Grant Funds Tea Spot Bioplastic Tea Filter Research


The Tea Spot was awarded a $460,000 grant this week to assist in researching the commercialization of compostable bioplastic tea filters for loose leaf tea.

Tea-to-go in mass foodservice presents a challenge.  While most expendables for take-away such as cups, lids, stir straws, napkins and insulating wraps are sustainable — many tea bags and filters are not.

BrewluxThe Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture will enable The Tea Spot to develop a marketing and distribution strategy for its Brewlux™ filters. The filters are manufactured in Colorado from U.S. grown corn resin. A prototype received the top prize for Best Innovation at the 2010 World Tea Expo.

Jessica Burtenshaw was named principal investigator for the research project. She will work with other Tea Spot employees in collaboration with the Marketing Department at the University of Colorado and an independent consultant. Burtenshaw, who is director of product marketing and development at The Tea Spot, has a background in scientific research that uniquely qualifies her to bring the research project to fruition, according to CEO Maria Uspenski

“While the total possible market demand for U.S. corn derived from commercializing Brewlux™ is relatively small in the large scope of agriculture, it is a positive step towards making compostable disposable products in mass foodservice more accepted and widely available,” says Burtenshaw.

Hurdles include a general lack of knowledge of composting. “As more companies help educate consumers on the value of composting and as businesses and cities provide the infrastructure to make it more convenient, composting can take on larger role in the mainstream U.S. culture, similar to that of recycling.

“We are also pioneering new injection molding techniques while using a state-of-the-art compostable resin, which is an important contribution in the larger scope of promoting the successful domestic manufacture of compostable U.S. corn-based products,” she says.

Take-away tea typically represents less than 10 percent of sales at premium shops offering loose leaf and is generally limited to conventional bags at fast-food outlets.

Uspenski welcomed the grant as a “game changer” for The Tea Spot, a for-profit philanthropic business that produces handcrafted loose leaf teas and Steepware®. The Certified B Corp donates 10 percent of every sale to cancer and community wellness programs.

Uspenski, who founded the company in 2004, says the mission is to offer “tea in its freshest form" because it "renders incredible flavor, unmatched health benefits, and is eco-friendly.”

"Such substantial funding for extensive marketing research of Brewlux allows us to introduce this innovative compostable product like one of the major players in the foodservice industry,” says Uspenski.

NIFA is the USDA's major extramural research agency, she explained. NIFA-funded research spans is directed toward problem-solving in 13 national areas, enabling USDA to solve problems critical to farmers, consumers, and communities.