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Who's Minding the Store?
by David Fields

If It Be Your Will
If it be your will
If there is a choice,
Let the rivers fill,
Let the hills rejoice...

--Leonard Cohen

The heart loves real companionship. Back in the eighties, my wife Faye and I befriended a wonderful elderly couple when living in southwest Portland. Lynne turned out to be this eccentric astrologer and Larry was a brilliant woodworker and all-around handyman. Having had no children they soon became God-parents to ours. Sharing an intense fondness for sky critters we've been swapping bird houses and turkeys at Thanksgiving ever since. We care for each other. Larry turned eighty-one this year.

This marked the first tender shoots for us of a vision of flesh and blood community living, where the people around us are cared for like family and resources are shared equally when needs arise. In 1993 we took a bold step, merging cash and karma with several families, all of us born with a passion for high-minded living and plenty of good ole common nonsense, and bought a beautiful farm in the foothills of the Oregon Coastal Range. For Faye and I it was a logical extension of our philosophy. We consumed each other, then youngsters, then neighbors, finally we opened ourselves to our friends with the same kind of commitment we gave to each other.

At this juncture it soon became evident that the farm would benefit from a solid business, something to put everybody's hands to work. We were full of talent: Folks with backgrounds in art, communication, and all-round entrepeneurial spirit. Faye and I had been therapists for many years, but by now had long since outgrown the nature of that profession. Our new experiment involved action. I wanted to plunge into something I knew practically nothing about. Feeling a bit shy of what was emerging, I decided to visit our Guru in South India for deeper reflection.

Sattwa Meets A Trickster

On my return from India we put our first garden in. Tilling the soil, removing rocks, and starting a faithful compost pile. An orchard was also planted; forty beautiful dwarfs of apples, plums, cherries, pears, nectarines, peaches.

Each morning we would gather in the kitchen area (about 15 of us at the start), sipping these wonderful recipes of chai that Juanita Crampton, head cook extraordinare, had prepared. Various members had picked up the chai habit in India, only Juanita had taken it to new levels of culinary delight. As people visited us they were often met with a cup of chai, and almost everybody loved it. Inevitably, somone had the idea that we ought to market this stuff. One of our crew at the time, Tom Dietche, happened to be working at K&F Select Fine Coffee in Portland and managed to interest them in it. A business was born just like that.

Sattwa is a beautiful sanskrit name I had tucked away for some project many years back. I always loved the sound of it. Sat means truth. And in Indian philosophy Sattwa is the principle of harmony and balance in Nature. So we called our new business Sattwa. Sattwa Chai became our community's first child. Naming our company Sattwa was also a way of pointing to that which is true, like the needle of a compass. A good reminder when the sea gets stormy.

Like most other commitments in life, our humble business would end up being an incredible task master as it struggled to grow, and to grow us. And at times it has literally taken us to our knees. Now, five years later Sattwa is on store shelves all over the U.S and Canada, and companies like Coffee People in Oregon and Odwalla serve Sattwa under their own labels.

Who's minding the store? is a question we've asked many times, on many levels. Sattwa Chai is a true prankster: Just when we think we have a bead on it, it spins off into another direction. Tilt it to the right and it jumps like a coyote to the left. People have said similar things in frustration about me, so it's really no wonder. It grows unpredictably, naturally, organically, when often in our impatience we have tried to coax it toward a quicker harvest. But difficult kids are great teachers.

The first Sattwa Chai to hit the shelves was an exquisite loose, dry, blend of black tea and spices that customers could take home and brew up with relative ease. The ingredients were ground finely and blended together for easy extraction. We called it Sattwa Sun and it has become our classic blend to date. Followed by several other dry blends, Sattwa soon became known as the most pure, authentic chai on the market. But a year down the path we realized that competitors had emerged with prebrewed concentrates, and though inferior in quality, were easier to brew up. To effectively compete we would have to follow up with our own prebrewed concentrates.

After a full two years of research and development, Sattwa's premium microbrewed concentrates hit the shelves December of ‘97 and again set new standards for quality and authenticity.

Up Against The Wall

Sattwa finds itself at a new crossroads. Mega food corporations with big bucks have caught onto the chai game and are pressuring retailers to drop the Sattwa line in favor of their own cheaper chai products. A new line of chai manufactured by Pacific Foods (part of a huge conglomerate) has no more in common with real chai than Budweiser, yet because of marketing dollars is attempting to persuade retailers to give them shelf space.

Without marketing dollars we have had to grow our sales modestly, organically, and steadily. We have a growing, loyal following of Sattwa Chai drinkers. But because of our slower growth a company like Pacific Foods can threaten our survival, even though we have been original pioneers in bringing chai to the west. Dylan said it beautifully on Bringing It All Back Home: Money doesn't talk, it swears. This is not always the case, but it is accurate here.

Consciousness, The Invisible Management behind the movement of everything from polliwogs to galaxies, ultimately runs the store. Destiny plays a big role in our apparent successes and failures. What is it that drives some companies to huge successes in the world with little real vision guiding them? And by its opposite, great visions sometimes run aground by circumstances simply beyond their control. Such is the magic of it all.

I have a lot of faith that Sattwa Chai, this young adolescent of ours, will grow to become a healthy adult. She serves a larger vision: One that honors rivers, old-growth forests, youngsters, and elders. But it is challenging.

To anyone out there who has an inkling to try some authentic, premium chai, give Sattwa a go. Every bottle or package you buy is supporting a community that fosters an ecological vision that many thought died about 1969, or so. To date, Nature's Northwest is the only chain that has taken the bait and dropped the Sattwa brand. If this touches your heart, ask Nature's to remember their original mission and return Sattwa to their shelves.

Above all, Follow Your Own Vision! Our e-mail is sattwachai@aol.com. Our new web, though still a skeleton, is www.sattwa.com. Check it out and watch it grow!

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