Tea Maker Fights Poverty

Tea Maker Fights Poverty

When Zhena Muzyka founded Gypsy Tea (gypsytea.com) (the name is a nod to her Ukrainian Rom-Gypsy heritage), she was selling teas out of a cart in Ojai, Calif. “I blended black tea with roses from my garden and served it with steamed milk, white chocolate, and homemade whipped cream,” recalls Muzyka, who learned about flavor combinations while studying herbal medicine in Peru. Today, her company offers dozens of varieties of tea sourced from fair trade farms in more than 15 countries. As her business grows, so does Muzyka’s commitment to improving the lives of tea workers and their children.

So what does “fair trade” actually mean?
It means that TransFair USA (an impartial certifying body) ensures that tea workers—most of whom are women—are paid a living wage. So far, Gypsy Tea has helped support 2,500 tea pluckers’ families. Tea gardens in Sri Lanka have used the money from our fair trade premiums to build better housing, start a day care center, and install running water.

How else does fair trade benefit laborers?
In a conventional tea field, workers wear thick protective suits and spray the plants with pesticides. Then women come in and pluck the leaves, without gloves. Fair trade facilities, meanwhile, have fewer incidents of cancer—and the infant mortality rate is about 65 percent lower.

What should we look for when buying fair trade products?
Check that the item has a seal from TransFair; there are lots of different certifications out there, but TransFair’s is the most comprehensive. They perform routine audits to make sure the money is actually getting to the tea workers. And shop for brands that offer only fair trade varieties, which shows they’re truly committed.

Tell us about Gypsy Tea’s new scholarship program.
The Daughters of Gypsy Tea scholarship sends two girls to college each year for a degree in social work, healthcare, business, education, finance, or the arts. The goal is for these women to return and give back to their communities.

What is your company doing for the environment?
We offset our carbon emissions by purchasing credits for wind power. And we use minimal, eco-friendly packaging materials: Our tea tins are fully recyclable and reusable, and our new tea sachets are made from biodegradable corn silk.