Viva Leaf Tea, a farm-to-cup approach

By Walt Maguire
Posted 12/17/20

Viva Leaf Tea Company officially opened in October, but Christa Barfield had been selling her herbal teas and infused honey in farmers’ markets and online for some time.

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Viva Leaf Tea, a farm-to-cup approach

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Viva Leaf Tea Company officially opened in October at 6730 Germantown Ave., but Christa Barfield had been selling her herbal teas and infused honey in farmers’ markets and online for some time before that. While the weather was warm, the store was centered in a large outdoor courtyard, with large houseplants, picnic tables and rosemary bushes growing in the shade. When the weather finally forced them inside, they switched to smaller succulents and bonsai plants. The teas and honeys account for more than half the business.

Many of the herbs are grown in a greenhouse at the rear of the property. Some come from the Farmer Jawn Community Greenhouses in Elkins Park. Barfield blends the teas herself. “I layer flavors until I get it to where I like it,” keeping in mind the health benefits she uses as a guide. The Cinnabush Kush blends honeybush tea, cinnamon, elderberry, citrus zest, and bubba kush hemp flower to provide something soothing for this time of year. The Tea #2 blends echinacea flower, thyme, orange peel, and habanero pepper with white peony tea leaves.

Christa Barfield grew up in the area. She started growing her herbs at Farmer Jawn, and still maintains a section there, but the new location gives her space to grow a wider variety of herbs, a “farm to cup approach,” as she phrases it.

The houseplants were a different story.

“I think of myself as a farmer, but my strong point is not houseplants,” Barfield explained. “So I’ve surrounded myself with horticulturalists.”

Emily Conn works at Viva Tea and is also a horticulturalist at Morris Arboretum. She was living two blocks from the store when it was preparing to open and connected with Barfield through the Philadelphia Plant Exchange. Jennifer Taing is a self-taught horticulturalist but “she keeps the plants alive and healthy” in the store, providing advice to customers as well. She also makes the face masks they sell.

“The best-fitting masks I’ve ever found,” said Barfield. “I can garden without having to adjust them once.”

There are botanical-infused honeys, such as a matcha or mint, based on raw honey from Instar Apiaries, also in Mt. Airy.  

Online shopping has provided a lifeline to many businesses this year, but unless shoppers know where to look, a brick-and-mortar presence makes a difference. This stretch of Germantown Avenue has Zsa’s Ice Cream, Mt. Airy Violins and Bows, Alena’s Café, the Post Office, and Malelani Café next door to Viva Tea. There are small parks along the avenue, with pedestrians sitting with coffee or takeout, talking or checking out the multiple Little Libraries.

The entrance to the Viva courtyard is a small public herb garden. In summer, the main courtyard is filled with larger plants and public events. On Friday nights, while weather permits, there is an outdoor music series with food (and fire pits); the first Friday session in December was jazz and tacos from South Philly Barbacoa. Malelani Café borrows the courtyard on Saturdays and Sundays for their own live music series.

Viva Tea is available at Weavers Way Co-Op and a growing list of independent coffee shops and boutiques. DiBruno’s carries Viva’s infused honey. Barfield also runs a Viva pop-up at DiBruno’s in the Italian Market on Sundays.

The storefront is open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, with extended hours Christmas week. Check store hours or shop online at vivaleaftea.com. The masks are also available for sale at etsy.com/shop/somaruyoh.

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