Milwaukee-based Outwoken Tea Empowers Family-Owned, Sustainable Tea FarmsMay 31, 2022 ● By Lottie Sass
Photo Credit Outwoken Tea
Aureal Ojeda, founder of Outwoken Tea, has a career background in the male-dominated construction industry. As a CDL truck driver, she was tasked with dropping off construction materials at landfills. “There were times I had to walk on top of the garbage piles,” she recalls. “I’ve seen the damage we do to the world, because I was part of it.” Those experiences sent Ojeda on a quest to find a way to give back to the Earth.
Ojeda was further inspired by her Puerto Rican grandmother, who was a proponent of natural remedies and frequently drank ginger-based herbal teas. Ojeda and her son, who both had health ailments, adopted a vegan diet, stopped drinking sugary beverages and began using herbs and teas as health aids. “I lost 65 pounds and feel a lot better. My son, who had asthma, has gone seven years without breathing problems.”
The concept for Outwoken Tea developed organically. Ojeda started researching the origin, culture and benefits of tea. She found that many commercial teas were sold in packaging that generated waste, so she knew she wanted to offer a product in compostable packaging.
With a small business loan through the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), Ojeda formed Outwoken Tea to offer exclusive teas from farmers that are truly sustainable, transparent and care about the environment. She works with the Rainforest Alliance Certification Program to source teas that meet production practices that support the three pillars of sustainability—social, economic and environmental. “I only work with families, not corporations,” Ojeda emphasizes.
The farmers are required to send her soil test reports since being in the Rainforest Alliance means that they cannot use pesticides. Instead, they utilize growing practices that coexist with the environment. “These tea farmers hand-roast tea over bamboo, which is how their families did it for generations,” she says. “They care about the craftmanship behind it.”
Finding truly compostable packaging was daunting, but Ojeda located a supplier offering packaging that can break down in a home composting bin. Her other sustainability efforts include partnering with One Tree Planted to plant a tree for every tea purchase, and working with Plastic Free MKE as a partner to help the community reduce single-use plastic. She has also adopted a river with Milwaukee Riverkeeper and participates in their cleanups.
Empowering Health and Independence
Ojeda opened Outwoken Tea in June 2020, in the early months of the pandemic. “I observed that COVID-19 was an eye-opener and more people started to buckle down and realize what is valuable to them, which is their health,” she says. “I think that is beautiful, because before that, people would still show up to work if they were sick. The pandemic told us that if you’re sick, you shouldn’t come to work. It made us realize that our health is truly valuable.”
Ojeda sources unique teas such as Tumio Purple Tea, from Kenya, and African White Pearl, which is hand rolled by women in Malawi, a landlocked country in East Africa. Outwoken Tea’s African White Pearls tea is produced on a family-operated estate that is one of the remaining few not bought out by a large corporation. “The business supports gender equality by supporting the women in the family. It helps them be more independent, learn about business and the craftsmanship of tea, and provide for their families,” Ojeda says.
Starting a business, particularly during the pandemic, has been rocky, Ojeda admits, but her journey has also been full of joy and gratitude. “I’ve met so many people on this journey that I never would have met if I hadn’t started Outwoken Tea,” she says. “I’m able to meet complete strangers, and then we develop an appreciation of each other as humans. We all learn from each other, and that’s beautiful.”
Outwoken Tea will be at the Brookfield Arts, Crafts & Drafts event, 20111 W. Bluemound Rd., Brookfield, June 11 and 12. For more upcoming events, visit Facebook.com/outwokent or Instagram.com/outwokentea/.