This guest blog post comes to us from Martin Connelly, President of The Little Red Cup Tea Company. Read on to learn how the Little Red Cup was started, and why Fair Trade and organic are key parts of the company's commitment to sustainability.
Growing up in Brunswick, Maine and in Beijing, China, tea was just a constant fact of life. There was always a pot steeped and ready, sometimes a few. When friends dropped over to visit, they would be told (as is customary in China) to sit and drink tea. And that was that.
When I left home, I took a cupboard full of tea and this stash traveled with me to every new apartment and job, restocked sporadically with every trip to China. Friends would come over, they would sit and drink tea, and then they'd ask where I got it. "The little shop just over from the Zhong Guan Cun Primary School," I would say, "but I guess that doesn't help much."
My family started the Little Red Cup Tea Co . because, even as tea is seeing something of a resurgence in the United States (coffee didn't become popular until the 19th Century), good quality Chinese teas are still hard to find at a reasonable price point. Sure you can get first flush tie guan yins  or aged pu-erhs  if you look, but those are for special occasions — not for daily drinking. Our teas are the opposite: simple, traditional and uncomplicated. They're pure, and good, and they get you through the day — a physical embodiment of the Chinese culture we've been steeping ourselves in for the last 20 years.
Organic: The Only Choice We Could Have Made
Each of our teas is grown organically — a choice that was really the only one we could have made. Without getting preachy, organic agriculture is simply better for the land on which our tea is grown, better for the farmers who work that land, and better for our customers, who drink our tea. With regard to the sustainability of our business, there were no alternatives to fully organic tea.
Partnership with Fair Trade USA
There's an argument I've heard that suggests a "fair trade" is any deal to which both parties agree. And this makes sense. If I'm willing to pay you a given amount, and you are willing to accept it, then there should be nothing more to say. The market sets the price, and this is how we buy our tea. Our Chinese partners produce it, they set the price, and we pay it. This is a fair trade. Our decision to partner with Fair Trade USA is a wholly separate concern, but one which brings us back to the question of sustainability.
The people of WuYuan County who grow and process the tea we sell have been in the same business for generations. And, idyllic as it is, beautiful and fragrant as the fields are, China has traditionally been a place of limited social mobility. By partnering with Fair Trade USA, we allow our customers to help change that. The premiums we pay go directly into defraying the cost of school for the children of the communities in which we are doing business. This doesn't make the tea sweeter, nor more economically viable, but by helping kids go to school, we are able to affect positive change in the communities we support. Our tea is Fair Trade Certified not because omitting this registration would make it unfair, but because we see it as a way to one up the market. To contribute to a country we love not just with our business, but with our support, as well.
A cup of tea has been known to better many a day, and we couldn't be more thrilled that our tea leads to better days both for drinkers in North America and for producers in China.
Michael Connelly, president of Little Red Cup Tea Co., talking to Zhang Guizi about tea production. Zhang's husband teaches 6th grade in a local school.