In 2008 Sara Holby (then 21 years old) went to western Kenya to volunteer for an NGO that distributed food and medicine to members of the community suffering from HIV/AIDS. Five months into her stay, the global financial recession caused international sponsors of the NGO to pull their donations, leaving many without food and medicine that seemingly overnight stopped coming. Shortly thereafter, Sara’s sister, Kate (then 19 years old) visited Sara in Kenya.
Seeing the detrimental cycle of aid and the side effects of dependence and low self-esteem, they looked to create a sustainable project. With their mother, Ann Funkhouser, the three of them decided to start a company with the goal of creating employment. Tea is a major industry in western Kenya, so they set off to start a tea company. And since women tend to reinvest over 90% of their earnings back into their families, they looked to employ women to hand make the labels for the tea boxes and the twines that go inside.
They wanted, however, to create a full cycle of sustainable aid. Because education is a sustainable investment, 100% of the net profits go back to Kenya to pay school fees for orphans. Ajiri Tea Company is now sponsoring 29 orphans in school and is employing four different women’s groups. In the spring of 2013, Ajiri Tea Company expanded to include Kenyan AA coffee, and maintains the mission of employment and education.
Ajiri is a 100% women-owned and women-operated tea and coffee company.
REGINA MORAA seems to be everywhere at once. She also seems to know everyone in Kisii, Kenya. She makes sure our students are doing well in school, that they have studied for their math exams, and that their shoes fit. She also helps manage the women's groups and regularly provides support and financial guidance. In addition to her work with Ajiri, Regina is a full-time home science teacher in high school. Regina holds a BA in Home Science from Maharshi Dayanand University Ajmer and a post-graduate degree in Education from Egerton University. She is also working toward her Masters in Education Leadership and Management at Kenya Methodist University. Regina is passionate about making sure young girls go to school. She says they are at a disadvantage in the community and that it is her job to be an advocate for them. When she isn't working, she loves traveling. Regina says, "When you travel, you know more. You meet different people, you talk, you enlighten your mind."
DIFNA ONYANCHA has seemingly endless energy and pours it into working with the students. She is quick to arrange swimming lessons, mentoring trips, and nearby hikes. Her creative and tenacious spirit drives new and engaging programming for the Ajiri scholars. She also works closely with the women who craft the labels, guiding them in micro-savings and financial management. Before joining Ajiri, Difna worked with women in the community helping to facilitate loans and entrepreneurship. Difna also has experience working with vulnerable students in the community running learning programs and conducting research to better help students gain access to education. Difna is passionate about working with women and young girls and believes real change can come with education and money.
All of our black tea blends are sourced from a cooperative of farmers in western Kenya. The tea is grown on small-scale shambas, or farms. On average, each shamba is only a quarter to two acres of land. All of the tea is handpicked--only the top two leaves and a bud--ensuring a the highest quality and smooth cup. The high altitude, abundant rainfall, and fertile volcanic soils make Kisii, Kenya, an ideal tea-growing region.
Our coffee is grown on predominantly small-scale farms. Kenyan coffee is known for its bright and fruity flavor with complimentary gentle notes of wine and black currant. The diverse and complex flavors reflect the diverse and vibrant regions in which it is grown. The main coffee growing area spans from the slopes of snow-capped Mt. Kenya to the south toward Nairobi. Ajiri is proud to offer a Kenyan AA Coffee, the highest grade of coffee. The AA designates the size and grade of the bean. In general, the bigger the bean, the more essential oils that enhance the flavor and aroma.
South Africa: Rooibos, or Red Bush Tea, has been grown by indigenous South Africans for centuries. Rooibos is grown almost exclusively in the Cederberg region near Cape Town. The green, needle-like Rooibos leaves are cut and oxidized before being laid to dry out in the African sun. This process changes the green leaf to the characteristic amber or red color.
Kenya: Our award-winning black tea is sourced from the highlands of western Kenya. The tea is grown on small-scale farms, on average about a quarter to two acres of land, and brought to a cooperative. Farmers only pick the top two leaves and a bud.
Egypt: Since the times of ancient Egypt, Chamomile has been organically grown near the fertile Nile Delta. The word “chamomile” comes from the ancient Greek, chamomaela, meaning “ground apple.” The light and delicate floral aroma is similar to that of an apple blossom.
"I feel my most powerful when I exit my comfort zone. Working with Ajiri Tea, I am constantly outside my comfort zone — whether I’m in an office pitching to new buyers or in a village in Kisii, Kenya sampling matumbo (tripe stew). My ability to enter new experiences — and learn from them — despite my trepidations always leaves me feeling more powerful."
"At the heart of Ajiri Tea is the women who make the packaging, over half of whom have been working with the Holbys for over six years."
"Creating a recognizable brand with information-rich material and a sense of quality and depth is the gold standard."
Created to help bridge the funding gap for female founders, Stacy’s Rise Project™ has been connecting and empowering women business owners for years.
MassChallenge is the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet. No equity and not-for-profit, we are obsessed with helping entrepreneurs across any industry. We also reward the highest-impact startups through a competition to win a portion of several million dollars in equity-free cash awards.
The Leadership Awards honor influential and innovative entrepreneurs who are transforming the way the specialty food industry does business.
Ajiri Tea won the First Place Award in the Black Tea category at the 2011 North American Tea Championship. Nearly 200 teas were entered in 18 different categories, professionally evaluated, and ranked to determine the highest quality and best tasting teas available to the commercial marketplace. Judged by a panel of professional cuppers on a variety of factors, including brewed color, brewed aroma, brewed flavor and brewed harmony, Ajiri Tea placed first in the Black Teas category.
Ajiri Tea won the 2012 award for their Innovation in Packaging at the 40th sofi Awards competition from the National Association for Specialty Food Trade. The sofi Awards recognize excellence in specialty foods and beverages and are a coveted industry honor. “sofi” stands for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation. Ajiri Tea was one of the 125 Silver Finalists selected by a national panel of specialty food professionals from a record 2,520 contenders across 32 Awards categories. Gold Winners were announced at the 58th Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, DC.
Ajiri Tea won the Buyers Choice Award for Best Black Tea at the World Tea Expo, which took place in Las Vegas on June 24-26, 2011. At the Winners' Tasting Circle, two hundred attendees sampled and voted upon the 15 winning black teas from the professionally judged 2011 North American Tea Championship. Ajiri Tea was selected as the Buyers Choice for Black Tea– the best of the best.
For the second year in a row, Ajiri Tea won the Buyers Choice Award for Best Black Tea at the World Tea Expo, which took place in Las Vegas on June 1-3, 2012. At the Winners' Tasting Circle, 150 attendees sampled and voted on the 11 winning black teas from the professionally judged 2012 North American Tea Championship. Ajiri Tea was selected as the Buyer's Choice for Black Tea – the best of the best.
Ajiri Tea won a sofi Gold Award from the National Association for the specialty Food Trade (NASFT) at the 39th annual Fancy Food Show on July 22, 2011. Ajiri Tea's Kenyan Black Tea was chosen as the winner in the Outstanding Innovation in Packaging Design or Function category. The sofi Awards recognize excellence in specialty foods and beverages in 33 categories– sofi stands for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation.