5 Mountains: Telling a Story of Monks, Mountains, and Sustainable Tea

Stacy Stafford Scott, Jeff "McCloud" Dorchaide, Autumn Rauchwerk (me), Andy Cvitanich and Jason Creech pose for a group photo after the event

That’s me in the middle with the 5 Mountains guys (in khaki pants) and a couple of Bon Appétiters

What could be better than a fall afternoon tea tasting, complete with tea sandwiches, macarons, and a presentation on Farm to Fork? Having the tea guys there themselves, to share their story along with samples and a heck of a lot of information about tea!

Jeff “McCloud” Dorchaide and Jason Creech are the cofounders of 5 Mountains Tea, a brand new Farm to Fork tea partner that Executive Chef David Anderson has enrolled at the University of San Francisco. (Bon Appétit recently announced we’re moving to Fair Trade Certified tea, with some exceptions, including for our Farm to Fork vendors.)

Jeff and Jason joined me for an event at the university where I got to share some more information about Bon Appétit’s Farm to Fork program and they made the story come alive, reminding us again about why our Farm to Fork relationships are so special.

The beautiful catering display set up by our USF team, complete with 5 Mountains Tea, tea sandwiches and macarons.

The beautiful catering display set up by our USF team, complete with 5 Mountains Tea, tea sandwiches, and macarons.

Jeff and Jason got to know each other back when they were monks living in Asia. One of the few physical pleasures they had during that time was drinking tea. They each eventually left the monastery after realizing that the true challenge of spirituality was finding that same inner peace while living in the “real” world. Ten years later they found each other again in San Francisco — Jeff with strong personal connections to a traditional, sustainable tea supply, and Jason with a degree in business and a desire to do something different — and 5 Mountains Tea was born.

Jeff and Jason’s passion for sustainability and equitable purchasing was evident as they chatted with me and students who stopped by. They explained that their tea comes from truly biodiverse forests in the legendary Five Mountains region of Southeast Asia, where they have been cultivated by native tribes for over 3,000 years. These are wild-crafted tea varieties adapted to what is locally natural, with other plants growing among the tea trees, birds nesting in the branches, and trees that survive for 1,000 years rather than the 80 to 100 years that most conventional tea trees last.

Their larger tea plantations are Fair Trade Certified, while their smaller plantations are ones that have actually opted not to go the Fair Trade route because their highly skilled workers already enjoy full benefits. Their trade is passed on for generations, and the operations are more like a family.

5 Mountains Tea's new 100% compostable and biodegradable tea bags

5 Mountains Tea’s new 100% compostable and biodegradable tea bags

Five Mountains manufactures its own product — purchasing the tea directly from the farmers and packaging it themselves without a middleman. For years they were just selling loose-leaf tea, but they just released their first tea bags. Why didn’t tea bags come earlier? They were waiting until it was possible to create a 100% biodegradable, home-compostable tea bag, and they say they  recently became the first company to do so.

A few other interesting facts I learned from Jeff and Jason:

  • Having an organic certification from the European Unions, Japan, and China is really important to them because it signifies a 100% organic product, whereas the U.S. organic certification (which they also have) only means that a product is at least 95% organic.
  • All teas — white, black, green, oolong and puerh —can be made from the exact same tea leaves.
  • Herbal tea isn’t actually tea at all, it is really a tisane, a combination of different herbs.
  • “Heirloom” tea refers to traditional varietals, and “single origin” means that the leaves in a specific varietal all come from the same place, with no additives at all.