Sara Stender has been working with Rwandans affected by genocide for the last decade, and in the process created both a non-profit organization and the 3 Mountains tea brand.
She said she started the business as an economic driver behind the non-profit work, and is now funding entrepreneurship training for Rwandan women. They were previously coffee farmers, which can be an unstable industry because the women were only able to harvest coffee twice a year.
The 3 Mountains team is now building an herbal tea farm in Rwanda where the workers can have a regular income; the climate conditions, good soil and high elevation in Rwanda make it an optimal location for growing tea and it can be harvested year-round.
Leveraging a tea partnership
Stender initially launched the company with Tîma Tea, a loose leaf collection of five teas made from the camellia sinensis plant in Rwanda. Though it’s done well, she wanted to expand with a ready-to-drink, healthy beverage alternative to sugary sodas, energy drinks, plain waters and alcohol.
A non-drinkers based in Asheville, North Carolina, Stender found herself looking for a tea option among all the craft breweries in the area. She didn’t want to create something that was full of artificial powders and sugars like other iced tea drinks, and instead used 3 Mountains’ whole leaf brewing technology that retains the polyphenols and keeps the tea healthy.
The resulting Silverback teas are available in Classic Silver and Harvest Gold. Stender is positioning the teas as premium and ideal for all, including the loose leaf tea enthusiast, the non-tea drinkers and those looking for non-alcoholic options.
According to Stender, their black tea is a Ceylon-style black, just like Sri Lankan black tea because the region has a similar soil and elevation. In this vein, Stender said “I think there’s a shift to look at Africa as really a competitor in the global marketplace for tea,” the way Asia has been in the past.
The 3 Mountains brand is Fair Trade Certified, but Stender reiterates that the company mission goes beyond that with real opportunities for economic independence. “It’s not a charity model, it’s not a giveback program. We’re partnering together,” she said.
The Silverback canned teas will roll out to all 161 Fresh Market stores in the next few weeks, while most of its bar and restaurant accounts are in North Carolina.
The draft format was Stender’s idea, mainly for marketing purposes, but she hopes to see it catch on the way some kombuchas are now on tap, serving those looking for alternatives to alcohol.
“There’s a huge need for people who want something that tastes good and is healthy that you can get when you’re out at breweries with friends,” she said.