Have You Heard of Coffee Leaf Tea?

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Consumed in Ethiopia for more than 200 years, coffee leaf tea is exactly what it sounds―the leaves of coffee plants roasted and then brewed into tea. While coffee leaves barely contain any caffeine at all, they are believed to be more nutritious than both coffee and many blends of tea. They also have “…a clean and smooth flavour without the bitterness associated with conventional green and black teas.”

Wize Monkey is one of the companies currently popularizing the blend, and their goal is “to improve the livelihoods of coffee-dependent communities by harvesting a sustainable & healthy product.” Wize Monkey was founded by Max Rivest and Arnaud Petitvallet, who are both business school graduates from France with a focus on ethical practices and international sustainable development.

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Other than oil, coffee is the second largest industry in the world, worth approximately $15.4 billion in 2009/10. Even still, the coffee business is incredibly seasonal; coffee beans can only be harvested for 3 months out of the entire year. As a result, most workers cannot be kept on year-round. According to Wize Monkey’s site:

“In the last few years, the coffee market has become flooded and revenues have been plummeting for all coffee farmers worldwide. We figured that if the farmers could also sell coffee leaves, they could create a second source of income and help make ends meet. After three months of searching and meeting with dozens of organic farmers, we have come home to Vancouver BC with a one-of-a-kind revolutionary tea. Not only does it do your body some good, it does the farmers some awesome.”

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The good thing about coffee leaves is that they can be harvested year-round. Wize Monkey sources their leaves from one of the top coffee growers in Northern Nicaragua, who has over 18 years experience in the industry. This particular farm “pays workers 80% more than the industry average, which means more funds in the worker’s pockets to support their families…” If Wize Monkey is successful, coffee leaf tea could potentially provide long-lasting benefits to families and communities around the world that normally make a living selling coffee beans.

Curious about how you can try Wize Monkey’s coffee leaf tea for yourself? Their online shop has a preorder bundle available with shipment due for spring of 2015 (soon!), or a two sample pack.

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Better Health and Tea

1427604_56978169Tea is one of my favorite things to drink, and it’s not just because it’s delicious. Research suggests that drinking tea comes with all sorts of benefits; most notably, it’s rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and can even help to prevent cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, certain types of tea may help to prevent liver disorders and kidney stones, stabilize blood sugar levels, contain antibacterial/antiviral properties, and can help to combat osteoporosis. Can dried leaves really be all that great? What makes tea so good for you?

First, let’s take a look at where tea even comes from. Tea is only technically considered to be tea if it comes from the leaves of the bush Camellia sinensis. Other varieties, like herbal teas, come from things like flowers or peppermint leaves. Varieties of tea derived from the leaves Camellia sinensis are wider than many would probably expect. White tea, pu-reh, yellow—and the big three—oolong, black, and green, all come from the same place. They only differ because of the way they’re processed.

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When processing tea, the final product varies depending upon its oxidation level (fermentation, how much oxygen it is exposed to before it is processed). For example, with green tea, the leaves are steamed and dried immediately after they’re plucked, minimizing/eliminating oxidation. On the other end of the spectrum, black tea is fully oxidized before it is processed. Oolong tea falls somewhere in the middle, with partial oxidation before the steaming/drying phase.

Other than water, hot tea is the most popular beverage in the world. Globally, black tea is the most common, followed by green, and then oolong. The top five tea consumers worldwide include Qatar, UK, Kuwait, Libya, and lastly, Ireland (consuming a whopping 5.97 pounds every year per person).[1]

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The bulk of scientific research done on tea pertains to oolong, black, and green, so we’ll be focusing on those three. Green tea is most commonly associated with good health, but all three of the above types contain lots of antioxidants and vitamins that can help to prevent disease. In fact, according to John Weisburger, Ph.D., (a long time researcher and avid lover of tea), green and black tea can contain approximately 10 times the amount of antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.[2] While not as widely consumed, other types of tea derived from Camellia sinensis are also rich in antioxidants, as the oxidation process has not been shown to make too large a difference in levels.

Antioxidants are the biggest benefit that tea brings to the table, as they are responsible for seeking out and destroying things that can damage our cells (which can potentially lead to cardiovascular disease and cancer). Heart disease rates in tea drinkers versus non-tea drinkers have been observed to be lower, as well as strokes. Additionally, antioxidants found in tea have been reported to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and can reduce the risk of liver disease.

Main Sources:

  • Tea and health, Siro I. Trevisanato, Ph.D., and Young-In Kim, M.D.
  • A review of latest research finding on the heath promotion properties of tea, Christiane J. Dufresne, Edward R. Farnworth
  • Green tea leads to better health, Australian Nursing Journal
  • Steep yourself in better health, Rachel Meltzer Warren

What is Fair Trade?

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In your time spent as a consumer, you’ve probably seen items labeled ‘fair trade,’ or ‘fair trade certified.’ You likely have a general idea of what this means; that one thing is being traded for another, and the terms of doing so are fair for everyone involved. What is it specifically, though, that makes something fair trade?

At its core, fair trade is an idea. It allows producers in developing countries to sell their products at a fair price, helps to keep their products sustainable, and makes sure their workers are being treated fairly. It’s a sort of partnership which aims to make sure that no one is being taken advantage of.

One of the main groups supporting this idea is the World Fair Trade Organization. Here are their 10 Principles of Fair Trade:

  • Create opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers, which helps to increase quality of life and reduce poverty in their region
  • Transparency and accountability with management, commercial dealings, employees, and producers.
  • Fair trading practices, always keeping in mind the well-being of the producers (socially, economically, and environmentally).
  • Payment of a fair price, which has been agreed upon mutually.
  • Ensuring no child and/or forced labor.
  • Non discrimination in regards to things such as race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • Good working conditions; the producer must maintain a healthy and safe environment for its workers.
  • Providing capacity building (helping employees, management, etc. to develop their skills).
  • Promoting fair trade.
  • Respect for the environment, maximizing the use of sustainable materials, buying locally, reducing energy consumption, and more.

In addition to fair trade being an idea, products can also be fair trade certified by groups such as Fairtrade International (a non-profit organization). There are different sorts of standards which vary depending upon your role in the process (if you are a producer, you are subject to different standards than the buyer).

In order to obtain certification, there is a list of mandatory criteria that needs to be met and upheld, such as purchasing at a minimum price and keeping their dealings transparent. If the company meets all of the necessary standards, they may apply for a license. This allows them to put the fairtrade certification mark on their product. Companies using this mark will be audited annually, making sure they are still in compliance with all fair trade standards.

Products that can be fair trade certified include: bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, flowers, fresh fruit, honey, gold, juices, rice, spices and herbs, sports balls, sugar, tea, wine, and certain composite products (products that contain more than one ingredient).

*Some people take issue with fairtrade in practice; this topic will be covered at a later date.