By Brianna Bush
Upland Tea House combines tea and mindfulness to encourage a healthy lifestyle. The company is sourced from tea estates in South Africa and offers rich flavors that suit everyone. Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about 10 years ago April Sheris moved to New Mexico where she became exposed to a desert climate. Due to the change in environment, she experienced health ailments such as breathing problems as well as dry hair and skin. The low population of minorities made it difficult for Sheris to find natural products that could act as a remedy, so she thought about her grandmother’s tea from back home as a solution. She then started to create tea remedies of her own, found them to be beneficial, and created what is now Upland Tea House. In this interview, Sheris takes us through the benefits of the company’s curated tea blends and their significance in the African American community.
What is the mission of Upland Tea House?
The general mission of Upland Tea House is to have moments of mindfulness and use rooibos as a way to heal the body during those moments. So, when I think of mindfulness I’m thinking of ways to calm the mind and to bring balance and symmetry into my thoughts, which are really great for the spirit. But at the same time, I also have internal insufficiency going on that the rooibos drinking tea, or practicing moments of mindfulness, has become something that goes hand in hand for my lifestyle. And so I figured that there must be other women who can enjoy taking mindful moments over a cup of tea if they struggle with meditation, and also for women that look like me, who take pride in our ancestry of Africa. Rooibos is a bush that originates in South Africa. And so, it kind of makes that connection for me to have something that I’m ingesting that’s rooted in our ancestry, but also healing for the body and mind as well.
How do you go about promoting these products among people that look like you – specifically African American women and men?
For me, coming from the south, there is a stronger connection to having a culture that I was surrounded in because in Louisiana there are really high percentage rates of African American men and women. And most of us still had our grandmothers and our mothers to teach us. And so, for me, I felt like I needed something that I can hold on to as a tether to keep me connected in my roots.
Here in New Mexico, we make up less than 2% of the population as African American women. There are some in neighboring cities, but very small amounts. While socializing, I’ve been able to connect with other women who have had an interest in tea, but not necessarily rooibos, introducing them to its benefits, explaining to them how it’s harvested and where they can find it in the southern cape of Africa, and how it’s pretty much in the leaves and the stems of the honey bush plant that you get the most nutrients out of it. So, it’s kind of been a great way for me to meet people and connect with people that are of African American culture while being outside of my home as well.
What kinds of products do you sell and what are their purposes?
All of our products are rooibos-based teas. Our Western Cape product – I call it the ‘OG’ product or the ‘OG’ tea because it’s just the basic rooibos honeybush plant by itself. It’s one of my favorites because you get the sweetness of the natural rooibos bush, while also ingesting some of the healing benefits of the tea as well. That’s the one that we started out with and because of this, it’s a fan favorite as well. So, a lot of people really like the natural flavor of the rooibos tea, which is our Western Cape.
We started to introduce herbal-infused teas and floral-infused teas so that we can capture more customers that like a little bit of flavor with their tea. They like the sweetness of the rooibos, but it just doesn’t have enough flavor as some of the other teas like Leaf or Lipton. While still trying to make sure that it is as natural and as pure as our Western Cape is, we were able to come up with a Strawberry Hibiscus, which is a combination of strawberry as well as the hibiscus flower incorporated into the rooibos. We have a Passion Fruit flavor as well.
Because I have two teenagers, I found that my children gravitated more to those two flavors, most specifically the Strawberry Hibiscus. My daughter says it gives her a little bit of an energy boost. So, the Strawberry Hibiscus and the Passion Fruit tea is something that teenagers can enjoy, as well as those who are looking for a little bit more flavor than the natural flavor of the rooibos plant.
Our Chamomile Mint Rooibos has the essence that will kind of calm you and prepare you for a good night’s sleep. So, if you love mint, it is bursting with a mint flavor.
How does meditation tie in with your company?
I am a huge meditation person. Honestly, I believe in meditation sometimes more than I believe in going to a doctor because I find that it has so many healing benefits. Once you can calm your body, or calm your anxiety, or stop over-processing, and over-analyzing things in your mind, then a lot of the ailments that you’re experiencing kind of go away. It becomes subdued because your body isn’t working in overtime.
So, even before I started Upland Tea House, meditation was a huge part of my life. What wasn’t a huge part of my life was meditating with others. But as I shared my journey and how meditation helped me, and now I’m adding tea to it. I tell a lot of people that if you can’t meditate, if you can’t get your mind to calm down and quiet so that you can sit in a mindfulness, then you can always pour a cup of tea. It takes your mind off what you’re thinking about, and you begin to enjoy the moment of the flavor of what you’re drinking. And it can kind of help you begin having a meditation practice, or at least a mindfulness practice. And so, that’s how we use meditation. It’s a daily staple — morning and night.
I also tell people we don’t want to just have moments of mindfulness and then get up and go about our day. We want to also journal how we’re feeling when we come out of it. And at the end of the day, we also want to practice gratitude. So, we write in our journals what we learned while in moments of mindfulness, as well as the things that we didn’t accomplish for the day that we might have set as a goal. But we’re coming into a place of contentment with that because we know we can’t conquer everything. Just so at the end of the day, we don’t feel like tomorrow we have to overcompensate for things that we didn’t finish and complete today.
What is something very significant about your company?
Tea House is more of a community, rather than just a company. The product is the tea but we’re hoping that the tea would bring people into unison and into connection. So, when you purchase from us you’re automatically entered into what we call our social club, our extended family. We make sure that everyone is in connection with one another, in real life events, and some of the other areas where members are. And going forward in the future, probably in the fall of this year, instead of just having pop-up events where we can network and have those mindful moments of a tea together, we really want to have meditation on mindful moments as a part of us coming together in unison.
Did you form the community through a specific online platform?
We have a social club forum through our website where only people who have made a purchase automatically become members and can communicate with one another after logging in. We use email marketing to let members know about upcoming events, like our big 70s themed kickback. All of our current members plan to attend in their 70s guard, or 70s inspired guard, to meet and just have a really great time.
The Upland Tea House brand is 70s-themed. Why did you choose this theme?
I liked the style of the era. I also felt like, there was a “regalness” to our culture at that time. You know, men and women took pride in, you know, what they stood for. There was a sense of a more integrity. It was a very strong period, eventhough there was so much against us as a culture in the 70s.