Demeter Herbal Tea is putting people before profit, operating a business that empowers Cambodians and promotes environmentally-friendly practices.
Michie Nishiguchi, 49, from Japan, founded the Demeter Herbal Tea (DHT) in 2015 with the aim of building a self-sustainable herbal tea company, paving the way for local Cambodians to be empowered through participating in her business.
In 2008, she visited Cambodia for the first time working for a non-profit organisation at a hospital in Siem Reap province. During her mission in Cambodia, she had an idea when she saw many Cambodians were poor in getting their health checked.
At the same time, Nishiguchi noticed a lot of ginger, lemongrass, passion flowers, papaya leaves, butterfly tea, mint, basil, and other herbs growing in the country. The stems and leaves of these natural plants are beneficial for health. After discussions with a friend who is an expert in herbal medicine, she decided to open a herbal tea shop.
DHT started as a self-funding initiative at a local hospital. With the encouragement of her friend, Nishiguchi started to dry the natural ingredients and make herbal tea. She then realised this could be a good opportunity to generate extra income to support the hospital and gain additional resources to provide equal medical care to the poor in rural areas.
How DHT encourages an empowered community’s works
Op Syna, of Phnom Penh, studied Banking and Finance at AIB (ACLEDA Institute of Business). The 22-year-old is now an operation coordinator at DHT. She told Kiripost, “When Nishiguchi opened this business, she could help communities and other local partnerships”
Syna said that DHT cooperates with schools and women who live in various provinces, including Koh Kong, Siem Reap, and Kratie, “We provide them with techniques to grow these plants and how to dry them in the right way, as well as how to keep them in a stable place with quality. These ways can help them sell their products at a reasonable price.”
At the same time, DHT also runs another herbal garden project to support students in rural areas. DHT uses the products they grow to make products for the domestic and international market. “So people there can earn their income, even if it’s not much, but it’s a part of supporting,” Syna explained.
She added “Until now, we are still a small business and, as we know, many Cambodians migrate to Thailand and other places [to work], so the women who participate with us are normally elderly people.”
Challenges to maintain tea’s quality
The main concern running a tea business is keeping the products in good quality over long periods of time, according to Syna.
She raised challenges that she was concerned about while conducting DHT business with Nishiguchi. “Tea is a type of food and beverage, so we should pay attention to hygiene and quality because we can’t just prepare good looking products, we have to ensure confidence in the quality to buyers as well.”
This entails evaluating the place of storage, materials used for packaging, and packaging techniques. Tea should be stored in a dry pantry or cabinet in a tin or dark jar with a tight-fitting lid. Whether bags of tea or loose tea leaves, both should be stored in the same manner.
At the same time, Syna always checks with farmers to ensure they do not use chemicals on their crops, which can cause health issues.
“Every step before reaching the customer’s hands, we ensure the quality and benefits,” she said.
DHT’s catalogue of the types of organic tea
There are many types of tea DHT produces, including the single, signature blend, and moon rhythm tea series.
Herbal teas, also known as tisanes, are exactly like white teas in appearance yet comprise a combination of spices, aromatic herbs, fruits, or plants, in addition to tea leaves. Herbal teas are caffeine-free, so they come with relaxing benefits.
The Single tea series’ ingredients have different tasks. Hibiscus provides potassium, and Vitamin C. Ginger treats nausea, enhances digestion and improves blood circulation for cardiovascular health. Lemongrass helps digestion and maintains blood circulation. While passion flower has calming and sleep-inducing effects.
At the same time, moringa has an antioxidant effect for lowering cholesterol. Papaya leaf burns off fat, enhances digestion, and has a detoxifying effect. Globe Amaranth has antioxidants, reduces menstrual pain, and eases irregular menstruation. While butterfly pea contains anti-aging properties.
The signature blend tea series has an anti-aging blend, which is separated into many sizes including M, L, and LL of loose tea and tea bag. While the Support Immunity Blend Tea has turmeric, lemongrass, ripe mango, and green mango. However,
Step-by-step to reach a goal
Syna said, “When DHT was created, it was only a self-funding business and people didn’t know much. Since 2018 to 2019, people have started to know and buy our products, especially foreigners.”
In the last couple of years, the business has expanded its operations to cater to demand from Cambodians who live at home and abroad. Syna confirmed that there are a lot of Cambodian customers living abroad who buy herbal tea when they come to visit their home nation.
Currently, DHT has increased its target from selling at exhibitions and in supermarkets, marts, farm markets, and organic stores, as well as promotion through social media platforms. Now, it exports products to countries including France, Japan, and Hong Kong, in small and large amounts.
In the future, Syna hopes DHT will rise even more in popularity due to it being a local brand that delivers beneficial health impacts, while supporting farmers with income.
DHT plans to open more workshops to explain the core value of Cambodian products, while exploring exporting to more markets. “DHT received a lot of positive feedback from buyers, but sometimes they are confused and think that this product is from Japan. So, we want to spread this brand to them; it's a Cambodian product,” Syna added.