I’m thrilled to help welcome Chicago’s newest tea brand, Volition Tea! Founded by Annie Xiang, her roots in Xinjiang and current home in “The Second City” have blossomed into an experience where the story of tea is at the forefront. Please join us in this timely interview, celebrating the release of Volition Tea and this new chapter for Annie!
Thank you for taking the time to chat today, Annie! I’m enjoying your High Mountain Dragon Well grandpa-style in a glass. What are you drinking?
I’m drinking Xi Wei Hai’s Melon Peel, it’s a quiet tea that invites introspection.
I agree, that green tea is beautifully gentle. While we drink, let’s go back to the beginning! What is your earliest memory of tea in the household? How has tea been a part of your life?
I grew up in Xinjiang, the most northwestern province of China where 47 different ethic groups reside. My earliest memory of tea is sitting on beautiful hand-made wool rugs in a yurt with my family, drinking a cup of black brick tea salted with butter made from cow and sheep milk. That “unconventional” way of enjoying tea has had a lasting impact on how I enjoy tea; in that I never quite feel restricted by standards and conventions in how I should steep my tea. What’s more important to me is how that tea makes me feel, and the people I am enjoying my tea with.
Your upbringing in Xinjiang instilled such an important perspective about the tea experience. At what point did you decide to pursue Volition Tea?
I had the concept of Volition Tea for several months but I couldn’t get myself to take the leap of faith. Fear of failure was getting in the way. The moment I decided to go full steam ahead is when I defined what failure would look like. VT’s North Star is to amplify the stories of Chinese farmers who dedicate their lives in sustainable farming. So as long as I keep telling their stories to tea drinkers around the world, then Volition Tea will never fail.
Why the name Volition Tea? What about your brand sets itself apart from others in the industry?
It takes volition to do the right thing, and it takes great volition to do the right thing every time. The word “volition” to me means courage, integrity, and perseverance. On the farmers’ end, they had to fight off the mindset of using chemical pesticides/fertilizers to ensure high-yield; instead, they work tirelessly to care for their tea plants/trees using sustainable farming methods, which are labor intensive and almost always result in lower yield. Self-doubt, external pressure, and lack of fiscal security are constantly looming over their heads. But they chose to commit to sustainability year after year.
Their respect for their land and people deserve to be recognized and applauded.
On the Volition Tea’s end, if we want to be in the business to amplify the voices of our farmers, we need to have great volition to be with them through the ups and downs, and contribute to their fiscal sustainability so they can keep doing the right thing. It’s fun to always chase after the new, more exclusive teas out there; but we choose to prioritize the people who made this tea journey possible.
I’m excited for this next one then! Who is one farmer whose story you can’t wait to share with the community?
They are all so interesting and unique in their own ways. But I feel most fascinated by Zeng Pu Yu, the woman behind our Raw Jade, a Zhangping Shuixian. Her tenacity to turn bare land into a tea garden is mind blowing. She named this tea after her own name because that’s how confident she is with the quality of her tea. Now that’s the woman energy we all need.
Your brand looks gorgeous and fits very well in Chicago! What are considerations you deliberated on when it came to packaging?
I truly feel that by now I could write a book about all the available packaging options there are, and the myths and truths. There are two goals that VT has for its packaging: environmentally friendly and sourced locally whenever possible. All packagings are recyclable, and we strongly recommend people to reuse them before recycling. The peanut and foam fillers are made out of starch, so they are water-soluble. For our prints and labels, we chose local shops so we can support them and cut down on our carbon footprints. When it comes to the design of the packaging, we created a clean and bold look that reflects VT’s personality and its Chicago pride.
I know you’re passionate about Chicago, how is this city infused in your brand’s mission?
Chicago and the midwest are all about building connections at a personal level. We love outdoor patio space, we ask our Uber driver about their day, and we spend thirty minutes saying goodbye to everyone when leaving a party. VT’s mission is to be transparent about the entire value chain so we can develop deep understanding and appreciation of tea and the farmers who grow it. It is our hope that with this understanding, tea drinkers can build personal connections with these tea farmers, despite being thousands of miles apart.
In what ways do you hope tea lovers everywhere can deepen their relationship with tea through Volition Tea?
I hope tea lovers everywhere know that behind each Volition Tea, is a farmer who experiences small successes and challenges just like all of us do. We are true believers that developing that understanding makes tea taste and feel better.
Volition Tea opens its virtual doors on October 15th with a lineup of teas eager to greet tea lovers and connoisseurs. Currently, only U.S. domestic orders are possible, but the spirit and intention behind Volition Tea are well worth celebrating across the globe. Be sure to stop by their site to sign up and receive a 10% discount on your first order!