Malabar Trading Company
The Chai Wallahs of the Aptos Farmers Market
Many know Annaliese as “the tea lady” and Mike as “the chai guy” at the Aptos Farmers Market. The Malabar Trading Company booth is a comfortable, friendly place to hang out on Saturday mornings with a hot cup of chai and hear a good joke when Mike is around. “We love being a part of this bustling ‘village’ each Saturday. It makes getting up at 3:30 am worth it!” Mike chuckles. After working fulltime during the week as a renewable energy biomass supply expert, that’s saying something. “What can I say – it’s how we relax! We value the time we spend with our best friends each week.” Annaliese chimes in, “Many Friday evenings, Mike has just returned home from Texas, New York, Nebraska, or wherever a project or conference is happening that week. He has packed the trucks for the farmers market in the middle of the night more than once, when his plane is late!”
So, how did they get into the tea and spice business? “While traveling throughout Asia in the 80s, I was deeply impressed by the lush, verdant tea gardens and the intoxicating aromatic spices at village markets,” Annaliese explains. “I was fascinated that so many varieties of tea come from one plant. Much like wine, the terroir, water, heat, the time that leaves are picked, the age of the leaves when picked, and the many ways of processing and finishing the leaves all contributed to the finished tea product.” Her desire to learn more about tea transformed into a passion that later emerged as Malabar Trading Company in 1994. Today, Annaliese sources teas from the finest tea gardens around the world, and manages Malabar Trading Company’s operations in addition to her marketing communications and graphic design business.
“We enjoy teaching people about tea, whether it’s at the farmers market or at one of our tea tasting events. Since we started the tea business, our mission has been to expand the awareness of tea, revive classic European style blends, and to source rare, special manufacture (bespoke) and competition quality tea crafted by consummate tea artisans for our customers. We offer a wide selection that appeals to novices as well as knowledgeable tea connoisseurs.”
While many are aware of issues surrounding global warming at a local level, Annaliese tracks trends that affect the world spice markets. “The spice growing regions have been severely impacted by changing weather patterns and lack of water. For instance, the cardamom crop in India failed last year. Guatemala, the other lone source of cardamom, was unable to meet the increased demand. The price of cardamom surged to new highs, and more than tripled in cost from the previous year. Like saffron and vanilla, it’s among the three most expensive spices in the world.”
“The price of cardamom was so high, I stopped making one of our cardamom based chai spice blends. It made the spice mix ridiculously expensive. However, I refused to reformulate our traditional spice mix. We bit the bullet and purchased the expensive cardamom pods. We were forced to increase the price of our chai mixes, but luckily we had the opportunity to explain the cardamom issues to our customers. That’s the beauty of a farmers market – we know our customers, and they know us. Our customers understood the problem and knew that we were reluctant to increase our prices. But, our customers encouraged us to keep making the chai spices and assured us that the product was worth it. That’s valuable feedback!”
Annaliese’s favorite tasks of the business are blending tisanes (herbal ‘tea’) and researching and formulating classic tea blends from the late 1800s. “Few people know the differences between a fine English Breakfast blend and say, an Irish Breakfast blend, or know what kinds of tea make up these blends. When the commercialization of tea began and tea started to be sold in tea bags, the appreciation of a finely blended tea was lost on the masses. My goal is to pamper our customers with the finest loose leaf teas, create authentic blends and to teach them how to recognize and enjoy a well-crafted tea.”
Asked whether she would open a tearoom in the future, Annaliese grows wistful. “There was a time when I wanted to open a tea room, bake specialty pastries all day long, and serve fantastic luncheons. However, a restaurant business in this area is far too challenging considering the economic climate. The Saturday farmers market gives me my tearoom ‘fix.’ Today, I’m very contented helping other small businesses with their marketing needs during the week, managing the MBCFM websites and newsletter, and selling tea and visiting with friends on the weekend. I enjoy the best of all worlds!”
You can purchase tea, tisanes and chai spice products from Malabar Trading Company at the Saturday Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College. In addition, you can download a catalog from their website at www.malabartradingco.com and place an order via email or call 831.469.8233.
Market Profile: more about the Malabar Trading Company>
Contribute to the farmers market experience! For information about volunteering, contact Annaliese at 831.469.8233 or email email@example.com.