Behind The Scenes At Stash Tea: The Lab
Posted on December 30 2016
Mix a little of this with a little of that, get the balance and the taste just right...and presto! We have a new tea to share.
It seems like it would be that easy and fun. Ah, but there's so much more to it!
We work very hard to provide high quality teas for our customers. In order to achieve this lofty goal, a lot has to happen behind the scenes here at Stash Tea. We thought it might be fun for you to take a peek into our lab and find out what our mad scientists are up to, as well as what some of their daily challenges might be!
Lab Team Overview
In a nutshell, the lab team's primary responsibility is to ensure our customers get the quality and consistency that they've come to expect when they purchase Stash Tea. On any given day, they might be involved in a variety of tasks ranging from crunching data on a computer, to developing new tea blends, or testing incoming raw materials for quality control and compliance with our strict food safety standards. They also work closely with the production facility monitoring good manufacturing practices, as well as assist the marketing team in FDA labeling requirements, and field inquiries from customer service regarding our tea blends.
Quality Control Testing
When samples are shipped to us, the first order of business is to evaluate the raw material. We conduct at least two sessions a day! This entails a visual inspection as well as steeping the samples in hot water and performing taste comparisons against retained samples from previous shipments.
All of our teas contain ingredients that may be impacted by Mother Nature, so at times this creates a challenge for quality control and consistency. If it's determined that the quality of a sample ingredient is unacceptable, then our Purchasing Manager may have to source that ingredient from another grower or even another part of the world—if that’s even an option.
All of the ingredients used in our teas are evaluated before they're approved for shipment to us and used in our blends. This includes the actual tea leaves themselves, as well as raw materials such as ginger root, fruits, flowers, spices, and botanicals...just to name a few!
What if the samples aren’t acceptable?
If a sample is deemed unacceptable, it can present quite a challenge in finding a replacement. Sourcing may become a critical issue for our Purchasing Manager, who needs to know who to reach out to and where to find potential replacement ingredients on the fly. It not only has to be available in the quantity we need, but it must also meet all of our quality and food safety requirements as well as produce a similar flavor profile. At times, our team has chosen to temporarily delay product supply rather than use ingredients that we find unacceptable. We work hard to assure our customers are purchasing consistent products from Stash Tea.
And if the samples are approved?
If samples pass our visual assessment and taste test, they still may require further testing. These tests include food safety and quality control testing, as well as particle size testing to confirm it meets requirements to run properly on the machines that dispense the blends into tea bags.
Additionally, some teas may need to be sent out for other tests, such as nutritional testing or shelf life assessment.
And then there’s the paperwork!
Stash Tea operates under high ethical standards when it comes to sourcing quality ingredients to use in our teas. We seek alliances with suppliers that support our values and are willing to comply with our rigorous quality and food safety requirements.
If it happens that we reach out to a new supplier that we haven't worked with before, or we attain a new ingredient from one of our trusted sources, there is a lot of multi-page documentation that needs to be completed before a product can continue making its way into a blend.
This paperwork includes:
Supplier Code of Conduct
This is a document that details legal and ethical standards that we require our supplier to adhere to. Stash Tea promotes ethical conduct in the workplace, safe working conditions throughout our supply chain, treatment of workers with respect and dignity, and environmentally responsible manufacturing practices.
Our suppliers confirm that they are compliant in practices for food safety and good manufacturing practices in their own facilities.
All Stash teas are confirmed free from peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, buckwheat, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, sulfites, gluten, lupin, celery, and mustard, which are considered allergens in the US and Canada.
All of our suppliers state that the ingredients we purchase from them are non-GMO. Our organic teas are Non-GMO Project Verified.
All Stash Tea ingredients comply with the FDA's definition of "natural". We do not use any artificial ingredients.
Unapproved Ingredients Statement
Stash Tea uses all natural ingredients. This statement ensures our suppliers are not using any ingredients that are not considered natural. This is especially important for our natural flavors.
All Stash teas are currently Kosher Parve under the Kof-K supervision.
We make sure that our ingredients are processed in ways that allow them to be safe for consumers and Kosher.
This ensures we know the country of origin of each ingredient. This also provides the shelf life and storage practices for each ingredient so we can be sure we are storing products properly to preserve quality.
Additional certifications are required for teas that are Organic or Fair Trade.
Wow. That’s a lot!
Let’s produce the blends!
The blends are produced, but not packaged yet. Why?
Yes, you guessed it. The team still needs to evaluate the blends, taste them, test them, and approve them before they can be packaged in tea bags and boxed for retail. Needless to say, quality control is quite a process!
So, is the tea ready now? Not yet! The team has to do one final evaluation.
Once the tea blends are packaged and boxed, they require one last inspection and evaluation by the lab team. Retail boxes are randomly pulled from lots of finished teas that are ready to be sold. They are inspected by the team to assure that the packaging and labeling is correct, and then tasted to confirm the flavor profile matches the tea name on the packaging. Teas cannot be shipped to market until the lab team gives the final okay.
Lab team members not only need to be familiar with FDA labeling requirements, but they also need to be well-versed on a plethora of Stash Tea packaging, and possess discerning and perceptive palates to boot! Customers who are well-acquainted with Stash Tea know this can be a daunting task, as we have a large and diverse portfolio of teas that includes a substantial selection of both tea bag teas and loose leaf teas.
And now, it’s time for you to pick out a delicious Stash tea and make a nice cuppa for yourself. Cheers!