A finalist in the Launch-a-Preneur competition has been enjoying a slow but steady expansion into farmers markets across the province.
The Canadian Barley Tea Company, run by sisters Janice Ishizaka and Cilla Watkins, sell a barley tea called mo’mugi. The barley is grown in Armstrong, brought back to Salmon Arm, ground, roasted and packaged in non-plastic, compostable bags and sold in 15 locations in the Shuswap, Kelowna and Salt Spring Island.
Originally from Salmon Arm, Janice Ishizaka now lives in Tokyo and got the idea for a Canadian roasted barley tea brand to fix a problem she encountered when she came back to visit Salmon Arm over several summers. Since the tea was a household favourite for her family, she would bring home a suitcase full of barley tea bags because she couldn’t buy them in Canada.
Looking for a way to get around the extra luggage and still be able to drink the tea, she wondered how she could make it herself. She contacted her sister with the idea and the pair discovered they could get the barley for their tea from the organic granary in Armstrong, Fieldstone Organics.
Not long after, they entered the Launch-a-Preneur competition with their idea, won two awards and launched their website a few months later.
The sisters run the business more than 7,500 kilometres apart most months of the year, with Ishizaka running the communications and marketing side while Watkins attends local farmers markets selling the tea.
The barley used in Japan is different from the barley used in the mo’mugi tea the company sells, but visitors from Japan who have tried it like it all the same.
“We are super happy when they taste it and they love it because it isn’t exactly the barley they’ve grown up with but it’s they flavour profile they enjoy,” Watkins said. “You can just stand by the booth and watch their eyes light up at how happy they are to find it.”
Although it is possible to get barley in Canada by ordering it online, Watkins says the tea can take six weeks to two months to arrive.
The tea can be brewed both hot and cold and has long been a popular drink in Japan.
“It’s so common in Japan, babies are given it – it’s the first drink after they’re finished with milk in the bottle, so they grow up on it so whenever a Japanese person tastes it, they’re so happy because it reminds them of home.”
This summer, mo’mugi will be sold at Salmon Arm farmers markets, the Predator Ridge Summer Night Market and Okanagan Feast of Fields.