With over 40 years experience sourcing herbs around the world, Caroline‘s expertise has served Teeccino by continually improving the quality and availability of the herbs that we use in Teeccino’s blends. By searching for traditional herbs in other cultures with roasted flavor profiles, she has also pioneered the wild harvest of unique herbs like ramón seed from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. Novel ingredients like ramón seed have given Teeccino new flavor profiles to appeal to more customers.
Caroline’s commitment to developing certified organic sources for Teeccino’s key herbs, which previously were only available as conventional, has both improved Teeccino and served the health of our customers. Other tea manufacturers around the world have also benefited from her work as demand for organic sources of these herbs increased once they became available. On top of this, our commitment to organic certification has made a big difference in the lives of the people who grow and harvest our organic herbs.
If you ask Caroline what she is most proud of in her long career, she will tell you this: her greatest achievement has been the creation of new trade for unique ingredients that protects rainforests and provides income to rural communities where opportunities, especially for women to earn money, are rare.
Here’s the stories behind Teeccino’s herbs:
Although conventional chicory is grown here in the US in Nebraska, a number of chemicals including fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides are used during its cultivation and harvest. Chicory must be weeded during the early stages of its growth. Unfortunately, Caroline was unable to get Nebraskan farmers to be interested in switching from herbicides to other weed control methods used in organic cultivation.
In 2004, she began her quest for organically grown chicory by partnering with a fledgling company just getting started in India, called Organic India. The first crop of a couple of tons of organic chicory roots were harvested in 2005 and sent to France for roasting.
France, the country famous for developing the tradition of drinking coffee blended with chicory, has the best chicory roasting expertise by far. However then, French farmers also only grew conventional chicory due to the same weeding challenges that made Nebraskan farmers stay away from organic.
At that time, the organic certification rules allowed a mix of both conventional and organic versions of the same herb in a product. Thus Teeccino was able to work with Organic India to gradually increase the number of smallholder farmers who would contract to plant organic chicory.
If you’re not familiar with the term “smallholder farmer”, it refers to families with usually less than 5 acres on which they grow crops that are their entire source of income. Organic chicory was a new crop for these farmers and the economic risk had to be born by Teeccino and Organic India.
Fortunately, the successful harvest and the good economic return from organic chicory attracted more and more smallholder farming families. Gradually over five years, the harvest of organic chicory became big enough to use it exclusively in Teeccino. Now, hundreds of families in India grow organic chicory, which is still exported to France for expert roasting.
Here’s another wonderful outcome of Caroline’s quest for organic chicory: In getting to know the founders of Organic India, Caroline put her expertise as a tea designer to work in return for their commitment to grow organic chicory. In 2007, she created Organic India’s new line of 18 teas based on the sacred herb, Tulsi, and now you can buy Organic India’s Tulsi teas all over the world!
Carob trees grow wild throughout the Mediterranean and farming families collect the carob pods when they fall from the trees. Canvas is spread on the ground and then taken up after the pods have filled it. You would think that would have made it easy to get organic certification, but there are many more challenges than you can imagine in certifying both wild trees and production facilities.
To begin with, just finding a company to produce the special grind of carob that Teeccino requires was a big hurdle Caroline had to overcome. For a number of years, she worked with a company on the island of Majorca in the middle of the Mediterranean. Sadly, after making a bad investment in almonds, they went bankrupt and left Teeccino scrambling for a new partner.
Fortunately, Caroline found a small carob company on the island of Sicily and she worked with them to produce our special grind. Eventually, our Sicilian partners were able to get wild carob trees certified organic under the European Union regulations but then came the big blow.
It was 2006 and we were poised to launch Teeccino for the first time with organic certification. All of our labels had been printed with “organic” on their front and we were ready to launch. In order to get the USDA national organic program (NOP) certification, the European organic certifiers had to make one more inspection. They delayed too long getting to Sicily and the pods fell off the tree. Once they had fallen, the regulations wouldn’t allow them to be certified.
At the time it seemed so unfair. After all, they were certified EU organic! Nevertheless, it took another year before we could launch Teeccino under the USDA organic regulations. In the meantime, we changed the labels to note on the ingredients panel that our carob was EU organic certified!
Now, certified organic carob comes from more places in the Mediterranean than just the island of Sicily. Yet it still comes in small lots collected by local people from wild trees in the mountains of Spain, Morocco, Italy and Greece. We are fortunate to have a great partnership with a Spanish company that reliably roasts and grinds organic carob for Teeccino!
Roasted barley is brewed and enjoyed as both a hot and cold beverage in Europe and Asia. In Italy, you’ll find “Orzo”, Italian for barley, offered everywhere from coffee bars to train stations to gourmet restaurants. It is Italy’s preferred coffee alternative. In Asia, Koreans drink “Boricha” while the Japanese drink “Mugicha” and the Chinese drink “Damicha”. “Cha” means tea in Asia and each of these teas reference barley in their respective language. Considered a tonic drink, the Koreans and Japanese only drink their version of roasted barley as a cold drink in the spring and summer!
Caroline’s search for the best roasted barley led her to a European company that began roasting barley for a coffee alternative seven generations ago. When you meet the family, they introduce themselves by stating which generation they belong to! Europe’s tradition of family businesses stretches back to an era when people started companies to grow and run them for hundreds of years. Today, the popular model is to grow a company rapidly and then sell out to make money for oneself and retire. No thought of the next seven generations to come!
Organic barley in Europe is grown by family farmers, roasted by our European partner and then goes back to the family farm for its final processing. The barley kernel has a hull that is ideally removed after roasting to develop the best brewed flavor. Teeccino’s European partners send the roasted barley to a farmer whose father designed and crafted hand built equipment specialized for separating the hull, grinding the kernel and sifting out the powder. Using several floors of a barn, the barley goes from the top floor through this separation, grinding and sifting process to the bottom floor where it is packed into bags to transport by ocean container to California. Gravity and solar panels atop the barn’s roof power each step of the entire process.
Back in the ‘90’s, Caroline was sourcing herbs in Central America in order to provide income for families living in impoverished communities in the rainforest. By creating sustainable income from forest products, economic value is given to standing trees, which discourages illegal logging operations.
Caroline would always ask anyone she met what rainforest plants were eaten in their communities. She began to hear about this tree whose seed was harvested by the Maya in the forest surrounding their communities. The Maya blended it with their corn flour to add nutrition. They also roasted and drank it as a hot beverage especially to give more nourishment to pregnant women. Having just started Teeccino, you can imagine how eager she was to taste that roasted brew!
Fortunately, there was an American company that was developing organic coffee and other organic ingredients in Guatemala. Caroline worked with their team to commission studies of the ramón seed and its potential sustainable harvest. The Guatemalan government tightly controls what forest products can be harvested in the Maya Biosphere Reserve where there are many ramón trees due to the Maya having intensively planted them around their cities. It took a number of years to work through the bureaucracy and prove that ramón seeds fell in abundance every year and plenty were going to waste on the forest floor.
Good partners are essential to successfully source herbs and Caroline always searches for those with whom she can form long term relationships built on trust and mutual benefit. After all, that’s what good business is all about! For ramón seeds, she found a kindred soul in a Guatemalan, with a company specializing in processing cardamom and allspice, who believed in the future of ramón seeds. Together, they worked on drying methods, which was challenging due to the primitive conditions in the forest. Specialized equipment had to be built to separate the pericarp and chaff from the seed. Then came the hurdle of discovering how to roast the seeds to develop the optimal flavor. Caroline spent many days with the roasters tasting batch after batch to dial in the perfect roast.
When working in rural communities to develop new income sources, it is essential to have a strong partnership with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that understand the social fabric of the communities and have the trust of the people. Luckily, Rainforest Alliance has a local team focused on helping villages in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Additionally, another European NGO, GIF, has also been instrumental in organizing the communities to work together on ramón seed harvesting and organic certification. Today, there is a collective of 9 communities who share the cost of organic certification, have built a drying facility, and have expanded the territory in which the seeds can be collected.
While Teeccino is still the largest user of ramón seeds, we hope that more companies
will create products with ramón seeds to increase the demand for this seed and thereby provide income for these communities. After almost 20 years of developing this harvest, we’re finally in the position to reliably supply ramón seeds to the world!
The growth of the popularity of dandelion tea due to a number of highly influential healthcare practitioners touting its detoxification benefits has caused a worldwide shortage of dandelion roots. Caroline’s skills at developing new sources of dandelion are being put to good use!
We all know this daisy-like plant with its bright yellow flowers that grows like a “weed” and is the scourge of manicured lawns. Recently, organic farmers have started growing a variety of dandelion for its leaves, which are becoming popular in salads despite their bitterness. Amazingly though, the root is still primarily wild harvested in its native area of Eastern Europe where the true species, Taraxacum officinale, grows wild in fields.
Drought and over-harvest, however, are making even this abundant plant harder to find. Mature roots are best harvested after 2 years of growth, but the demand has driven the harvest of young roots, which affects their quality. Wild harvested roots also tend to come from many different collectors, not all of whom take care to keep extraneous material like wood and other plant parts out of the lot.
The Chinese have jumped in with cultivated dandelion roots to help fill the supply gap. However, due to the wide variety of subspecies of Taraxacum officinale, tests show that the roots with the highest active ingredients come from dandelion’s native habitat in Europe. Even dandelion roots from Morocco have turned out to be a different subspecies with such extreme bitterness that makes them undrinkable.
For Teeccino, we strive to bring the best quality herbs with the highest active ingredients to your cup. Our wild dandelion roots come from the rural meadows of Bulgaria and Poland. However, Caroline is now working on several fronts to increase the supply. She is helping organic farmers in Bulgaria, Austria and Herzegovina grow dandelion by providing them with seed and partnering with agricultural experts on root crops to help assure a successful harvest. By cultivating organic dandelion roots in the same areas as their wild habitat, we hope to meet the demand for this important herb with the highest quality roots possible.
Serendipitously, Teeccino’s Digital Marketing Director, Scott Olson, discovered fields of abundant wild dandelions when he began living in an area of Western Russia, near the border with its neighboring Eastern European countries. Now he and Caroline are exploring the possibilities to harvest wild roots there. It’s exciting to have new projects on the horizon that we hope will increase the supply so dandelion roots can become more available for everyone!