The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop Goes National
Owner Amber Jackson is focusing on building local community for Black professionals while scaling up her tea brand nationwide.
When entrepreneur Amber Jackson couldn’t find a networking group in Providence that involved people that looked like her, she created one herself. She’s the owner of the Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop, and besides tea, Black culture is a huge part of her business. She started Tea Talks and other panels featuring successful Black professionals who come together to learn from one another. Just like sipping tea brings people together, her whole business plan revolves around building community.
“My mother always taught me you should always be of service. No matter how little you think you have, you always have something to give back. Being of service in the community and being a Black woman is something I hold dear to my heart,” Jackson says. “I really wanted to not only have a tea company, but incorporate the other parts of me that are important, which are service and Black culture. That’s why it’s called the Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop.”
Jackson moved to Providence in 2017 to work at Brown University as the team travel manager and financial coordinator in the athletics department, and she started her own side business soon after in 2019. The entrepreneur’s success over the pandemic allowed her to recently leave the job at Brown to focus full-time on her business. But she still reflects on what it was like when she first moved here.
“My coworkers would take me out to see different parts of Providence and almost every single time, I was the only Black person or Black woman in the room at a bar or restaurant,” Jackson says. “It was a very uncomfortable feeling, so I wanted to create spaces for people who are like me, especially Black transplants who are moving here by themselves.”
She’s originally from Chicago where she says the Urban League was very active. She was surprised to find that Providence lacked an active chapter and didn’t want to have to drive to Boston to join the closest local group. “I brought that here on my own. I used a network of friends I have here to meet more people,” Jackson says. “A lot of people are lawyers, grad students and medical residents, people who have their own businesses, people who have nine-to-fives and want to meet other people to experience what they do. Tea Talks are a way to amplify Black voices.”
She based the Tea Talks off of a YouTube series she follows called the Grapevine, based in Brooklyn. “It’s a panel, roundtable discussion by young Black professionals, millennials mostly, and it discusses the same things I discuss; cultural topics, current events, dating, relationships, anything that affects the community on a day-to-day basis.”
Building community makes sense for her since tea is a comforting beverage that some say can help ease their struggles. “I grew up with tea,” Jackson says. “If something was wrong like a headache or stomach ache, my mother would give us tea. It’s something I enjoy, and not just tea, but the flavor in general.”
The names of her teas are also conversation starters. Jackson has given each of her twelve all-natural organic tea and herb blends fun monikers like Cocoa Bae, which contains black tea and coconut; Chi-Town is a homage to her home in Chicago, and it’s an Assam black tea with roasted cacao nibs, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves (20 percent of proceeds go to the Chicago nonprofit My Block, My Hood, My City); Money is wintergreen tea with peppermint, spearmint and cinnamon; and Lotus is jasmine with dried mango and dried pineapple. While only four of the twelve blends contain tea leaves, she sources the tea from a local vendor, Michelle Cheng, who owns her own tea shop in Providence called Ceremony. Cheng sources directly from the farmers in China, Japan and Taiwan.
“All my products are made with organic and natural ingredients. People enjoy the natural ingredient as it is. It’s much more delicate on the palate but also very flavorful,” she says. “I want people to enjoy the natural beauty of these herbs and teas, and stop and be present in the moment.”
Having earned an undergraduate degree in nutrition and food science and following that up with grad school and a Masters in food science, Jackson was confident in launching a tea company with national appeal. “Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world,” she says. “I’m good with flavors and experimenting and product development, so I decided to take these herbs I had gathered and create a dry, packaged product that’s lightweight that I can ship across the country, and when I’m ready, I can ship across the world.”
Locally, she participates in popups every other Saturday morning at the Farm Fresh Rhode Island farmers market and sometimes, the Friday night and Sunday Providence Flea. Her teas are available on the menus at Bayberry Garden, Bayberry Beer Hall, Wildflour, Notes Coffee Shop and Hunky Dory and for purchase at Inkfish Books.
While there is no brick and mortar shop in her plans, Jackson is focused on building community locally through future events. She’s already gaining more national traction for her tea brand. She currently offers the deluxe “Me Time” gift box that collaborates with other businesses and includes all kinds of wellness items from face masks and candles to chocolate chip cookies, a journal and moisturizer). She recently filled an order of more than 2,100 teas to fill the boxes that are shipped nationwide. “I am a local business because I’m here, but I am not a local brand,” Jackson says. “My goal going forward is to continually push the narrative, image and branding that I am a national brand.” She’s well on her way.