How Fanta Camara became a Local Tea Entrepreneur

An Alberta story of a small business with integrity. 

Mary Bailey

Fanta Camara makes great tea.

Fanta Camara and her tea machine.
Fanta Camara and her tea machine.

I know this because I have been drinking her chai since 1999. Her company VitalyTeas, is a very different creature from that booth at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market sampling Canada Chai. Now, Fanta produces several teas out of a small industrial space in North Edmonton, under the Vitalities label. In addition to the chai, which is now in a bag, unsweetened, Fanta produces bagged black and green teas and herb tisanes.

“I started the company in 1999,” says Fanta. “My idea was to make teas that were beneficial and made you feel good. I had two young kids, so it was not full time. In 2011, when the kids were older, I found I could focus on tea. I work with spice and tea importers who work directly with plantations in ethical partnerships. I buy organic mint and chamomile from Chickadee Farms. I created all the blends, then shipped them to a co-packer in BC as there was nowhere to make tea bags in Alberta.

“But when I would go around to sell the teas, shops would tell me, you are too expensive. I needed to bring all the production in house, to cut costs.”

Fanta began researching what she might need to make tea bags and where to find the funding. Her husband, Marc-Andre, an engineer, was helpful in selecting the best equipment for moving forward the business.

“Because of him I got the courage to get the tea machine,” says Fanta. “He had the knowledge to help me, looked at my business, took care of all the technical details and put together the machine, which we sourced from Argentina. The machine makes 150 tea bags a minute. Now we just need more sales. You need quantity and people buying the product to make it a successful business.”

Therein lies the dilemma. Fanta’s teas are competitively priced, made by a local business and, in many of the blends, are made from local ingredients, but she finds that buyers in shops can be reluctant to change from their current, non-Canadian supplier.

It’s a conundrum shared by many local food entrepreneurs. They make a great product but are unable to dislodge (sometimes inferior) products made offshore.

But when they do, good things happen. “Block 1912 sell 700 cups a week of our chai. It’s unsweetened, people add sweetness to taste. It’s also very high in antioxidants,” says Fanta.

The teas are amazing, with balanced flavours and without harsh tannins. The Cardamom Liquorice blend is the ideal tea for the evening—calming, subtle, rich and balanced with no caffeine. Fanta’s current favourite, the Prairie Breakfast, is a delicious and hearty blend of green and black tea. The Earl Grey has become my go-to bergamot tea.

You can taste the quality of the ingredients. The mint and chamomile that Fanta uses are from Chickadee Farm, near Flatbush, Alberta. “I went to pick up my order earlier this fall. It was so beautiful and fresh. My car still smells of peppermint and spearmint,” says Fanta.

Vitaiteas blends are available at several cafés (Block 1912, Café Bicyclette, Upper Crust, Vivo, Ernest’s and the Sugar Bowl) across the city and wholesale via Sysco and Galimax Trading. And yes, you will still find her at the Strathcona Market where you can pick up a box of delicious, high quality, made in Alberta tea for $9.

Mary Bailey likes her chai unsweetened.