Enjoy Paradise, One Sip At A Time
By Elisha Jennings
The culinary scene in the Turks and Caicos Islands is as diverse as its archipelago. The islands are a melting pot of cultures and as a result, offer variety in dining experiences. While our traditional Turks and Caicos meals are the best among them, one part of our heritage that is less commonly known to visitors is tea drinking.
Local teas, or ‘bush teas’ as it is referred to commonly, are made from plants, herbs and the barks of trees that are grown in the Turks and Caicos Islands. These teas are popular with natives of the Turks and Caicos Islands and are traditionally used to treat, cure or prevent a number of ailments. The herbs, plants and barks are typically boiled down or steeped in hot water to extract their active ingredients.
Local teas are still widely enjoyed in the Turks and Caicos Islands and today are packaged and made available in grocery stores or gift shops throughout the islands. One of the main distributors of Turks and Caicos made tea is the Caicos Tea Company. The Caicos Tea Company was founded on the island of North Caicos by Donna Gardiner. Donna has a mission to promote healthy living through the benefits of natural herbal teas and follows the mantra “organic living from an island paradise”.
During a recent interview with Donna, she expressed the importance of preserving our tea drinking culture in the Turks and Caicos and how Caicos Tea Company is doing its part.
ELISHA JENNINGS: When did you start the Caicos Tea Company?
DONNA GARDINER: I started making the teas about seven years ago for myself, family and friends. I would also take them to work with me and add motivational quotes on the tea tabs. I then decided to package the teas and I had about 50 boxes made. A friend saw it and encouraged me to take it seriously and helped me improve the packaging. The tea went viral on Facebook and the orders started coming in!
ELISHA JENNINGS: How did the idea come about to start Caicos Tea Company?
DONNA GARDINER: The most important thing that I wanted to achieve was to preserve a part of Turks and Caicos’ culture and heritage. This is why the teas that I make are local and traditional. They are teas that our grandmothers and grandaunts gave us because we had a cold, flu or high blood pressure. Turks and Caicos has a tea culture. Most Turks and Caicos Islanders can remember while growing up for breakfast we had tea and bread/pastry then we would have our major meal in the middle of the day and then in the evening we would have tea and bread/pastry once again. We have a unique Turks and Caicos meal plan – just like there’s an American and European meal plan – and tea is an important part of it. I want to use Caicos Tea Company to preserve that part of our heritage. Additionally, from a business standpoint, I hope use it as a model to other Turks and Caicos Islanders, particularly the youth, to show how aspects of our culture can be monetized. There are so many cultural things that we can find creative ways to share with others.
ELISHA JENNINGS: What are you most proud of regarding Caicos Tea Company?
DONNA GARDINER: One of my proudest moments is when I first saw the packaging that said ‘Product of Turks and Caicos”. Caicos Teas are a true product of Turks and Caicos. Overall the entire product – from the teas to the boxes – are only about 15% imported so essentially we are authentically Turks and Caicos unlike so many other local brands.
ELISHA JENNINGS: Where can visitors purchase Caicos Teas in Providenciales?
DONNA GARDINER: FOTTAC and Sandcastle Convenience Store in Grace Bay and Turquoise Duty Free in the departure lounge of the Providenciales International Airport. You can also find it in select hotel and resort gift shops.
ELISHA JENNINGS: What flavor teas are available?
DONNA GARDINER: I make fever grass which is actually lemon grass, however, locally it got that name because it was used mainly when experiencing fever like symptoms. I also make moringa mint; moringa has a long list of medicinal benefits including helping with anemia and blood pressure. I blended it with mint because moringa on its own is an acquired taste. Seasonally I make soursop which depends on the weather and how dry it is. Soursop is a good sleep aid and also helps to regulate blood pressure. My favorite tea is called Caicos Sunshine which is my grandmother’s recipe. It has citrus, lemon grass and mint and it was always my favorite to drink as a child. Caicos Sunshine is a feel good tea and is calming and relaxing.
ELISHA JENNINGS: Of course I love what you’ve done with the Caicos Tea Company and I drink it all the time. Have you considered how you can expand the company to make it into an experience for our visitors and residents?
DONNA GARDINER: Definitely! I opened a café that was operating for a year and was about to introduce a ready to drink beverage using the Caicos Sunshine blend. However, Hurricane Irma happened and it was a major setback as it affected my stock and operations. It was a challenge however I never stopped producing tea, I just scaled back a bit. My plan is to offer a Turks and Caicos meal plan at Pelican Beach Hotel and a tea experience for day trippers to North Caicos. Caicos Tea is my pride and joy!
Teas such as soursop, mint, fever grass (lemon grass) and moringa can be enjoyed at any time of the day, and regardless of their purported health benefits. For more information on Caicos Tea Company click here. For an added experience, tea lovers can visit the green isle of North Caicos where these plants can be found in abundance during a nature walk or guided tour. We invite you to indulge in the authentic culture of the Turks and Caicos Islands by trying a local tea on your next visit. For more information on visiting North Caicos click here.