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Numi Organic Tea brings more than just “love in a cup” to Oakland

on April 28, 2015

No matter how busy or stressful the day, a cup of tea is an invitation to slow down, says Reem Rahim, chief brand officer and co-founder of Numi Organic Tea, a privately-owned, triple bottom-line company based in Oakland.

As a benefit corporation, or “B Corp.,” Numi pursues not just profit, but a trio of goals: economic, social and environmental benefits. Numi plans to donate 1 percent of its net profits to water access projects in 2015. The goal is to donate $50,000 to farms from which they source some of their ingredients and charity:water, a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides clean water to developing countries.

More than a simple brew, Rahim speaks of tea as a sensual experience akin to “love in a cup.” First comes the warm feeling of the cup’s surface against the hand. Then, the vapor and the smell of flowers, herbs or fruits send a message: Take a moment.

“Tea is more inward, more feminine energy. It’s about nurturing,” says Rahim as she holds a cup of tea. “It’s more like, I’m just going to sit with myself for a moment.”

Named after a Middle Eastern dried lime tisane that Reem and her brother Ahmed Rahim drank as children in Iraq, Numi started in 1999. Their vision, which arose after a family vacation to the Grand Canyon, was to offer a wider selection of specialty teas in a company that also was concerned with the community and the planet.

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, right after water, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. “The total wholesale value of tea sold in the USA grew from less than $2 billion in 1990 to more than $10 billion today,” states a 2014 year review on the state of the U.S. tea industry.

The growing demand for tea can also be seen in the thousands of teashops nationwide and the continuous appearance of tea variations in candies and specialty drinks such as bubble milk teas, popularly known as “boba” teas.

“There were many factors that sort of shifted the culture to be more receptive to tea. More traveling, people are more exposed to tea, and I think in the younger generations it is almost hip to be a tea drinker,” says Rahim.

After spending many years apart pursuing their own interests, the siblings found a way to merge their talents and passions in Numi. Rahim studied biomedical engineering in college, and later pursued a master’s degree in fine art leading to a career in art. Before starting Numi, she worked as an art teacher, traveled, did exhibits in different places.

Her brother, on the other hand, studied theater and psychology in New York City and for several years traveled as a professional filmmaker and photographer. He is now the co-founder, CEO and “Alchemist” of Numi, searching for new blends.

“What was great about Numi was that it allowed me to showcase my art on all of the original packaging,” says Rahim, who continues to practice her art in her own studio. “Things kind of just evolved in a way where we both went after our strengths. Ahmed and I work very hand in hand on a lot of things, and he would give me inspirations for the artwork.”

Some of the original art for the packages came from photographs Ahmed took during his trips around the world seeking herbs and building partnerships with farmers. Based on the photographs, his sister recreated the pictures with colors that resemble the tones of the tea inside the box. Sometimes the tea itself was used as a sort of watercolor.

Part of the evolution of the company can be seen in the variety of blends they have created. In its first year, Numi launched nine flavors of regular teabags and one assortment box. Today, the company has about 35 flavors available to the public.

The teas come predominantly from China and India. The rest of them come from South Africa, North Africa and Madagascar. The chocolate it uses for its “indulgent teas” comes from Peru.

“The amount of effort and care that we put into each teabag, each flavor and the purchasing that we do and traveling to those gardens and working on the art for the box—all of that will hopefully come through in a care for oneself,” says Rahim.

As essential as water is to the enjoyment of tea, the sibling team found it fundamental to embed water consciousness and planet consciousness into the company’s vision. To take part in the water cause, Numi launched in October 2014 the fundraising initiative “Together for H2OPE,” as part of a partnership with charity:water

More people die from lack of water and sanitation every year than as a result of violence or war, according to Numi’s website. But since 2006, charity:water has funded 13,072 projects bringing clean drinking water to 4.4 million people.

Rahim says that, given how much water people use in making their tea, it was natural for the company to focus on providing the benefit of clean and safe drinking water.  “How can we sort of take that blessing that we have and try to give it to others? We are on that mission; we are working through various ways of getting the message out there and raising money and giving back our money,” she says.

Through the Numi Foundation, the company fosters what it calls the NUMI curriculum, which stands for “Nature Underlines My Inspiration,” and which brings together artistic expression, social awareness, nature and environmental awareness. The curriculum, which provides teachers with grants for art, gardening supplies and field trips, was piloted at Oakland’s Community School for Creative Education (CSCE), a Waldorf-inspired public charter school in East Oakland.

“There’s always been the desire to create a foundation associated with the core business and we had various ideas of what we wanted it to be and what we wanted it to look like,” says Rahim. She adds that they hope that Numi will become a household name and an example of sustainable packaging, fair trade and conscious social and environmental behavior.

As people search for healthier and slower-paced lifestyles, the calmness of tea and its health benefits are helping their industry, little by little, continue to gain ground in the coffee aisle, she says.

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    About the AuthorAndrejs Plakans is professor of European history in the Department of History at Iowa State University. He is the author of numerous articles

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