Feature: Boston Tea Party

By this point in the year, most Exeter students have visited Boston Tea Party, whether it was for a well-deserved  boost during exam period, or to celebrate the end of exams in true Exeter uni style – with our staple brunch ingredient: avocado. However, what you might not be too familiar with is exactly what goes on behind the scenes at Boston Tea Party and how it has been carefully evolving since the first Boston Tea Party opened around 20 years ago. Razz caught up with the manager of Boston Tea Party, Dan, an Exeter grad to find out more about the Boston’s ethical practices.

First of all, for those observant few, you might have spotted other Boston Tea Party café’s across the UK – Boston is a small chain which is family-run and they’ve worked hard to keep it this way. Their cafes retain the same spirit of an independently-run business and encourage staff to express their own individuality and interests in their role. During staff training, manager Dan ensures all members are informed about Boston’s ethical practices so that they are ready to explain to interested customers. This helps to create the inclusive and dynamic environment that makes Boston Tea Party stand out from the crowd. Furthermore, each BTP has a ‘Captain Planet’ who ensures that lights and taps are turned off, as well as working with the local community in order to raise money and host various events. On their website, it notes how the heart of Boston Tea Party is Bristol, and it is easy to see why. Over 80% of their ingredients are sourced there and across the southwest , many from family-run farms and suppliers, and Bristol’s reputation as a quirky (and dare I say Alternative) city is encapsulated in Boston Tea Party.

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One important example of this is the Severn project, which you have probably never heard of – Boston Tea Party are very modest about their achievements. Boston sources all of their mixed salad leaves through the Severn Project, which is a story all about recovery and rehabilitation. It began with a recovering Heroin addict who was shocked to discover that 80% of all heroin addicts re-offend after being released from prison, fall seriously ill, or even die. He decided to set up an urban farming project. This first took shape as a pod (a dome-shaped urban greenhouse) where leaves and herbs would be grown by recovering addicts as a part of their rehabilitation process. The urban farming scheme provides addicts with an interest and at the end of their mandatory six months, providing they are clean, they are offered a permanent job role there.

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The Severn Project produce: http://www.thesevernproject.org/the-produce/

If this wasn’t already a shining example of the kind of work Boston Tea Party supports, they have also made trips to meet coffee farmers face-to-face in Columbia, in the pursuit of fairer trade partnerships and quality produce. Despite the cost of these ethical measures, especially in an increasingly competitive market, these values remain at the heart of Boston Tea Party. Boston’s 19 cafés are in fact more like restaurants than cafes, with their huge menus and sheer variety of food and drink available, yet all costing very accessible café prices. Whilst their ethical stance is expensive to maintain, Boston Tea Party manages to open a couple of new cafés a year, and hopes to expand further north in the future, using couriers to transport their fresh South-West produce.

Boston Tea Party also works hard to reduce food wastage in their cafés and increase their energy efficiency. Almost all of their food is made on site, reducing the carbon footprint of your weekly brunch dates – they don’t have any air miles or use energy-intensive factories. After the food has made it to your plates, any leftover stock will be utilised for various causes, with an astounding 0% of food wasted. For example, all leftover coffee grinds are transported to Bristol prison to help grow mushrooms or is composted as part of another of their rehabilitation schemes. They also work alongside local volunteers and shelters to donate leftover food to homeless charities, particularly during the colder months where warm food is needed. You might also be impressed to discover that Boston Tea Party uses only ECOTRICITY which is green energy, something which most local cafes and restaurants don’t do. Their ecotricity is generated from solar and wind power, with 30% of this produced in the UK, rather than other less sustainable forms of green energy which involve shipping wood chips over from America.  Dan also mentioned some intriguing potential ideas that have been discussed for BTP: gas made from grass, the possibility of one store producing in-roof honey, and flies on the menu… apparently, a highly sustainable source of protein! They are always looking to “Make things better”.

The BBC revealed a staggering statistic that the UK, within just two minutes, gets through 10,000 coffee cups; this totals 2.5bn a year. What’s more is that often these cups are not even recyclable. In order to combat such waste, BTP encourages regular customers to use ‘keep’ cups, and the usage of these has increased from 1% to 5% in the space of three months, with an ultimate target of 20%. If you are a coffee enthusiast consider swapping your disposable cup for one to keep.

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High quality and ethically sourced coffee to fill your cups is another one of BTP’s top priorities. I can take a strong guess that you have heard of Fairtrade, but that you haven’t heard of relationship/direct trade coffee. The latter does not have the benefit of mass branding, yet, as the name suggests, this brand builds mutually beneficial relationships with the coffee-producing countries. Rather than using middleman buyers and sellers, direct trade purchases coffee straight from the growers. This in turn means more money for the cultivators, and less on distribution costs. For BTP, opting with the direct model has led to trips to Columbia simply in the pursuit of good coffee and unmediated trade.

BTP also offers an eclectic range of opportunities for students during Freshers’ week and throughout the year. This includes discounted tea and brunch socials (their boozy brunches sound perfect!), their generous upstairs space made available for plays (this year BTP has hosted 8), end of season dinners, ‘home match’ brunches, and BodySoc might even hold a Zumba social there alongside with a talk from BTP’s suppliers. The walls of Boston host pieces from Artsoc that change seasonally, and are later replaced with local artists’ drawings during the summer months. If you are interested in promoting your own work, Dan says just get in touch at GM.exeter@bostonteaparty.co.uk.

Overall, BTP aims to inspire their network of family run suppliers with their ethics, always make the right decisions, and lead by example in order to influence people to be sustainable. Dan aptly likened BTP to the Green Party of South Western Restaurants; indeed, a café that is so dedicated to sustainability is an oddity within the current throw-away and number-crunching culture, and should be celebrated. You can therefore drink your chai latte and eat your West Country breakfast guilt-free with the knowledge that this café supports local businesses, and adopts, as well as continues to innovate, the most advanced ethical practices.

If you would like to get involved in any of Boston’s projects, follow this link to their latest blog post. All photos are owned by Boston Tea Party and The Severn Project.

-Chrissi Lewes and Lucy Lincoln

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