Is a Tea Company an Environmental Company?

It's a fact:
Being a tea company, we are also an environmental company. After all, our very business is 100% reliant on the ability for this earth to deliver, season after season, bountiful crops of camellia sinensis (tea!). Fertile soil, clean rain, cool, damp fog, and warm sun must all contribute for us to have tea here in San Francisco. It's easy to take our tea for granted. It seems like we just write our suppliers a check, and a week later UPS delivers, magically! But in reality there are so many fine details that must all conspire for the tea to sprout in a 1300 year old tree in the jungles of Southwestern China, to then show up in a cup in urban San Francisco. Now the fact that all the components, from where and how it is grown, to the people who pick, dry, toast, pack and ship it, to the transport companies that deliver reliably to us week after week....everything just fits together, and we have our tea. That is magic.
There is always, always, always room for improvement. But we are trying our best, and have had many accomplishments along the way. We'd love to hear from you if you have suggestions on areas for improvement. Below are some ares we have successfully implemented our philosophy as a business--for our customers, employees, and business partners.

1. Build-out:
For our new Yerba Buena Gardens location in downtown SF, we wanted to create a space founded sustainable, renewable products, and that fit our aesthetic and design style. Bamboo was the perfect material as it grows at a rate of 6+ inches a day throughout Asia. It is our main material for tables, counters, etc. For our "wall of tea," we chose aged, recycled wood that not only creates a feeling of age, but is old! We really like the space as a whole because it is naturally temperature regulating, plenty of windows providing cross-draft for when it's hot out, and ample solar heating for when it's cold and windy.

2. Product Offering:
All of our products (food, tea, teaware, and retail products) have been chosen based on environmental and economic sustainability, support and supply from local businesses, and organic and fair trade connections. Please read this blog for more info on our philosophy. Our specialty teaware, is an exclusive made by our friend and neighbor Drew Dewitt. The chai cups and tea cups were designed especially for organic tea. They keep your brew hot, and your hands cool, and are really, really sexy. Elegant and natural they look great in our store, but also at home. They will be for sale this holiday season, so stay tuned.

3. Recycling:
We opened our original location at 498 Sanchez st. in the Mission-Castro neighborhood, nearly 4 years ago--and when we opened we had a weekly trash pickup of 6 waste bins. We are now down to 2 waste bins, and 2 compost bins, and 2 recycling bins. Our goal is to be 100% NO waste, and we're working on educating all of our staff to make this a reality. In terms of disposable utensils, when we opened our doors in 2002, we thought all our paper products were environmental. Recently we found out that the majority of paper cups and containers have a waterproof barrier inside them that is actually a petroleum laminate that will be around for hundreds of years! We've now gone to changing over to truly paper products and utensils made from rapidly-composting materials like sugar cane fiber, corn, and unbleached recycled paper.

4. Local, really, really local goods:
We make a point of partnering with local bakers, artists, and farmers to supply our customers with products that have a minimal environmental impact on getting from Farmer to You. We are even working on gardening our own herbs right in downtown SF--in the Yerba Buena Gardens. Also, we'll soon be supplying the gardens with our used tea leaves, for them to incorporate as fertilizer in their organic garden.

5. Tea Dinners:
We host events that educate and entertain our customers about our products, business, and the environment. Please see the press release for our October 18th Fair Trade Tea dinner Gala & Panel discussion. (

6. We care about our employees:
Our employees are the front line to our customers, so if they are happy, so our the customers. We offer health insurance, and, preventative care with local businesses. To stay healthy, our employees get free yoga classes around the city with teachers that join our tea ambassador network, and, they also get treated by our neighboring acupuncture clinic. Soon we'll even be offering employee stock so that everyone who works at Samovar is an owner.

Many of you notice how our employees come and go and come and go for months at a time. We recognize that everybody has unique needs and we want to provide a place that caters to these needs. Whether it's for school, travel, another job, or fun, most of our employees have taken sabbaticals for up to 3 months--ranging from peace efforts in the Middle East, to farming rice in Minnesota, to tea-touring in Asia. Opportunity is limitless for our employees. Just ask Erick, who joined us nearly four years ago as a dishwasher at Sanchez St. He's the manager today running the show for the whole location!

7. Community involvement:
We do our business in the community so why not get involved? We supply many local businesses with our tea, some donated and some not. If you know of a non-profit that needs fair trade tea, just let us know and we're happy to help out. Theatre, education, environmental groups, artists... We enjoy connecting and supporting all of these organizations because tea is about community and health, and for us to succeed as a business, we must embrace our community, connect, and work together.

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