March 08, 2018

Tahmina Saffron Teas

In medieval times I might have been a scribe. I always carry a notebook and keep a separate tea notepad in my kitchen. Many of my tasting notes become the tea reviews you read on the blog. A tea review to celebrate Women's History Month and International Women's Day! You can now enjoy variations on Afghanistan's prized tea, saffron tisane. Tahmina International offers three saffron-blended teas, and has recently added a spice line with pure saffron as the first item.

Before I tasted Tahmina Saffron Teas by Tahmina International, I watched the company's To Be Brave launch video. The cinematography and music are breathtaking. The video production highlights the gravitas of the company's mutli-facted mission: "to connect local farmers with international markets, employ Afghan women, and help develop industries that can be alternatives to the illicit drug economy." After watching the video, I knew I wanted to drink the saffron teas, and ask many questions.

Saffron crocuses in Khorsan, Iran by Vathlu via Wikimedia Commons
Before I share my tea notes, I'd like to provide a bit of botanical background. Some of you know that my other passion is trees. Saffron is not derived from trees, but it is harvested from a plant, the saffron crocus. A thread of saffron is a stigma from a crocus. Each crocus only produces three stigmas. The stigmas have to harvested by hand to maintain the integrity of this floral element. This aspect plus other harvesting requirements contribute to the high price that saffron often commands.

I selected the two of three teas, Saffron Chai and Saffron Rooibos teas. The third tea is Saffron Sencha. My favorite of the two teas I received is the Saffron Rooibos. It is anytime of day since it is a caffeine-free tisane. And more importantly, I enjoy the taste. The first infusion is thick and sweet. The second infusion yields a very warming liquor in which the ginger shines with a citrus note. This a comforting tea.

The Saffron Chai has a deep medicinal flavor and reminds me unfortunately of the molasses my mother would add to hot breakfast porridges.

Tahmina Saffron Teas are presented in biodegradable pyramid tea bags which are made in Seattle, Washington by Motovotano. The tea tins are also produced in the U.S. from recycled steel. Origins of the major ingredients are provided. Each of the three teas does include natural flavors. I asked about the farm-to-tea-bag chain so read the full interview below.

Interview with Tahmina International

In addition to sampling the teas, I conducted an interview via email with a company representative. I asked six questions (I had more), and am so grateful that they were answered so thoughtfully.

  • The Tahmina collective operates anonymously for safety reasons. What sparked and fuels your bravery given the political climate?

Life in Afghanistan is not as dangerous as most Westerners think, but living here has its fair share of risks. That risk is especially high for Afghans who work with foreigners. These Afghans historically have been targets for kidnapping for ransom, or they’ve been killed by extremist groups. At this point, the safety of these Afghans is more important than the public knowing the identities of our team members. If it’s this dangerous, why are we still here? Ultimately we have a deep confidence in the resilience of the Afghan people, and there are certain risks that we are willing to take if it means that we can see a better future for Afghanistan. Some of our team members grew up in or have parents who lived in impoverished, post-war societies that are now first-world countries. As individuals, we would not be where we are today if it was not for the international community willing to overcome certain dangers and believe in our future. We are confident that Afghanistan will be able to write a similar story of hope for its people.

  • You chose saffron because it is a prized tea with which to welcome guests in Afghanistan. Why did you choose to create blends (saffron +) versus offering a pure saffron tisane?

We’re actually launching pure saffron spice in a few weeks for all foodies and those interested in pure saffron tea! But we also decided to make tea blends because we realized that most Western consumers don’t know what saffron is, let alone how to use it. But everyone knows about chai and green tea, and many people already drink tea regularly. So we felt like saffron tea blends could almost be a “gateway product” to introducing people to saffron, and hopefully people will be inspired to explore more of saffron’s uses and benefits once they try our tea blends.

  • What are some daily/seasonal challenges of managing cultivation and harvest in conflict zones?

Fortunately, the region where our saffron grows is relatively safe in terms of terrorist attacks, so there are little daily risks for saffron cultivation. However, everyone knows that saffron is a lucrative industry, so many saffron farmers who have large fields are at risk of getting kidnapped for ransom. So during harvest season, farmers will hide their saffron under other crops when bringing them into the city, and most people who work in the saffron industry try to keep the saffron detail a secret. These challenges exist, but fortunately we’ve been able to see a stable and steady supply of saffron coming out of Afghanistan for the past few years. Many mentors and investors were concerned about the security of the supply chain when we first started. We’ve learned that there are challenges that come with a conflict zone, but with the right parameters taken running a sustainable business in Afghanistan is definitely possible.

  • Tahmina places an emphasis on girls and women. Can you describe some direct tangible effects of Tahmina's entry into the saffron market and from the company's 10% investment policy?

Tahmina has a pretty strong feminist voice. The name itself is from a common Persian girls’ name that means brave. Part of this emphasis probably comes from the fact that our founder is a woman and her friends and coworkers have so many deep experiences of women’s oppression in Afghanistan. The other part of it comes from the nature of the saffron industry, where more than 80% of the labor can be done by women. Last year, our local partner hired more than 170 women. We get so excited anytime we think about these women who are being empowered to earn money for their families when many of their peers are not even allowed to go to school or even leave their house. In terms of our donations, Tahmina has a policy of donating 10% of our revenue back into Afghanistan. We only launched at the end of October of last year, so we’re actually in the middle of organizing our first revenue. Most likely, this batch will be donated to a drug rehab center in Kabul, but you are welcome to follow up with us in a few months to confirm the final destination of the funds.

  • Related, what has been the pushback, if any, from Tahmina empowering girls and women through this economic development project?

So far, we’ve been lucky not to experience any hard pushback for women with Tahmina’s work in Afghanistan. We haven’t had the Taliban throwing acid in any of our girls’ faces, or the government outlawing women to work. But what is most difficult for empowering girls and women is the soft pushback of the culture. Deeply embedded in the minds of many conservative Afghans is the archaic belief that a woman is still considered property more than an actual human being. So that’s why even in the year 2018, some girls get married off when they’re 14, many wives are victims of domestic violence, and some men have up to four wives. As a foreigner, our founder usually experiences more respect and privileges than local woman, but there are still stories of sexual harassment in government offices, or simply not being taken seriously as a young, single woman in business. So the women who work in the saffron industry have already overcome a major challenge of getting permission to work from the male authority in their life. Our hope is that when more people see the power of their daughters and wives bringing income for their families, more women will be encouraged to have the freedom and independence to work.

  • In addition to saffron, are there other botanicals that Tahmina is considering for the purposes of tea making? Can you outline the farm to tea bag chain (where are the teas actually made before being packaged in the U.S.)?

Our saffron begins in the fields of western Afghanistan where it is planted, cultivated, and harvested during a small three week window. After it’s harvested, the spice is picked apart from the flower, dried, processed, and cleaned, and then shipped to Canada. We’ve partnered with a tea blending company in Vancouver called Blue Ocean Tea who then combines the saffron with our other tea ingredients. From Vancouver the blended tea is shipped to Seattle, where Motovotano, our co-packer, packages the tea into tea bags and the final canister product. Both Blue Ocean and Motovotano have been monumental in Tahmina’s initial product development and we’ve been so happy to work with them.

When we made the decision to go into saffron tea, we also researched Camellia sinensis cultivation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, a few pilot projects from the past showed that the Afghan climate is not good for growing tea. Our team is researching some other teas and plants from other conflict zones, so if it shows promising we may be able to source other transformational products from other countries in the near future.

I recommend the Saffron Rooibos. You'll be purchasing a tasty tea with purpose.
Some of our team members grew up in or have parents who lived in impoverished, post-war societies that are now first-world countries. As individuals, we would not be where we are today if it was not for the international community willing to overcome certain dangers and believe in our future. We are confident that Afghanistan will be able to write a similar story of hope for its people.

I am grateful to Tahmina for answering my questions. I am inspired by their work and dedication.

Teas provided by Tahmina International for review purposes.

1 comment :

  1. Oo thank you so much for clarifying me. I always thought that saffron rooibos contains caffeine that's why I've always avoided it. Because I'm allergic to caffeine. But now I'll definitely consider it.


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