The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

PR Tea Co.

PR Tea Co.

Sustainability

September 25, 2011

PR Tea Co. is the first Puerto Rican company dedicated to the manufacturing and sale of gourmet coffee and tea blends. With a mission to provide health and wellness through their unique products, PR Tea Co.blends small batches of tea and coffee creations daily using loose tea, fresh coffee, hand-milled spices, and other artisan ingredients. We talked to founder Ricardo L. Torres about the future of coffee and tea farming, and their goal of growing subsequent batches of their product in an urban, vertical farming environment.

What was the inspiration for creating coffee and tea blends – in essence "reinventing" coffee?

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is an island with a very strong coffee tradition and a lack of interest in tea. I really never enjoyed coffee because of its bitter taste. I always thought coffee was missing something. My search for new horizons took me to the United States (Georgia, California, Texas) and India. It was in India where I had my first Chai, and I learned that tea could be improved by adding other spices and herbs. Chai is very similar to coffee, especially in appearance and the way it is prepared with milk and sugar. Then I thought, if coffee is so similar to tea, why couldn't it be blend with other spices and herbs? That thought stayed in the back of my head.

Years later, I came back to Puerto Rico and established PR Tea Co. as I realized I needed a product that could bridge the disparity between tea and coffee in the island, and I thought about that Chai I had in India. If I could blend coffee with other ingredients, I was sure that I could make it delicious, but if I blended it with tea, I could even make it healthier – so I did, and I was amazed with the result. It smells like coffee and looks like coffee, but it has the health benefits of tea. It also has the delicious taste of other spices and one-third less caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. It really makes you feel like a little piece of heaven with every sip you take.

How have you been able to merge commerce with sustainable business practices?

Being sustainable has been a priority for us ever since PR Tea Co. was conceived. At great advantage to us, we have found that everything "green" we do ends up saving us money, and many times it improves the product or the process. One sample I need to highlight is that our tea packages come with a reusable, unbleached, biodegradable 100% cotton tea bag. These features make them eco-friendly, and we are giving our customers a greener solution to steep their tea.

Instead of using pricey shipping carriers, we are investing in Straight Vegetable Oil technology in all of our delivery vehicles. With a little investment we can achieve great savings since we won't have to use gasoline in order to make our deliveries.

We are reusing the boxes we already have from previous purchases we have made and using plastic storage bins for the distribution of our products. This is our way to keep our shipping costs low, and it helps us reduce the impact that packing materials have in our wastelands.

Thanks to the latest advances in technology we are able to keep all our customer and vendor information in a database in our computers. By doing so we can keep track of the orders placed as well as the orders we make without the need of paper. Almost every task we do in our company is made through the computer as we try to be a paper-free company. One of our goals is to reduce our paper consumption by 100%.

Our next project will be to grow our own herbs and spices using vertical farming and hydroponics systems in urban centers. By doing this we will be able to produce higher quality herbs and spices without the inconvenience of erratic weather conditions. The more it rains, the more water we recycle. Combined with smart lighting systems, we will be able to produce crops all year long. Since we will be using vertical farming techniques, this will increase our output capacity while keeping our expenses low.

Where do you think you'll have the biggest impact?

We believe our biggest impact will be our work with the local communities. We want to create urban farm co-ops where we will help to pay for the initial investment and education, and we will divide the profit of the products produced. Currently we are partnering with the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico (MAPR) and the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico in order to donate part of the profits we earn so they can use this money for their conservation efforts, and to help promote eco friendly tourism in Puerto Rico, as well as other arts and similar projects.

What is next in coffee and tea farming and production?

For us, the future of coffee and tea farming is going to be indoors in urban centers. Ever since families have moved from farmlands into the city, there has been a decline in agriculture – so it's time we move the farmlands into urban centers too. With our current technology we can do so. It is possible to cultivate coffee and tea indoors, we just have to recreate the same environment they have in their natural habitat. In theory, by recreating the same temperature, water supply, oxygen level and lighting they encounter in their natural habitat, we can recreate the perfect environment to cultivate coffee and tea indoors. We will be cultivating an organic product that traditionally would be more expensive and time consuming to grow outdoors, and most importantly, it will be easier to harvest, which is the main problem with this type of crop. Later, I'm sure we will be able to harvest all year long in the same way that they are doing this currently with tomatoes.

How will urban farming change the face of agriculture?

We think urban farming will be the future face of agriculture. Since the Industrial Revolution, agriculture has been in a decline. People are used to living in urban centers and working in factories, and many of them are not willing to go back to the fields. So it is about time we move the fields to the urban centers. With rising gasoline prices and shipping costs, product quality is decreasing. We have being paying premium prices on rotten tomatoes. Hydroponic and urban farming have become more of a necessity than a luxury. Combined with vertical farming, we can bring fresh products and cultivate them close to urban centers were they can be harvested and delivered basically on a daily demand basis. There will be no need to travel in containers for weeks to get to a destination – just place an order and they will arrive in a 24-hour period as fresh as the crops can be. 


In upcoming issues, we will continue to feature interviews with companies that are taking innovative steps toward the creation of sustainable products and services. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing please contact Allison Bloom at allison@foodnutritionscience.com.