barter and exchange

sticky chai

Photograph by  Emma Byrnes

Photograph by Emma Byrnes

My dear friend Joanna Fowles and her equally talented partner in life and love, Jonas Allen, have their fingers in many creative pies. They are one of those collaborative couples that seem to conjure and manifest all sorts of wonderful ideas and initiatives for themselves and the world at large. One of Jonas' latest projects is The Organic Tea Project - an idea that has been brewing since Jonas was a young boy growing up in a small utopian town called Auroville near Pondicherry in Southern India.
Immersed in the tea culture from a young age, Jonas and his friend (and now business partner) Alok met when they were three years old. Well into their adolescent years the pair schooled together and continued to share tea experiences. In their words:

"It is in some ways natural that (our) mutual appreciation of tea should manifest in an interest in uncovering the secrets and the whereabouts of the finest brews to found The Organic Tea Project. Our mission is to bring back quality organic tea drinking. We feel something is lost in the appreciation of the tea process, the preparing of tea and drinking. We talk about great wines or great coffee, it's all about the purity of the soil and the environment that its grown in. Tea has exactly the same elements to consider. Taking a tea break allows you to slow down, contemplate and appreciate...a tea somehow helps to create the right pace to the day. The Organic Tea Project is about the ceremony and the details of what makes a quality tea. You could say our challenge is to bring back the tea break."

One of the things that I love most about this project is that it brings together two childhood friends who now live on opposite sides of the world - yet they are side-by-side again. They are working with each other in a professional business relationship whose actual research began in their boyhood. The business also involves a wider circle of folk that they both grew up with in Auroville. All of those pieces fitting back together give the brand and the company greater depth and power.
When visiting in Sydney a while back Jonas asked if I had some time to take photographs of the tea. We had a very small window open to us and I managed to take a couple of images that he now uses on his website. I traded my photography services for some generous packages of sticky chai - enough to last me for a good while. I must say that I was extremely satisfied with the swap. The sticky chai is the best I have tasted and the high quality of the ingredients does not go unnoticed. It elevates the chai experience to a sublime level and certainly encourages the ceremonious feeling that the company is seeking in their brand. Keep your eyes peeled for this wonderful tea experience.

Em x

a sense of belonging

photograph by  Emma Byrnes

photograph by Emma Byrnes

I love small business. I have always been a keen observer…I watch and notice things. I pick up on nuances and energy. Not in a psychic kind of way but more of an intuitive thing. As a child I loved the feeling of belonging that I got from walking along the strip of shops in our neighbourhood…I knew all of the shop names, the shopkeepers and many of them knew my name too, or at least knew me by sight. I would note the handwritten signage in a shop window, the faded patina on a milk bar wall, the way the shelves were neatly or haphazardly arranged, the way a particular shop owner would shuffle from out the back when a customer set the front door bell off. All of these details delighted me and, to be honest, they still do.

From my early days I sensed the despondency of the workers stacking shelves at Franklins supermarket - sensations that were in stark contrast to the warmth and connection I felt at the local family-owned grocery store, even though their tasks were relatively similar. What was it about the family-owned business that made such a difference? 

From when I was 14 until I was 22 my mum owned a fabulous little continental-style coffee house, in Sydney. My sister and I would work there on weekends and it was such a beautiful place to be. It was a tiny shop stuffed full to the brim with the finest continental delicacies – quality chocolate, jams, biscuits, freshly roasted coffee, French pastries, Austrian strudels...the list goes on. A couple of kids would always stick their heads in the door on their way home from school just to take a whiff of the heady aroma of freshly ground coffee. Mum employed my calligraphy skills to write all of the shop signage – a job I absolutely loved and to which I would take my most meticulous penmanship. Over Easter and Xmas the shop would be filled to the brim with amazing German gingerbreads and papier mache decorations. Locals would always peer in through the shop window to see our festive display. It was like a miniature Myer window.

Working behind the counter as a young adult was a terrific way to gain a greater understanding of human complexity. No two customers were the same. I learnt to work around the trickier personalities and became friends with people of all ages. Maybe it is the sense of belonging and the way it gets in under your skin that can make small business so rewarding. If I close my eyes now I can still smell, see, hear, taste and feel that special space - crammed full with memories.
What it evokes for me still informs my creative and everyday pursuits and I am very thankful for that experience.  

Some special businesses that I really love and that foster grassroots connections are:

  • Plump Organic Grocery - OK as a co-founder I am biased but Plump really is a special place that makes such a strong connection with the village that it operates in.
  • The Flower Exchange - These guys pour all of their love into their very own rural vegie patch and flower garden during the week and then on thursdays bring the weekly harvest to Melbourne. My favourite aspect of their business is the Flower Exchange. They don't sell their flowers but instead have chosen to "create community, share abundance and make conversation instead" by exchanging their flowers for something other than money. This is so up my alley as I am very interested in the notion of alternative economic systems and the benefits they have to those involved. Am looking forward to signing up for my first posy very soon.

Em x