Sometimes, being bitten by a dog in Central America can lead to an unexpected partnership. For Max Rivest, that dog bite is how he and his business partner Arnaud Petitvallet found Armando – their pioneer tea leaf farmer in Nicaragua – and began brewing a relationship integral to helping farmers and their families living and working in the country’s coffee regions.
Vancouverites Rivest and Petitvallet are the entrepreneurs behind the brand Wize Monkey, Vancouver’s first coffee leaf tea.
Their product is a tea blend made using 100% pure organic coffee leaves, also known as “the forgotten leaf.” The blend contains many health benefits including more antioxidants than green tea without the high amounts of caffeine.
How did it all start off?
The idea of Wize Monkey Tea started off as part of a grad school assignment in January 2013 at the KEDGE Business School in France, where both Rivest and Petitvallet were completing their studies. It was their mutual love for coffee and Max’s knowledge of the issues that many Latin American farmers face which prompted the duo to look into solutions to improve the livelihoods of coffee-dependent communities.
After further research and analysis, they discovered that the coffee leaf could be utilized to make a unique tea product that could create sustainable, year-round income for coffee farmers and their families.
“We found this article on the positive effects of coffee leaves. Coffee leaves contain higher antioxidants than green tea and are lower in caffeine. We immediately made the connection that if we could use these leaves to create a one-of-a-kind product, we could also use the leaves to create jobs in communities in these regions.” – Arnaud
Being Nicaraguan myself, I know how important the coffee industry is to Nicaragua. Currently, 320 thousand jobs are coffee-industry related. That translates to 45 thousand families that are dependent on coffee.
“The coffee bean is the world’s second most traded commodity and it’s only profitable three times a year for its producers. If we can make that year-round, we can change million’s of peoples’ lives. ” – Max
Since they first started the project, Max and Arnaud have created over 40 jobs for people in two separate towns in Nicaragua. Eager to learn more about their tea, I sat down with the guys for a Q & A session.
Q: First off, why “Wize Monkey?”
M: Well, wise people make wise decision and we think of the monkey as very clever and able to find his way into any situation and find a solution. Also, the monkey is a fun animal that is in Nicaragua. At the base, it’s because it’s a wise solution, and we hope that people who choose this product over another one may be aligned with the wisdom of the project in terms of the long-term outlook and how we’re trying to fix the coffee industry in a long-term solution versus a charity handout.
A: Goes back to the saying, “teach a man how to fish and he’ll eat forever.”
Q: Why Nicaragua?
M: We tried to find sources in Columbia but that was too tricky. We tried Costa Rica but we couldn’t find a tea producer that was fit for our project. There is currently no tea production in Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, we found a perfect tea producer that was in a region that was also government-funded, part of an organic initiative, tea facility. I had been there before and it just made sense because I was already familiar with the area and they had the right tea manufacturing guys there and most of all, it was in the coffee region.
Q: I’m intrigued about this “dog-bite” and how it led you to Armando. Tell me more.
M: *Chuckles* On our first weekend in the country, we we’re invited by a British couple to go to a local waterfall just outside of Estelí. When we we’re there, there was a young and playful pitbull terrier running about and loved barking at my video camera. Being a dog lover, I asked the owner if I could approach the dog. He said yes no problem, he’s a house dog, vaccinated etc. The dog didn’t like me I suppose and chomped on my knuckles, leaving a small scar. (I got a rabies shot right after, just in case)
Q: What’s the difference between coffee bean processing and tea leaf processing?
A: Coffee beans are only harvested generally from December to March or early April. So farmers can only make an income for three to four months of the year. The majority of the farmers lack the means or the education to make money for the remainder of the year so a lot of them go into debt for the rest of the year in order to buy food and to survive. The leaf can be harvested year-round and incorporating the leaf can bring them some revenue and constant income throughout the year.
M: It also takes a lot less resources. The coffee bean for example, is a lot heavier and a lot of people need to be employed to haul it all up. It then needs to be thrown into a machine that is constantly running water in order to take off the bean husk and those machines are basically automatic mills that run. It’s very archaic and they have water running through them, literally 24/7 for that entire 3-4 months. That’s thousands of gallons of water being wasted. You don’t have to roast tea leaves or grind them up. You just wash them and lay them out to dry using solar power.
Q: How did you select your leaves?
M: We tested four to five different varieties of Arabica and then we found the best one that had the most flavour and it was just perfect. It wasn’t over-powering – it was just right. That’s when we figured out that this idea was totally viable.
Q: Aside from containing lots of antioxidants, what are some of the other benefits of tea leaves?
M: Our tea contains only 12 milligrams of caffeine whereas coffee and black tea contains about 80 milligrams. It also contains mangiferin, a natural xanthonoid usually found in mangos.
A: Studies have shown that tea leaves can be used to reduce a lot of diseases including high cholesterol.
Q: How would you describe the flavour of your tea?
M & A: Try it for yourself!
So I did. The verdict? I was pleasantly surprised. My tea was flavourful without being over-powering, gentle and calming, and had a refreshing, earthy taste. Most of all, it reminded me of home – a place I long to go back and visit.
Q: What are your long term goals?
M: In our long stretch goals, one of them is to push organic initiatives and try to host clinics and workshops to better educate coffee growers in Latin America. Many farmers still use pesticides and some of them want to change to a more natural way of growing but they can’t afford the education.
Wize Monkey will be hosting a Kickstarter Launch Party on Friday, November 7th at Kafka’s Coffee and Tea on Main and Broadway. The event will feature a tea tasting and photo gallery.
Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/360587470773225/
For more info, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with the guys on social media via Facebook, Twitter (@wizemonkeytea) and on Instagram (@wizemonkey).
Watch their teaser video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaH_lyhalYE