Loose leaf tea has been our standby, since it takes minimal processing on our part and offers that sweet ritual of scooping and brewing up a pot of tea.
But, there are so many people we’re not reaching! That’s why, after much consideration, we decided to start offering tea bags. The grab and go feature of tea bags is super convenient, and sometimes that’s the difference between a little cup of self care and a sad time with no tea. We wanted to combine the convenience and ease of a tea bag with the freshest, PA grown herbs that you can get your hands on.
Now that we’ve gotten this far, it seems like a quick step to get our herbs into single serving lil bags right? Not quite!
Getting started back in January 2021, we made some calls. One call was to a co-packer right in Philly - he would be happy to talk with us, he said, once we were able to send a finely milled tea sample to him for a quote. Ok, we will do that, we said, and proceeded into a deep dive of herb mills for de-stemming and chopping.
This first step to teabags proved to be a whole world in and of itself! We have always done our herb processing by hand, and we are very proud of the quality that we get from that - keeping much of the leaf or flower petals intact for maximum flavor and potency. So, it was important that we don’t use a mill that would either pulverize our herbs or add extra heat that would degrade the flavor. No thank you, not after we grew all these babies from seed all season!
“It’ll be so much cheaper for you if you just…don’t farm”
Since we do all our packaging by hand in our small kitchen (on top of all the farm work!), we honestly couldn’t fathom packaging single serving tea bags by hand. We simply don’t have the time, and I’m not sure we could have made the economics work anyway - since increasing staff pay to a MORE than living wage is always a priority for us. We’ve invested heavily in the right-size farm equipment over the years to save everyone’s backs, so we are not quite yet in a position to purchase more machinery. Also, who says you have to do everything?? We decided that finding a co-packer with a tea bagging machine would be a good fit for us at this time.
While searching for an herb mill, we called around to some other tea co-packers within a few states of us. Shockingly, about 8 of 10 of those companies wouldn’t even talk to us about packing our own herbs. They primarily do ‘private labeling’, in which they source all the ingredients (usually from far far away in giant commingled lots), make the product for us, and slap our label onto it. This is how almost *all* teas from small brands are made, surprisingly enough. One sales rep even tried to convince me - “it’ll be so much cheaper for you if we supply the herbs! We get excellent bulk pricing”. Well, great, but that wouldn’t exactly be bringing something valuable to the marketplace. It would literally be…the same tea as the next one on the shelf, but with a different label. F that!
In all honesty, she was NOT lying - growing our own herbs and maintaining a small farm is indeed very expensive. If you’re trying to get rich quick, you do not start a farm - that’s all I’ll say about that for now!
After much ado, we settled on two specialized mills from Greece (much of the global herb industry resides in those parts) - ordered in summer 2021, the summer of supply chain issues. Eventually they got on a boat and finaaaaally arrived this winter. Honestly they are still sitting all wrapped up in their packaging until we get an electrician and carpenter to outfit us with a nice little milling room!
And we settled on a small co packer for this round of tea bags who was willing to work with our “imperfect” herbs. While not without their quirks, they provided us with boxes of beautiful tea bags for you!
...More in part 3!