When you first meet Sara Stender Delaney, you can’t help but feel wrapped up in her positivity and infectious laughter. There is something about her that just makes you feel good about life. Luckily, we had the chance recently to chat with Sara about how she got the inspiration for her company Sarilla Sparkling (made with Tîma tea), the work she’s doing to support communities in Rwanda, and the nonalcoholic beverage she’s created that can hold its own next to a cold, refreshing beer.
Could you start by sharing with us how you got into the business of tea?
I spent a year in Rwanda and the experience had a big impact on me. I had quit drinking alcohol and instead I would sit and drink African tea with women who survived the Genocide. This is when the seeds were born. First I started a nonprofit, called Africa Healing Exchange (AHE), to help with the trauma healing for survivors. I began to see how impactful conscious commerce could be to create new economic opportunities, combined with social services. I fell in love with Rwandan silver tea, which is a rare variety of the traditional tea plant and has high levels of antioxidant and an amazing almost tangy flavor profile. I use the silver tea as the primary ingredient in our award-winning Sarilla Original and Pure Platinum flavors.
That’s such a unique name, where did the name Sarilla come from?
Sarilla was inspired by the resiliency of Rwanda, and the Virunga Mountain Gorilla is an icon of courage and strength in Rwanda. I came up with the name as a combination of my own name and gorilla!
Sarilla is made with Tîma Tea, our line of Rwandan loose leaf tea. “Umutima” means “from the heart” and we found Tîma was a catchy, memorable word that loosely means “from the heart for the heart”. The line includes our silver tip tea, a white tea, green tea and a black ceylon type tea. All of it is the highest grade, loose leaf. We do not use tea bags and are working on being a plastic free company. Our tagline for Tîma is to “step out of the bag and get loose!“
We are also building a farm in Rwanda to grow botanicals, which we offer in loose leaf form for hot tea and the ingredients will be used in our new decaf Sarilla flavors going forward.
You’ve done some incredible work in Rwanda that I’m sure our readers would love to hear about. Can you expand a bit on your nonprofit, Africa Healing Exchange (AHE), and the work you’ve been able to do through it?
AHE was created in partnership with the women in Rwanda who helped me to heal from my own personal trauma. They taught me about the human spirit of resilience, and to this day, they keep me grounded on a path of servant leadership. In their culture to be alone, is to die. They cannot imagine how alone Americans are living and they have taught me that it is critical for our mental health to have a strong, community support network. I talk about this in my Ted Talk, as well (See below). Together we are healing and building models to assist others to build their own resiliency.
Challenges will always be coming – we have certainly experienced that in 2020! The key is how do we handle the circumstances presented? Today, AHE supports projects in Rwanda like last year’s water irrigation program, and raised funds for an emergency food distribution during the pandemic. AHE also delivers mentorship and entrepreneurship skills for women with a history of trauma. Some of the women we work with have children who were so inspired by the change they saw in their parents that they have created a cooperative called “Vision Youth”!
After the recent volcano and subsequent earthquakes on the border of Congo and Rwanda, we have started a fundraiser to raise money to help the community build back their villages and structurally damaged homes. You can learn more here about these recent events and make a donation to help these communities at https://www.healingexchange.org/.
We’ve enjoyed following your brand for the past 3 years since you’ve introduced an entirely new kind of tea beverage: sparkling tea. Can you share with us how you developed this drink?
Thank you! I started experimenting with cold brew tea at home and was looking for some more interesting and healthier alternatives to the common drinks we find in stores. In considering how much of a difference we could make if we produced a ready-to-drink beverage that people could drink every single day, and made with Rwandan tea, I took myself to brewing school. I wanted to make a nonalcoholic option that could stand up to a beer. Since I am in recovery and have a lot of friends who don’t drink either, it seems like we need more options to feel included! I often felt left out of the party. My first carbonated tea recipe looked like champagne! I started delivering kegs of sparkling tea to local breweries and eateries and from there we started to can the drinks so we can distribute it on a larger scale.
Now that we’re coming through the intensity of a pandemic year, what are you most looking forward to doing this summer?
Summer is officially here for my kiddo! I’m excited for some events to come back and will be speaking at the World of Tea expo in Las Vegas at the end of June. It’s full circle amazingness that only a few years ago I was walking that show just observing and now I am a keynote speaker. I’m really looking forward to connecting with more people in person and seeing some family in Vermont, where I have not been for awhile. We also have opened up the North Atlantic region and are about to launch Sarilla into the Mid Atlantic so I’m sure I’ll be very involved in building those exciting new relationships!
What song/artist is playing on repeat for you right now?
Haha great question! It depends on the time of day. In the morning, I like to listen to chanting or yoga type music if I’m in a creative, writing mode. But if I’m headed to work out, I’ll pull out a playlist with upbeat stuff. When I’m on a long trail run, I’ll listen to Maroon 5, Foo Fighters, House… I have been listening to a few of The Weeknd’s songs on repeat lately, but I’m sure I’ll get sick of those pretty soon. I like all types of music!
Podcast or documentary? Which one is your preference and do you have a favorite?
Every morning I listen to Abraham Hicks Daily 10-min podcast so my frame of mind is right. I love Taste Radio, In the Sauce, and Shelf-Made podcasts for CPG stuff, and I’m learning how to invest and trade and like to listen to The Intellectual Investor and Trading Stocks Made Easy. If I want to zone out on a long run or drive I’ll pull up The School of Greatness and maybe How I Built This.
You had the opportunity to spend some time in the jungles of Rwanda and observe the endangered Virunga Mountain Gorillas. Can you share with us about that experience? It sounds amazing!
This is such a bucket list experience and you have to book in advance! These gorillas were almost extinct in the ’70s and Gorillas in the Mist does a good job of showing the work that Dian Fossey did to help improve their safety. They are still endangered, however, and we are concerned about their wellbeing right now. There is an influx of mining in Rwanda and the neighboring countries, especially as electric vehicle companies are sourcing most of the minerals they need for their batteries in this part of the world. Also, the latest volcano eruption and earthquakes can cause trauma for the gorillas just like people. They really inspire me to never lose hope, to stay closely connected with nature and never to get too far from our community support.
If someone was coming to visit you here in Asheville, what would be your top 3 places you’d be sure they had to see while they were here?
If they like to run or ride, Bent Creek! Drive up the Parkway near the Arboretum on a beautiful day; it’s so peaceful. I love going to Biltmore Estate and wandering around the trails, checking out the house and gardens and saying hi to the horses. For a night out, my new favorite is Grove Park Inn. These places are also great for locals to feel like you are getting away!
If you could meet someone from the past, present, or future, who would it be and why?
It would be so cool to meet my son after he has lived a full life since I may not be around to see that! I’ve actually never had that thought before, but I’m just excited to see what’s in store for him. He is only 10 now and is really clear on what he likes and the way his mind works is so fascinating.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
That my life has not been easy. I have a really positive attitude in general, but this has not always been my nature. It is a skill anyone can develop and it takes practice. I am a recovering alcoholic and in my mid-twenties, I was in a really dark place. There is really a misunderstanding about addicts and alcoholics, and what they look like. We do not need to be living under a bridge to hit a bottom. For me, I hit an emotional bottom, and thank God I maintained a sense of hope and had the support to find a better way of life. Now I want to be there for other women who are in a similar place and are searching to remember who they came here to be.
Please share where our readers can find Sarilla Sparkling Teas
As a PR and digital marketing agency in Asheville, we get to meet so many wonderful people through our work. Please be sure to check out past Coffee Talk interviews at our blog.