Leaping from engineering to selling loose leaf tea, cancer survivor Maria Uspenski has brought the art of steeping to Boulder with organic and fair trade full leaf teas. We caught up with the founder of The Tea Spot, a for-profit philanthropic company. Here’s what she had to say about wellness, sustainable living, and how to steep the perfect cup.
I understand being a cancer survivor has had a large impact on your decision to create The Tea Spot.
It had a huge influence … After recovering from ovarian cancer, I felt an absolute need to keep others, especially my own daughters, away from this disease. Since I’m not equipped to do cancer research, I focus on what I can do, and that is promoting wellness. Fresh teas are an extraordinary source of antioxidants, and the process – ceremony really – of preparing loose leaf tea was most nurturing and therapeutic for me. So I thought that if I could make fresh loose leaf teas more accessible to the public, and enjoyable and easier to prepare, that I could make a contribution to people’s wellness.
What health benefits have you found that tea offers?
Personally, I find the health benefits of tea to be as much psychological as they are physical. Switching from coffee to tea (which has less than half as much caffeine) gets you away from the morning grog and sensation of “needing” that first cup of coffee. Studies have shown that fresh green tea can increase endurance in distance athletes by over 30 percent. This same metabolic boost is what gives green teas their fat-burner quality.
How would you describe the niche you’ve found for your teas?
People are very responsive to premium loose leaf teas. This is our niche.
For beginner tea drinkers, any suggestions for getting started?
First, get a great quality loose leaf tea. Ensure that it’s full leaf and fresh. If it’s a green tea, does it look fresh and green or barely khaki? Does it smell fresh? Do the leaves look fresh and plump or dry and dusty? Also critical to how a tea turns out is to steep it correctly for that tea type. For green tea, steep your leaves in water that is well below the boiling point (has cooled two to three minutes after boiling) and steep two to three minutes only – never more!
What’s the one tea you absolutely could not do without?
I’d have to say that I love to start my day with our Bolder Breakfast – a strong blend of black and very black teas, laced with dark chocolate.
With Celestial Seasonings having such a widely known name, did you find it difficult to get your foot in the door locally?
When we’ve needed a question or a pointer on production that we couldn’t answer ourselves, the people at Celestial Seasonings have always been most gracious and helpful. I think that companies like Celestial Seasoning and The Republic of Tea actually make it easier for a premium tea to be well received.
You’re literally located just down the road from Celestial Seasonings. How have you been able to set yourself apart from them?
Celestial is a legacy here in Boulder and a wonderful corporate citizen, but they’re in an entirely different niche than we are … they’re all in bags, and mostly herbals.
How does loose leaf contribute to sustainable living, as opposed to individual packaging?
Loose leaf tea has a carbon footprint often 10 times lower than tea bags, which are typically wrapped in non-biodegradable bag materials, have excessive packaging, and are machine picked and processed (research by Nigel Melican). When you steep loose tea, you can simply toss your used tea leaves into your kitchen compost, returning the nutrients to the earth, rather than contributing to landfill.
Cancer prevention and wellness of survivors continues to be a theme throughout The Tea Spot. How are you involved?
We donate time, services, and at least 10 percent of all our sales in product to cancer and community wellness initiatives. So far this year, we’ve distributed over $100,000 in product donations.
The Tea Spot products can be ordered online or found at select Whole Foods and tea and coffee shops.