Enjoying a rich, decadent cup of chai might be a treat for some, but for Janie Geyen, it’s turned into a full-time job. As the CEO of Sattwa Chai in Wayzata, Geyen says she’s committed to exploring the best chai the world has to offer and bringing it back to the Twin Cities.
“I love our chai and I love the business,” says Geyen, who purchased Sattwa Chai (which originated in Oregon) two years ago. She was introduced to chai, which is spiced black tea, after brewing it on the stovetop in college and leapt at the opportunity to be a part of the company. Together with her mother Marleen, Geyen offers up some of the only microbrewed chai in the U.S. “We tend to have very picky customers,” Geyen explains. “If you care about what you put in your body and you want it to be good and real, [you’re] my target market.” On its website, Sattwa Chai lists the simple, natural ingredients in each cup: “This and only this: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, black tea, sugar and citric acid.”
Most of the spices used to enhance the flavor of Sattwa’s chai are sourced directly from Indonesia, South America and India. Geyen takes the time to visit Indonesia and India, both leaders in the chai industry, to make sure she’s providing customers with the newest innovations to the centuries-old flavor. She also cares deeply about fair labor practices, which have traditionally been tricky in the spice industry. She’s fair-trade certified but has her own standards, too—and the only way to ensure those is to visit in person. “I’ve never seen the Taj Mahal,” Geyen says of her travels, which are largely dedicated to looking for and taste-testing a variety of chai brews and reviewing labor practices. “But I have seen every chai stand imaginable.”
Geyen takes pride in being a female-owned company, particularly one that allows working moms to spend time with their kids. “To me, it’s very natural to have women run things,” Geyen says. “[Sattwa] wasn’t ever something I thought of as a woman-owned business. We’re just women, and we happen to have a business.” Most people Geyen works with directly are women, and she says that having lots of moms on the team doesn’t hurt, either. “I think moms can get a lot done in a short period of time,” she says. Geyen works to help her colleagues and employees maintain a good work-life balance. “All of us are involved in the community,” she says. “That’s something I don’t want to take away.”
Sattwa chai is distributed to independent coffee shops who are “doing interesting things on the edge of coffee,” says Geyen. Locally, you can try a cup at Rustica in Minneapolis and Quixotic Coffee in St. Paul. “We just focus on doing a really good job every single day,” Geyen says when we ask her about whether Sattwa will expand or change in the coming years. “We tend to think that growth will happen when we focus on doing a great job.”
Learn more about the history of chai—and how it’s made—by clicking here.