September/October 1999 Featured Stories
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...
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
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,
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
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
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
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 email@example.com.
Our new web, though still a skeleton, is www.sattwa.com.
Check it out and watch it grow!