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    Arbor Teas: Organic tea that leaves no trace

    Arbor Teas co-founders, Aubrey and Jeremy Lopatin, have built a business that harmonizes with their personal values, while selling a product that they love. No wonder they’ve built an incredibly loyal following! Jeremy talks with us about putting those values into practice.

    Tell us how Arbor Teas got started.

    My wife, Aubrey, and I fell in love with tea and knew we wanted to be involved in the tea business. We had the idea to start Arbor Teas just three weeks after we got married! We didn’t have the money for a brick-and-mortar store, so we opted for an online business.

    We chose to sell only organic teas because we try to live our lives in a socially and environmentally conscious way. Infusing our business with our personal values just came naturally. Our customers understand that. It also helps that I have a background in environmental policy. Of course, we have to offer top-quality tea that delivers a great experience, but our commitment to organic tea farming, sustainable business practices, and fair trade resonates with our customers and brings them back.

    What makes Arbor Teas unique?

    We extend our sustainability commitment into everything we do. For example, we are the only company to offer our entire line of products in packaging that is backyard-compostable. Our bags will decompose easily with no special treatment. We were on a mission to improve the environmental performance of our packaging for many years before we made the switch to our most recent packaging alternative.

    Realizing that packaging comprised a major portion of our waste-stream, it was an issue we had to address. We had started with steal tins, thinking that they were reusable, recyclable, and so on. But when we conducted a life-cycle analysis, we found that the rates of steel recycling in the U.S. weren’t high enough to justify the resource intensity of producing and shipping steel tins. Other packaging options, like paperboard and lined paper bags, proved to be lighter in terms of environmental footprint. Once the scale of our business permitted, we finally made the switch to packaging made of backyard compostable films.

    Our goal is to ‘leave no trace.’ When you receive a package from Arbor Teas, you can recycle the shipping carton and you can compost the tea leaves and the package in your yard. When you finish the tea, there should be nothing left but the memory of your experience.

    It took us seven years to learn enough to tackle compostable packaging. There are lots of challenges to working with the compostable films we use. For example, our packaging has a shorter shelf life than our tea! It requires close inventory management and climate-controlled storage to keep it in good condition.

    Our packages are made from wood pulp that is sourced from sustainably managed trees. We are also the first company to adopt sugar cane-based labels that that use a compostable adhesive. The adhesive only recently became available.

    What other challenges are you currently addressing?

    The organic certification universe is complex and sometimes challenging. Sometimes we can’t carry a product, even if it is grown in accordance with organic principles, because it isn’t properly certified. We just can’t carry it. And sometimes our customers ask for a specific variety of tea, but we can’t locate a grower from that specific origin that meets our standards. We have a large selection of all kinds of teas, but there are definitely some gaps because of this.

    Organic teas of Japanese origin can be difficult to source. Often the varieties that are sold in the US and Europe are not actually of Japanese origin. Either they are grown and processed in China, or maybe they are grown in China and processed in Japan, but the quality and flavor profiles are not authentic. Fortunately, we are connected with Japanese producers of tea that is grown organically in Japan.

    Is there a specific tea you would recommend to substitute for coffee?

    Pu-erh teas are fermented or aged teas from China. They have an earthy quality because of the fermentation process. The darker ones offer very full flavor and full body. We recommend them to people who are switching away from coffee and still want a rich flavor and “mouthfeel” similar to coffee.

    We are also developing a new tea, which will be released soon. It’s a blend of chaga mushrooms and chicory that brews up very similar to coffee. It has a sweet, rich, satisfying flavor. Stay tuned for that!

    What else is Arbor Teas up to?

    Every year we organize an event that has nothing to do with tea or sustainability. We are huge literature fans, so we decided to organize the annual Arbor Tea Summer Reading Series. We commission an original work of fiction by a different author each year, to be released in serial fashion each week throughout the summer. This year we are presented a piece called “Expiration Date”, by David Erik Nelson, an award-winning science-fiction author and essayist, and we’re already working on next year’s piece. Celebrating the art and beauty produced by humankind is another important reason we’re motivated to protect this planet of ours!

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