Siblings Reem and Ahmed Rahim have an unusual set of skills.
Reem studied Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University and painting and drawing at Lorenzo di Medici Art Institute in Florence, Italy; her brother studied theater and psychology before traveling the world as a photographer. Though their creativity comes into play each day, it was not their shared interests in art and science alone that inspired them to team up. It was their love of tea.
In 1999, the duo launched Numi Tea out of an humble apartment in Oakland, California. Today, it’s the largest premium, organic Fair Trade certified tea company in North America.
According to the sister and brother team, part of that success is due to their dedication to pure ingredients and shared philanthropic values. In 2009, they established The Numi Foundation, trailblazing iniatiatives to help everyone from the children of Oakland to the people of their native Iraq to farmers in places where they source their ingredients.
Here, Reem and Ahmed Rahim explain why happiness is all about a positive outlook:
Live The Process: Was your shared interest in tea sparked during childhood?
Ahmed Rahim: Tea was a large part of our upbringing, especially the Dry Desert Lime (our native drink of hospitality in Iraq, after which we named the company). Our parents drank a lot of black tea too. I have a background running tea houses in Eastern Europe, and, ultimately, we wanted to bring the Dry Desert Lime to the US market.
Reem Rahim: We always grew up with tea in the family. It’s the choice beverage, usually a strong Ceylonese tea doused with milk and sugar. We also, of course, drank the Dry Desert Lime. For awhile, we did grow apart, with Ahmed developing an interest in tea having run tea houses in Prague, as I was drinking cappuccino while living and studying art in Florence, Italy. I wouldn’t say there was a fundamental emphasis on wellness growing up except that our mother cooked homemade Iraqi food every night (a norm for us versus frozen or prepared food), and we were very active with sports and outdoor activities.
LTP: How did your respective backgrounds in visual art, theater and science impact the development of your company?
AR: Our artistic backgrounds were integrated into the creation of Numi on many levels—from our packaging to the messaging of the brand. We used photographs, paintings, poetry and cooking as a foundation. Our copy is filled with our artistic expressions, as are our offices.
The company was formed in 1999 in Reem’s small Oakland, California apartment, based on our desire to bring pure and exotic ingredients to the American marketplace. We started with straight herbs and teas from around the world, without adding natural or artificial oils or flavors. And we continue to use only pure, organic and Fair Trade, real ingredients: Our Rooibos, Honeybush, Puerh Tea, Flowering Tea, Savory Tea, Turmeric and other products really set Numi apart.
RR: Having backgrounds in science and the arts allowed us to work with all aspects of our brains—from the logical and analytical to the creative and free-spirited. Being artists from an immigrant family made us see and experience the world differently and allowed us the freedom to do things unconventionally. We weren’t restricted by traditional business; we weren’t afraid of standing out. The ingredients we choose, unique blends we make and our care for the world are all expressions of our past experiences. We’ve now become the leading brand to import Fair Trade teas and one of the fastest growing companies in the country.
LTP: There is a big philanthropic component to your company: Can you talk about deciding to give back?
AR: When we decided to start the Numi Foundation, we initially wanted to give back to our local community in Baghdad, Iraq. As we developed our ideas towards education, and specifically educating impoverished children about art and nature, we realized this would be quite difficult. So, we turned to our own backyard: Oakland, California.
Since this realization in 2009, we’ve developed three experiential, somewhat Waldorf-inspired, learning curricula, focused on nourishing children through art, nature, gardening and social studies lessons. Oakland has some challenging school districts, contending with gangs, drugs, guns and high dropout rates. We believe these programs can enrich the children and inspire them to be healthier in their hearts, spirits and minds.
Otherwise, our most recent initiative is our Together For H2OPE, It All Boils Down to Water project. We all know, without clean water, there is no “Pure Tea.” And over 650 million people on the planet are without access to clean water—including many of our farming communities in India, Madagascar, South Africa and China. Our first focus is digging more than a dozen wells in Madagascar, where our organic and Fair Trade turmeric comes from. Next year, we’re focusing on wells and sanitation upgrades in India, where some of our black teas grow. We will continue this project over the coming years to ensure that everyone in our supply chain has access to clean, safe, drinking water.
RR: It has always been part of our DNA to give back, whether through the fair trade purchase of our teas or the hundreds of thousands of tea bags we have donated. As we started getting involved with the Oakland community, we realized how much we can do in our own backyard. That is why we started the Numi (Nature Underlies My Inspiration) curriculum that fosters self-confidence and respect for oneself and the environment through holistic social studies, nature and art classes. This curriculum has been implemented in dozens of schools in inner-city Oakland.
LTP: Do you each have a favorite tea that you can’t go a day without? What are your other wellness rituals?
AR: I tend not to have favorites since there are so many to choose from. But, these days, I drink more Turmeric and Pu-erh Teas. I even mix them together: Ginger Pu-erh with Three Roots Turmeric is delicious, adding an extra zing of ginger with depths of turmeric and malty tastes of Pu-erh. And I always drink our signature Dry Desert Lime, as this reminds me of home.
Otherwise, I love yoga, meditation, sitting in front of candles and taking nature walks. I appreciate all the spaces and moments to reflect, be grateful and remind myself what a miracle life is each day.
RR: My favorite teas are some of our classics: Jasmine Green, Aged Earl Grey and Moroccan Mint. I also love Pu-erh and oolong teas and often drink those loose.
I try and spend time in my studio painting and drawing, which is a great way to slow down my mind and be able to observe my thoughts. I also do walking meditations inspired by Tich Nhan Hanh as a way to bring myself back to my breath and footstep, to center and bring more stillness to my life.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
AR: Happiness comes in so many flavors. Each day is happiness, especially with good health, smiles, children laughing, family in harmony, no wars, no drama or challenges amongst cultures, races and religions. Although it is a big dream, I keep happiness simple by surrounding myself with loved ones and family members who nourish and care for each other. Happiness is being in nature and watching the leaves grow on trees, reading a book, taking a hike and breathing the fresh air with this freedom we have been gifted.
RR: Happiness means waking up with a positive outlook on life. It means touching those near you with that outlook. It means being able to see the forest through the trees when difficulties or frustrations come up, seeing the positive, knowing there’s higher meaning and being optimistic about the future.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
AR: To “Live The Process,” you must be in the flow and be clear about your values and intentions, and then live them truly. Allow all the other stuff to pass you by, if it’s not a part of your value system. Stay true, yet explore other ways, and be open to newness that feeds and inspires. Surround yourself with others that challenge in beautiful ways and nourish your mind. Be present.
RR: “Live the Process” means being fully engaged in everything you do. Doing something full-heartedly and being fully present. Through Numi, we have infused our passions, energy, work and personal life into every moment. There would be no other way to learn and grow than to live that process.