Delicious Living Blog

Can compassion grow a business? Yes, says Bhakti Chai

What happens when you combine fresh ginger juice, Fair Trade tea, and sincere devotion to social change? Bhakti Chai. Here's why this Boulder, Colorado-based B-corporation is on fire.

These past half-dozen years, as the economy has rudely awakened us all to shared vulnerabilities, I have often wondered how the business landscape as a whole might look with much more compassion and a whole lot less cold profit-chasing at its core. 

I’m not against profits. I’m for them. But I don’t believe that making a profit and creating health and happiness for others are mutually exclusive. In fact, compassion may be just what’s required for businesses to succeed in uncertain times.  And I’m inspired by the number of companies that have done well—really well—while also doing good

Bhakti Chai is a luminous example, one that I am particularly excited to celebrate as it gains near-national U.S. distribution in 2013. When the fiery chai tea concentrate first hit the Boulder, Colo. café scene a handful of years ago, friends described it more like an experience than a drink: intense, up front, with a kick ... The exhausted new moms I knew raved. Everybody raved. Finally, there was chai that really meant it.

But this isn't about how good the chai tastes. (With a hefty shot of fresh ginger juice, proprietary spices sourced directly from India, and Fair Trade black tea, it’ll make a convert of you just as the name Bhakti, “devotion,” implies—especially the ready-to-drink Slightly Sweet and “dirty chai” Coffee Blend options.) It’s about how founder Brook Eddy’s vision goes well beyond making delicious chai.

The Bhakti Chai mission 

It started a decade ago in northern India, where Eddy traveled to study a social justice movement called Swadhyay based on the principles of bhakti or “devotion through social action.” Twenty million people in India participate in Swadhyay—a movement to eradicate poverty and caste-class barriers, whose members devote themselves to working for the benefit of others and for the community.

Those values and the chai that Brook and her brother Beau Hagberry, now the director of Plant Operations, drank in India proved more than inspirational. Back in Colorado, Eddy began playing around with spices and tea in her kitchen. According to Ayurvedic principles, fresh ginger (Bhakti Chai’s signature ingredient), stimulates “agni” or “digestive fire.” 

What started as Eddy’s comforting home concoction became a holiday gift for friends and family in 2005, and then an aspiring business. She began brewing it for local cafes in 2006, launched a website in 2007, and in 2008 finally began selling in Whole Foods Markets in Boulder. Now Bhakti is available in natural product stores in 25 states across the U.S.

Still, Bhakti maintains that home-brewed taste with its rigorous 3-day method: carefully blending select spices; pressing and juicing the fresh ginger; brewing the tea and spices with cotton-muslin tea sacks so that nutrients and flavors come through; mixing with soy milk (if ready-to-drink); and finally labeling, packaging, and boxing. Most everything is done by hand.

Bhakti's triple bottom line 

Bhakti is one of a growing number of businesses with Benefit corporation status. Benefit corporations (B corps) are businesses with strong “triple bottom line” (people, planet, profit) values that voluntarily undergo a yearly audit to assess measurable impact in identified areas, such as reducing ecological footprint and investing in the community. “It just made sense for us,” says Eddy about becoming a certified B-corp. 

Giving to the community was brewed into her business plan as a full three percent of profits from the beginning. “There was no ‘When we make a certain amount, we’ll give back,’” she says. So far, Bhakti has given three percent of profits, over $75,000, to women’s empowerment organizations and ecological nonprofits around the world. “Don’t wait to give back,” she recommends to entrepreneurs.

The future 

I caught up with Eddy recently at the new brewing facility in nearby Longmont, Colorado. Wrapped in a bright scarf and with an anxious but radiant smile, she was headed out to a gathering of potential investors. “Raising money, with my social policy and nonprofit background, I was good at it, but I didn’t realize how much of it I’d be doing, constantly, to grow Bhakti,” she told me later. 

So far investors have seen the potential in Bhakti. Perhaps burned out on poor results from the stock market, they’ve taken the chance on a new brand with a bold social mission. For early investors, there has been as much as 250 percent growth. 

Eddy says there’s so much more she’d like to accomplish. “I’d like to set up a Bhakti Foundation to establish funds for future giving focused on women, girls, and the environment.” In 2013, Bhakti Chai will partner with Off The Mat and Into the World (offthematintotheworld.org) a yoga-inspired nonprofit dedicated to social activism and grass-roots change. “We want to inspire people to find their ‘bhakti’ and give back.”

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