We spoke with Maria Geyman, founder of Masha Tea, on what inspired her to start her tea business, how her practice as a naturopathic doctor informs her blends, how the pandemic changed her path for good, and her hopes for a post-COVID future.
How did you first become interested in herbalism and naturopathic medicine?
I was in regular medical school for over 2 years. Throughout that time, I was starting to think about more holistic approaches to medicine, and I decided to take a leave of absence to do more research into changing paths. That’s when I found naturopathic medicine. I thought it’d be a more beautiful way of mixing conventional medicine with nutrition, herbs, and holistic medicine.
During my year off, I travelled around the country and in rural Mexico, where I worked at Doctors for Global Health, a grassroots healing and medical group. The place where I worked had acupuncturists and herbalists, and I spent my time there writing my application for The National University of Natural Medicine in Portland.
How did that lead to your tea business?
The culture and aesthetic of tea drinking has always been a part of my culture, consciousness and daily ritual. I’m Russian and Jewish, and as a family, we always drank black tea. One of the main ways you can prepare herbs is preparing decoctions and tea.
When I lived in Portland, I started thinking about starting a tea business. That came to fruition after I moved to New York in 2016.
I remember you mentioning you had a trip planned to India and Italy at the beginning of the pandemic to visit some of the farms you source from. Could you tell us a bit more about the farms you work with abroad and locally?
I studied abroad in southern India and always wanted to visit northern India. I had an international sourcing trip planned to India in the beginning of 2020, but it got cancelled due to the pandemic. I wound up visiting farms in the Northeast during the summer instead, which allowed me to find medicinal farms like Foster Farm Botanicals in Vermont, where I source my burdock for the Skin Tea, as well as tulsi and chamomile. A lot of the herbs they grow are ones I’m familiar with from a botanical medicinal perspective.
Could you share a bit more about the skin tea blend?
The Skin Tea is super simple – burdock and licorice – and is one of the first ones I created. It’s naturally sweet from the licorice without sugar, which kids like. Roots like licorice and burdock are considered liver supportive in herbal medicine. One of its functions is to detoxify hormones and clean the body out. It’s supporting digestion, and therefore skin health. Additionally, teas can support skin health more broadly by providing hydration through their electrolytes.
Even though I have an herbalism and medical background, I make my teas so that they still taste good. They’re both nutritive and feel good to drink. I also source locally and organically whenever possible.
How else was your business affected by the pandemic and how did you pivot?
The whole thing started with the India trip being cancelled – I was ready to expand my reach in a big way in 2020, nationally and internationally. But what happened instead was that I focused more on building my local community. I started doing farmers markets in Greenpoint, where I currently live, and doing farm visits upstate. I focused on sourcing local herbs as opposed to importing from farms abroad. I focused in on being in Brooklyn and New York state and being part of the community.
During the pandemic, I got to write a couple of articles for Vogue that all focused on local small businesses. I got to talk to people I admire and work with, such as my favorite coffee shop, Head-Hi, and my favorite florist, Sarah from SAIPUA. I got to collaborate with local small businesses and friends like Sarah from Knead Love Bakery, who integrated my matcha and chai into her gluten-free recipes. During the holidays, Alysia Mazzella and I launched a tea and candle collab that featured my Earth Tea with her tea lights.
Looking ahead, what are your plans for a post-covid world?
I want to grow in the community more – expand to more farmers markets and have a little tasting room / physical space where I could also have an office to see my patients.
Local Roots Experiences are fun, pop-up events where we bring the farm to you!
Delicious, farm-fresh harvests are closer than you think.