time a bit more.
Also, over the holidays I like to do cookies using all of our teas. Earl of Bengal cookies, Ginger Green cookies and lemongrass cookies with a shortbread recipe base are all very good. I love to make up a big batch of those and package them up to share with my friends.
VW: I understand social responsibility is a top priority for you. Please tell my readers a bit about Teatulia’s approach.
LAL: So, the garden was started by my business partner, Anis Ahmed, and his family specifically to be a social enterprise and provide jobs. That was the entire reason for building this garden. It turned out that the tea was exquisite. That was a happy accident. The northern part of Bangladesh is the poorest part of the entire country. There is a vicious cycle of unemployment, poverty and starvation based on the seasons. So, they went in and built this garden from scratch and provided jobs. During the high season, the tea season, up to 2,ooo people in the area are employed. It sounds neat in and of itself that we are providing jobs. But, if you know and understand the tea industry, and how most tea plantations are structured, you realize that this is revolutionary.
Most tea plantations were set up a while ago under different circumstances, like colonialism. These plantations are work camps – that is literally what they are called. The people are only educated up to a certain point and the people that work there are not living in their home community. As a result, the workers are often alienated. Our situation is completely different. The people who work the garden go home at night. When they leave work, they go home to their families and their community.
The second thing that we do is a cattle lending program. Our tea farm is 2,000 acres – which makes it one of the largest tea gardens in the world. To support this amount of organic farming, we need a lot of organic fertilizer. The Ahmed family decided that they didn’t want to go into the dairy business just to get the amount of fertilizer that they needed. They decided to use this need for fertilizer and offer it as a benefit for the community. Teatulia loans cows to women in the community and the women repay those loans with cow dung. That is what the farm needs and that is how they pay down their loan. All the while they are keeping the cows, the milk and any calves produced by the cow. It is a tremendous aggressive asset. Once the loan is repaid, the women own the cow outright. Some of them have sold the cow and bought land. Some have bought additional cows. Most of them are now sending their children to university with the money.
My favorite story though is the rock star of the cattle cooperative. Her name is Fahima Begum and she has about six cows. Her husband actually quit his job and works for her now. In that part of the world that is unheard of. She’s been so successful that she was able to buy a solar panel for her home. Now she can cook at night and the kids can study at night. It’s tremendous.
VW: So, is it only women who work in the tea garden?
LAL: Yes, it’s exclusively women. The pluckers—when you pick tea you pluck it from the plant—are all women. And, it is only women who are in the cattle cooperative. Oh, and here is another of my favorite stories, we were over in Bangladesh last April and they have started a literacy program for the pluckers. So, we sat in on one of the classes. They are teaching twenty, thirty, even fifty year old women how to count to ten and sign their name. We asked one of the ladies, who completed the course, “What has this done for you?” She said “Now that I can sign my name and count to ten, I know that I will not get cheated at the market anymore.” These are basic, basic skills that are very life-changing.
VW: It sounds like a lot of wonderful things are being accomplished through Teatulia. Even under the best circumstances, everyone has their stressful days. How do you unplug and de-stress?
LAL: I hold my children. That is all I want to do.
VW: I’d like to pose a scenario to you: a good friend of yours is a novice tea drinker. You’ve heard that her job has been stressful lately and want to gift her all the tools for a perfect cup of tea. What would you give her? And, what tea would you include?
LAL: I’d give her some Teatulia white tea and some of our lemongrass tea. I’d also give her a glass Bodum cup so she could enjoy watching the agony of the tea. Oh, and I would make sure she had something sweet, of course.
VW: I love to travel and see new places. I’m certain that you travel a lot with your line of work. What are some of your favorite places to visit?
LAL: This summer we were in Spain for a month. I’d never traveled anywhere for that length of time. That was a blast. My favorite place though would have to be South Africa. I went there a few years ago and it was just mind-blowingly beautiful. I lived in London for quite a few years and I still love London. I also still love New York.
VW: It has been a great pleasure getting to know more about you and Teatulia. Is there anything else you would like to add?
LAL: I think that tea, in general, is such an unbelievably rich and complex world. Having not been a tea drinker before joining Teatulia, I’ve had so much fun learning about it. I have found that tea has really enriched my life.
Interested in purchasing some Teatulia tea? Here is a link to their online Store. http://www.teatulia.com/tea-store.htm
Amazon has a selection of their teas available for bulk purchase and their “Subscribe & Save.” Also, for those of you who are Amazon Prime members, several items are Prime eligible! Here is a link to their Selection.
If you are a brick & mortar store lover, here is a link to their Store Locator.
Note: I want to thank Linda Appel Lipsius for this interview. I have enjoyed the samples of Teatulia Tea we received for our Holiday Gift Guide Review. No compensation was received.