Interview: Zhena Muzkya, Purveyor of Fair Trade Teas

Tea was once the most bland, unappreciated beverage in the USA. But like coffee, tea has made huge progress. A bounty of varieties are available now on the market.

Now we are inundated with all kinds of tea: green tea is not just the exotic beverage from Japantown, it’s a boon for everything from immunity to bone strength; white tea is delicate and soothing; no self respecting Middle Easterner would turn down a small cup of dark black tea; and oolong has a complexity that goes well with apple pie (I’m serious, I don’t know why!)

Fair trade sourcing tends to focus on coffee and chocolate, but tea is also an important product that can provide opportunity, rather than hardship, for those who cultivate and harvest it. To that end I had chat with Zhena Muzkya, founder of Gypsy Tea, based in heavenly Ojai, California.

3p: The coconut chai is my favorite, I have to say. So what lead you towards tea?

ZM: I was working on a book about my family’s journey to America when my son was born in need of a major operation that health insurance wouldn’t cover. In order to pay for the operation and support us, I put the book away and pulled together a tea cart in a friend’s store, carried my son in a baby carrier and began selling my blends to support us. Soon, I discovered that the women in the tea fields had no health coverage and some of the fields had up to 70% infant mortality rates due to a lack of healthcare. I vowed to help solve this crisis and dedicated my company to ending poverty for the mothers and children in the tea estates.

3p: What challenges have you faced getting your products on store shelves?

ZM: We have had a tremendous amount of support from our retailers as they love the mission and the product. The largest challenges are competing with bigger companies since we have less margin due to the 20% or so we pay for sustainability measures. We compete with giant companies who only have a few organic and fair trade teas, so their margins are higher and they have an army of reps out buying us off of the shelves and then taking the shelf space for non-organic, non-fair trade items. We are dedicated to the workers and helping them gain healthcare and clean water systems- we don’t understand why competitors would do this. We always feel supported by our consumers, they make it all worth it.

3p: How has your commitment to fair trade benefited workers abroad?

ZM: We have provided $500,000 so far for workers; it has been used for housing, college scholarships, surgeries and preventative healthcare, clean water systems, computer learning centers, retirement savings, cook stoves and numerous other human basic needs.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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