A radical nun’s message of compassion through tea leads Big Heart Tea Co. to an unexpected and rewarding partnership
Big Heart didn’t expect this opportunity to come to us.
To be invited to build a relationship with a major health care institution as a small company, learning the ropes of what that means — this is huge for us.
There are major differences between working with Kitchenhouse Coffee down the street, for example, and one of the nation's top 5 medical systems. But we very much wanted to learn. And the thought of sharing our tea with patients, their visitors, and the staff who care for them lit a fire in our hearts.
Over the past year, Big Heart and Mercy Health have been in close contact, working through what it would take to bring our organic, direct-trade, love-crafted tea to Mercy’s community. There’s something rewarding about bridging new and old, East and West: to bring a turmeric-pepper brew to an American hospital’s menu, to see doctors integrating herbs and nutrition more and more into their suggestions and practice. It’s enticing.
We knew our custom tea blend would be in honor of Catherine McAuley, founder of Mercy and its order of Sisters. But as we dug deeper to learn more about her, we discovered a more radical woman than we could have imagined, someone who was a valiant trailblazer of social justice and feminism. We felt our connection to this Mercy tea deepen, and from those values, ‘Catherine’s Tea’ came into the world.
A RADICAL SISTER.
Catherine McAuley was born in 1788 Dublin, a toiling urban center facing intense religious and class-based persecution, she felt a need to care for the city’s poor regardless of their faith or station. After working as a caretaker in her early 20’s, she was so loved by her charges that they left her their entire estate.
Catherine used this to start an ambitious project: building a place where she and other women could provide housing, healthcare, and education for the poor — particularly single women and children.
Another thing that sets Catherine apart is the welcome she offered every individual who entered her care house: a hot, strong cup of Irish tea.
Catherine and her Sisters persisted through hard Dublin winters, political strife, and even an 1832 cholera outbreak. Just before she passed of tuberculosis at 63, she asked of the Sisters around her, “Be sure you have a comfortable cup of tea for them when I am gone.” On her deathbed, this was her primary concern, her last wish.
Her legacy of healing was passed down — through not only the essentials of housing and health, but also an element of care. She understood that a cup of tea was an essential part of comfort and community. And when we heard her story, well, it solidified this entire journey with Mercy for us. The tea was elevated to not only honor her, but to take her namesake and strengthen her spirit inside Mercy facilities.
Irish tea is traditionally a blend of black teas, malty and strong so it can support milk (or, you know, whiskey). So we blended our Malawi and Assam black teas — and added the kindest, most heart-forward ingredient we know as a nod to Sister Catherine.
Catherine’s Tea is a black tea, specially featuring leaves harvested by June and Rajen of Heritage Tea in northeast India. This rich, floral tea is then hand-blended at Big Heart Tea Co. with organic red rose.
It gives us great satisfaction to feature Satemwa’s tea, because supporting fair, sustainable tea in Malawi is a direct affront to their prevailing tobacco industry.
But Heritage Tea is a special friend to Big Heart. They’ve been wonderful partners to the earth and their farmers, as well as to us. And they are thrilled to be featured in Catherine’s Tea, as June is Catholic and fell in love with the story of Sister Catherine just like we did.
We poured love into this tea. In every way.