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metro is telling of both how little we know about tea and how little we know about life away from the city lights. By then, we’ve gotten how passionate he is when he talks about teas. His long, winding monologue dragging us with him to a spiral, rising as we listen to him intently. In contrast to being idle, certain members in the Site 2 community grow their various herbs in plots of land in front of their homes. The residents themselves began planting various herbs even before Ocampo visited the site way back in 2009. “Before we started the project, a number of residents in Calauan have already been planting a number of herbs such as tanglad and herba buena, which makes herbal gardening easier to establish,” Ocampo says. He simply used his ardor for tea to answer the community’s livelihood problems. The three housing units used as manufacturing grounds for Tsaa Laya are now tended to by women from the community who are more than able to work. Herbs grown from the nearby gardens are handpicked and dried with the aid of special machines. The tea bags are packaged by hand, with roughly 1,000 bags produced in a day to satisfy demand. The use of machines are necessary in making tea, but the other parts of the process are natural. Ocampo walks around one of the gardens and points at one of the plants, pinches off a leaf, and

puts it in his mouth. “This is local mint. Very refreshing.” He goes to the far end of the garden and picks another one to smell. “Lemongrass, or tanglad.” The gardens are simple and admittedly a bit crude, but Ocampo and the women who tend the garden are proud of their mini Eden. Herbs are, in fact, resistant to pests and are able to combat weeds. Asked why he named the venture “Tsaa Laya,” Ocampo says the reason comes from the advocacy to bring Philippine tea into the spotlight, rooted in its initiative to help the displaced and the marginalized. Ocampo hopes people who drink Tsaa Laya will be more mindful: “When people spend time steeping our teas, finding delight in the aroma and flavors of the herbs, and simply looking at how the loose herbs unfurl in hot water, I hope the whole tea experience will let them spend time with themselves and realize that we have a choice to withdraw from this daily grind, and to retreat to our own place of solitude and meaningfulness. I also hope that our tea drinkers will feel proud, that they are more than consumers, but are also part of the Tsaa Laya story in rebuilding the lives of marginalized Filipinos displaced by typhoon disasters and relocation.” Treat drinking Tsaa Laya a rude awakening or a wake-up call. Yes, Philippine tea is making a resurgence beyond the medicinal, made with the hands of those who touch the earth to make a living.

SOUTHERN living 2015 1027 SOLI NOV INSIDE.indd 32

FASHION ASSISTANT BULLET REYES GROOMING ARIA ORTEGA

Tsaa Laya’s tea bags are packaged by hand. Jamir Ocampo, founder of Tsaa Laya, takes a bite off a leaf from one of th`e garden’s mint plants.

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Southern Living: 2015 November  
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