Bulkley Valley artisan tea business advances to finals of RDBN contest

Crystal Nelligan is the owner of Stir Artisan Tisane, which makes locally-sourced herbal tea blends

A Smithers entrepreneur is one of five finalists for the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako’s (RDBN) Start-up Business contest.

Crystal Nelligan is the owner and creator of Stir Artisan Tisane, which creates whole herbal leaf tea blends.

While Nelligan has been interested in making herbal blends as a hobby, it was last year she decided to do some research and development on what it would take to run a small artisan tea business out of a small studio in the corner of the backyard at her home in Smithers.

This included talking with local vendors and testing out selling small samples of her wares at various stores in the area, such as Stone Moth on Main Street.

The results were encouraging, with Nelligan selling out of her product by Christmas.

“It’s a passion project, I’ve always been very much a plant person and its a culmination of all of my various life experiences that have brought me to this project.”

Nelligan spends the spring and summer harvesting her various herbs and plants (she says she grows about 60 per cent of her blends, wild forages for 30 per cent and sources the other 10 per cent through other means locally.

When fall comes, it’s time to dry (and create).

Beyond creating beverages that taste, look and smell good, Nelligan said her business features another interesting aspect: all of the herbs she uses in her blends are sourced locally and indigenous to the Bulkley Valley.

The rules I’ve made for myself is that I cannot use any plants from outside of the Bulkley Valley, so I need to create flavour profiles that are unique to here.

This means creating certain flavour profiles can be challenging, however when it pays off and she is taking that first sip of a successful batch Nelligan says its all worth it.

“So I do a ‘citrus north’ blend which tastes very lemoney, it’s kind of a lemon flavour profile. I make another that’s called ‘licorice schtick’ … and that has a very licoricey profile. Then I do a bunch of other blends — I’m doing fermented fireweed which is actually quite gorgeous, it’s something like a black tea with really fruity notes and you can use the leaves in a first wash you get the black tea taste and then second wash it tastes like a green oolong tea so it’s actually surprising how many different flavours can come out of one watershed. It’s really exciting actually, every year I think I’ll be discovering more. Really, I think it’s limitless.”

It also means that every year’s blends will vary based on climate.

“It depends on the climate, it depends on the weather it depends on the areas that I’m harvesting. The plants change every year so the blends change every year.”

Finalists made their pitch at the Regional Business Forum in Vanderhoof on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

As for Nelligan? She said she has her work cut out for her over the coming weeks.

“I produced 200 tea bags last year and sold out by Christmas.

“This year I’m attempting to make 2,000 bags of tea and we’ll see if I sell out by Christmas. I’m not sure. I don’t think I will.”

Nelligan ended by saying she is extremely grateful for all of the support she has received from the local community.


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