Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Brad Pitt Co-Founded This Sparkling Tea Brand. But That’s Not Why You Should Drink It.

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Enroot isn’t your typical tea company. The sustainable tea brand co-founded by Brad Pitt is reimagining what an ethical business can look—and taste—like.

Inspired by her grandmother, Pamela, a small-scale farmer and food entrepreneur in Davao, Philippines, Cristina Patwa knew she wanted to live her life the same way—a life built on the values she saw in her grandmother, how she held a respected, important place in her community, and how she honored—cherished, even—the land and the earth at the heart of her business.

For Patwa, now the co-founder and CEO of Enroot, a sparkling tea brand she created with entrepreneur John Fogelman and Academy Award-winning actor and producer Brad Pitt, that means breaking barriers and setting the bar for the beverage industry higher than it’s ever been. 

“After embarking on a lengthy three-year discovery process from leaf to bottle, trying hundreds of tea varietals, fruits, roots and botanicals, our James Beard chefs crafted a small batch, 3-day slow cold brew tea ritual,” Patwa tells Ethos via email. “Finished with a sparkling texture to both awaken and excite the palate, this distinct brewing method extracts a smooth, refreshing flavor without the bitterness and astringency often associated with teas,” she says.

Patwa says that because the co-founders all share a passion for more delicious, diverse, and sustainable food, the partnership with the James Beard Foundation and now the 12 Enroot chefs “was crucial” in being able to masterfully craft the cold-brewed teas.

The teas

“The process of cold-brewing tea leaves slowly over time, at colder temperatures allows the flavors and catechins to be released gently, and because it takes heat to release tannins from tea leaves into the water, cold brewing tea leaves removes the astringency and bitterness,” Patwa explains. “Catechins, a type of disease-fighting flavonoid and antioxidant, are the keys to tea’s health benefits, and the longer you steep the tea, the more flavonoids you can get in your brew,” she says.

“Our chefs also did not want to overcook the teas by scalding them, which is more typical in conventional brews. This creates the astringency and bitterness that often requires sugar to mask the flavor. The slow cold brew process allows us to extract the raw flavors and wellness attributes from the ingredients without overcooking them,” Patwa says. 

The small-batch teas come sparkling and in an array of flavors: Strawberry Lavender Rosemary Tulsi, Peach Hibiscus Jasmine Green Tea, Raspberry Mint White Peony Tea, and Apple Lemon Cayenne. They’re meant to be sipped—like wine or an aperitif—to allow the notes and flavors to come through.

brad pitt tea
Courtesy

The absence of excess sugars isn’t missed—if anything, it’s a welcome departure, like opening the door to a hidden garden of flavor you didn’t know existed.

As much as formulation and brewing techniques play a part in the final product, so too do the ingredients. 

“The benefits of organic teas over conventional teas are plentiful,” Patwa says. “Because most conventional tea farms are large, industrial in size, they rely on herbicides, pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, etc. that are absorbed by the tea plants and soil.” She says tea leaves are not rinsed so this exposure is being transferred directly to and consumed by tea drinkers.  “These chemicals are often washed down and drained to local rivers and oceans nearby, affecting the local ecosystem and killing ocean and river species.” 

Tea plantations are often just that—large swaths of land dedicated to a single crop that can degrade soil and expedite biodiversity loss. But organic operations are diverse and small-scale, Patwa says. “Fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals, herbicides, and fungicides are not used in organic teas during farming to avoid their harmful effects on the human body, the farmers’ well-being, soil health, and the environment.”

And, Patwa says, the team found with their chefs that there is an actual taste difference with organic teas, “we can enjoy the raw flavors intended from these plants and botanicals,” she says. 

But the tea is just part of the magic at Enroot.

Enroot’s roots

The brand’s credentials read like a how-to guide to ethical business: carefully researched, selected, and organically sourced ingredients; small-batch brewed blends formulated by James Beard chefs; B Corp certification; the first startup to work with SCS Global Services on sustainability initiatives; and directing the company’s efforts toward supporting women through the James Beard Foundation.

If an idyllic future—one built on this ethos of sustainability, ethics, and kindness—has a taste, you’d likely describe this reverie as Enroot, which means to fix and implant roots into the earth. But at Enroot, it seems to also mean to lift up, to elevate the possibilities, both for the senses, and the heart.

These light, bubbly, herbaceous brews are not your average kombucha, juice, or soda. There’s elevated gustation that happens with every sip. It is, indeed, no accident.

Patwa, Fogelman, and Pitt—friends for years—worked on other projects together before coming up with the idea for Enroot. “Over a shared meal together, Brad came up with the idea to create a beautiful wellness drink that could pair with fine gastronomies around the world,” Patwa says. 

enroot tea
Cristina Patwa, courtesy

Patwa says even with Pitt’s busy Hollywood duties, he has been very involved and has “wonderful instincts as an artist, entrepreneur and philanthropist.”

“His role in Enroot has spanned bringing the vision of Enroot to life, leading the creative aspects of the brand, even sketching out trees and roots for our logo and embedding our Food, Family, Farms values, and being a key player in crucial pitch meetings,” she says. “He also pushed our teams to find alternatives to plastic bottles and caps and to seek a partnership with an independent third-party in sustainability (which later became SCS Global Services),” Patwa says.

“Even the idea of bringing in expert chefs into the community to craft our beverages came from Brad. When the Foundation brought up the issues women are facing in the food community, he was an early advocate for our give back to be made in this space.”

“We were founded as a purpose-driven company and have incorporated this into the structure of our company as a public benefit corporation. This means that we believe companies should bear a responsibility in our communities to be a good citizen and make ethical choices throughout all parts of their business.”

-Cristina Patwa, Enroot Co-founder and CEO

Patwa says Enroot is the first start-up in the food and beverage space to work with SCS Global Services, a leading independent sustainability certification body, on developing a comprehensive responsible sourcing policy.

“We source and audit our ingredients carefully and responsibly through this partnership, and are proud to adhere to organic agricultural principles that support the protection of our natural resources, biodiversity, soil and water health, prohibition of GMOs, animal welfare and biological-based pest management,” she says.

“With recyclable glass, aluminum caps and cardboard cases, we also work closely with our suppliers to reduce our carbon footprint by sourcing our glass locally,” says Patwa. The tea is brewed and bottled in Santa Cruz, California.

Enroot earned its B Corp status last year—a mark that’s becoming more common, but still difficult to achieve. Certified B Corporations are recognized for their leadership in building an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy. Last year saw luxury French fashion house Chloé earn its B Corp status, as did the popular French resale platform Vestiaire Collective, among a growing list of other companies.

Earning B Corp status is no easy feat. Over the last decade, more than 100,000 companies have applied for B Corp status, but to date, only 4,000 have achieved it. 

“This is a prestigious honor,” says Patwa. 

“We were founded as a purpose-driven company and have incorporated this into the structure of our company as a public benefit corporation. This means that we believe companies should bear a responsibility in our communities to be a good citizen and make ethical choices throughout all parts of their business.”

Patwa says that by holding Enroot to B Corp’s standards, it will help the brand ensure its values remain intact “and only grow deeper in our responsibilities.” 

James Beard Foundation

Part of those values are reflected in the partnership with the James Beard Foundation, which Patwa says fosters a commitment to “mindful nourishment, sustainability and equity in our food systems.”

Having worked with the Foundation previously, Patwa, Fogelman, and Pitt are fans of the advocacy work the Foundation does. 

“The Foundation was part of the ideation process for our name Enroot,” Patwa says. “They also selected the group of chefs from differing parts of the country to give us varying perspectives in our creative process.”

This, she says, is “embedded into the soul and charter of Enroot, and we will hold ourselves responsible through our partnerships with the Foundation, SCS Global Services, the USDA Organic Agriculture bodies and the B Corp Certification teams.”

It also means returning to Patwa’s roots—that strong role model she found in her grandmother has made supporting women a core focus for the brand. Patwa says through the Foundation, the founders were able to sit with approximately 200 female chefs. 

enroot tea
Courtesy

“We were so moved by their stories of strength, vulnerability, and perseverance,” she says. “In an industry where over half of those that enter culinary school are women, only 21 percent of them are chefs in the culinary world (vs. 28 percent female CEOs running businesses).”

Patwa says that at the world’s top restaurants, women hold only 6.3 percent of the head chef positions, a number she says is worse than the 8 percent of female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies. 

“In the one industry where one would think we would have more representation, our female chefs are largely on their own in a male-dominated field, as moms working nights and weekends and 80-hour weeks, while making cents on the dollar that their male counterparts take home,” she says.

“We can do better, and we must do better for our sisters at the table. We are proud to be a Sustaining Partner to the Foundation’s women’s leadership programs, supporting a safe and celebrated path for our sisters at the table.”

All of these commitments stack into a values system that’s as unique and rewarding as Enroot’s tea blends. 

“And this is why our values around our emblem are Food, Family, Farms,” Patwa says. “We view these three as an ecosystem. That if you create nourishing foods, you care for the health of families and the livelihood of farm workers and you make choices that conserve and sustain the earth, that we leave a legacy that promotes the well-being of our communities and our planet. To those of us that work at Enroot, we find purpose and inspiration in doing this work every day.”

Learn more about Enroot here.

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