Christa barfield of Viva Leaf Tea Company is a business owner who isn’t afraid of honest feedback.
“I appreciate criticism,” she says. “It’s what makes you better.”
It’s a good thing, too, because at an event at Awbury Arboretum in 2019, beekeeper Jeff Eckel of Instar Apiaries had some to offer.
“I was sourcing my honey from a wholesale company,” Barfield says. “He came by my table, picked up my honey and said it looked like it was made with water.”
At the time, Barfield was new to infusing honey and was still workshopping her products. In that critique, she saw an opportunity.
“It came from the mouth of a beekeeper who was able to give me the quantities of honey that I need,” she says.
Barfield now partners with Eckel, who provides raw honey for her to infuse with a variety of herbs, including lavender, turmeric and tulsi (aka holy basil). Both businesses are located in Germantown.
“We offer hyper-local honey,” Barfield says. “I love telling the story of how it came about.”
At a different event at Bok, the South Philly makerspace, Barfield met another future business partner: Scott Case of DiBruno Bros. Case connected her to the specialty food retailer’s cheese buyer, Hunter Fike. Fike was impressed by the quality of Barfield’s honey and the unusual flavor infusions.
“Honey is a natural complement to cheese. She had interesting infusions we had never seen before. We had never seen a basil-infused honey, and we thought that on a caprese salad would be amazing,” Fike says.
Once DiBruno Bros. decided to stock her honey and tea, Barfield began to reach more customers and the word got out about her business.
“It was a really amazing turning point,” Barfield says.
Barfield makes her teas with health benefits in mind. For instance, she created a pain-relieving tea, pairing black tea, chamomile and rosemary.
“Black tea is high in caffeine and is a natural pain reliever. I thought about other herbs that also help with pain,” Barfield says, noting she mixes ingredients that have similar medicinal properties and complementary flavors.
Taste is just as important as purpose. To ensure that her blends were crowd-pleasers, she held a tasting on her block in Germantown in August 2019. “I invited friends and family,” Barfield says.
“The quality of tea and the experience of going into the shop and learning is bar none.”
— Destiny Mckinney, customer
She believes herbs picked when fresh from local sources are much more flavorful and more effective than those shipped from far-flung parts of the world. When Barfield was starting out, she collected fresh herbs from Weavers Way Farms that she dried herself. Now she grows her own in a Roxborough garden, as well as at her newly opened storefront on Germantown Avenue.
Barfield sources hemp from Wild Fox Farm in Barto, and she’s passionate about introducing it to those who might be wary of cannabinoid products.
“There’s so much stigma attached to the word cannabis. We can educate people about hemp and CBD, and we can make it taste really good. You still get the benefits of the plant,” Barfield says. Her best-selling hemp tea is Cinnabush Kush, which contains cinnamon, elderberry and citrus zest.
Education is also a big part of her business. Many customers come into the shop with a variety of questions, and Barfield is always happy to help. She first determines what customers are looking for. Is it a jolt of energy in the morning or relaxation before bed?
“Some people aren’t tea people, and those are our people, too,” Barfield jokes. “It was important to me to have a range of teas.”
Customer Destiny McKinney says she has been impressed by the level of customer service every time she steps inside Viva Leaf.
“The quality of tea and the experience of going into the shop and learning is bar none,” McKinney says.
McKinney, who recently relocated to Philadelphia from Austin has been creating gift baskets for friends and family that include Barfield’s products. Everyone who has received the tea and honey has enjoyed them, she says. Some have ordered more directly from Viva Leaf’s website.
“My favorite honeys for the house are the lavender and the saffron—especially if the kids have a little scratch in their throats,” McKinney says.
McKinney’s family members are also fans of the ginger berry tea, which contains raspberry leaf. She says pairing the ginger berry with lavender honey is “the perfect combination.”
“I hadn’t been a tea connoisseur before, but I feel like one now,” she says.
The strong sense of community is important to McKinney, especially because she is a recent transplant. She considers Viva Leaf an important part of the neighborhood.
“Being new to the area, it is just amazing to see it flourish. I would have thought it was a staple in the neighborhood forever,” says McKinney.