Home Away From Home is a series that spotlights BIPOC brands that are adding a cultural essence to everyday items. This allows anyone to always have a piece of their culture in their own space without ever feeling homesick or out of touch with their roots. We're exploring the stories of the individuals behind the brands that have touched people's hearts through their products and have allowed people to feel at home anywhere.
In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting AAPI owned businesses in the month of May to share their voices and recognize their influence on the Asian community.
Five years ago Lisa Li took a trip to Yunnan, China with her mother, where they came across a charming little tea shop and enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of rose tea. The sensory experience not only transported Li to a serene secret garden in her mind, it reminded her of the nourishing and healing moments she would share with her grandmother during tea time as well.
Motivated by her desire to share this extraordinary feeling of being present and comforted, Li took a step back from her corporate fashion life and created The Qi, a wellness-minded tea brand that sees flowers as “a vessel for change, for connection, and for unity.”
The Story Behind the Name
Li chose to name her brand after the concept of qi, which translates roughly to life or energy. Since the flowers are picked at the peak of their life, she found the name fitting. She also sees the name as a way to honor both her Chinese heritage and the flower farms where the teas were being crafted.
She explains that flowers are beacons of positive messages and happy thoughts. "Flowers have this incredible ability to bring happiness and joy," Li says. "Flower teas are just another way to bring you that kind of joy and nourishment from the inside out."
A Hand-Picked Process
Li sources her flower teas from local farms in China, a fact which can often be met with uncertainty and false narratives about a region. "I think there are negative connotations around products made in China," Li explains. "People are so caught up in the country versus the actual people who are behind it. Our mission is to tell a story that is authentic."
Li works with small, family-owned farms to guarantee the highest organic quality of their products. The farms grow whole flowers and are entirely hand-picked by local farmers who are payed fair wages. From the beginning, The Qi has strongly believed in paying all their workers a fair wage. "It's something we're proud of," Li adds. "[Tea] is something you put in your body and that's our number one most important thing. The quality of it."
Since Li was inspired by a rose tea on her trip, it was only fitting for her to launch The Qi with the company's own take on a rose tea called Shangri-La Rose. Li calls it a hero flower tea due to its stunning aromatics and ability to grow 10,000 feet above sea level. The taste itself is subtle and soothing with gentle notes of honey, which creates a blissful experience when drinking it.
The second tea released was a Royal Chrysanthemum tea. Chrysanthemums are popular in Asian countries due to its widespread used in Chinese herbal medicines and association with good luck. "It's an herbal flower that's known to be cooling for your body," Li describes. "It helps cool down your body when you're feeling under the weather."
The Blue Lotus was the third tea that was created. The lotus is a legendary flower known well for its deep symbolism across different Asian cultures, Li explains. "Lotus represents purity, rebirth, and all these incredible things because it actually grows out of mud," she adds. "It has these really deep meanings. And also as a tea, it's very nourishing and we wanted to choose whole, large flowers as our pool offering. So, the three worked out."
Creation Through Collaboration
Li wanted to create an immersive experience for anyone who drank The Qi's flower teas. From the setting, feeling, taste, and visuals, Li shopped around the market to find glassware that would capture the visual essence of the flowers when they would blossom during the brewing process. "If you're using a black mug, you just don't get the same experience," Li states. "It doesn't do the flowers justice. I wanted to offer that kind of holistic sensory experience. It was really important for us to offer complementary glassware."
It was vital to create glassware that would be both handy and accessible. She came across several small businesses ran by women of color who shared a similar mission as herself and knew through collaboration, they could collectively create something beautiful and joyful while also supporting one another.
One collaboration Li cheerfully reminisces to is her Bloom Glass Teapot, which was artistically created in collaboration with award-winning homeware designer Sophie Lou Jacobsen. The Bloom Glass Teapot has a fun, wiggly handle and three colored balls for feet, giving it a lively and happy character.
Recently, The Qi has teamed up with Sundae School, a popular Korean-American fashion brand, for a special AAPI month collaboration. The collaboration was launched May 12th and features a limited edition Rose Matcha. It will allow tea drinkers to enjoy the lovely aromatics of the rose and earthy flavors of the matcha, giving them the best of both worlds.
Putting Yourself First
As someone who dealt with immense stress and thyroid issues, Li emphasizes the importance of taking care of yourself daily instead of waiting for your health to worsen before taking action. "Sometimes in life, we forget to take care of ourselves until something happens. That's like a hard push," Li points out. "I think there are little signs along the way. But, if you don't pay attention to those signs, they accumulate overtime and it will manifest into something bigger."
It was only five years ago, when Li was at a burnout stage from all the work she'd been doing, that she began her journey of self-care. "I wanted to learn more about myself like what makes me happy versus just living in a life where the current pushes you up and down and back and forth," Li explains. "I wanted to take control of my own life and figure out what it is that I truly want versus what I think everyone wants."
Li suggests the best way to get started on self-care is taking note of what kind of rituals a person may have throughout their day and the joy it brings for them. Whether it be taking a bath, walking daily, or reading, a ritual and its meaning will vary from person to person. "I think a ritual to me is anytime when you can truly be present, grounded, and feel kind of like a moment of joy that is long lasting," Li says. She adds that a ritual shouldn't feel forced, but rather feel natural enough where you feel present and happier since you're able to focus on what's happening around you without having to worry about anything else.
A Moment of Gratitude
Although Li has many memorable moments where she and her team celebrated milestones The Qi achieved, she is the most thankful and grateful for the loyal community the brand has cultivated along the way. "They really care about our mission like what we're doing," Li explains. "Even the fact that we're talking just means that it's happening in some way, shape and form, and people are finding us. I don't know how you found us, but somehow you found us, and we're having this wonderful conversation." As Li continues to grow her brand, she hopes to continue receiving positive feedback and sharing thoughtful conversations with her community—it makes her feel warm, fulfilled, and rewarded.