The Lessons of Tisano Tea

I was curious how Tisano Tea began (yesterday’s post) because it was an unusual product (chocolate tea). There wasn’t any point I was trying to make. At a party last night, however, I found myself talking to the daughter of a diplomat (Tisano Tea was started by the son of a diplomat). I told her the story of Tisano Tea. And I couldn’t help pointing out two generalizations it supports:

1. I’ve blogged many times about the value of insider/outsiders — people who have the knowledge of insiders but the freedom of outsiders. Patrick Pineda, the founder of Tisano Tea, was not an insider/outsider but he connected two worlds — the United States and Venezuela (in particular poor Venezuelan farmers) — that are rarely connected.

2. When people from rich countries try to help people in poor countries, the usual approach is to bring something from the rich country to the poor country. Nutritional knowledge, medicine, dams, and so on. One Laptop Per Child is an extreme example. Microcredit is a deceptively attractive example. In recent years, the flaws in this approach have become more apparent and there has been a shift toward local solutions to problems (e.g., the best ideas to help Uganda will come from Ugandans and those who have lived there a long time). Tisano Tea illustrates something that people in rich countries have had an even harder time imagining: people in a poor country (Venezuela) knew something that improved life in a rich country (the United States) — namely, that you can make tea from cacao husks. A small thing, but not trivial (maybe chocolate tea supplies important nutrients). An American desire for Venezuelan cacao husks improves life in Venezuela. Ethnic food trucks are a more subtle example.  When immigrants from poor countries manage to make a living in a rich country — using knowledge of their own cuisine is a good way to do this — they often send money home. As far as I know, this possibility has been ignored in development studies.

My research, which shows how a non-expert can do research that teaches something to experts, is related to the second generalization. For example, my research on faces and mood has something to teach experts on depression and bipolar disorder. Although the term “home remedy” is standard, and lots of non-experts have improved their health in ways not approved by doctors, I have never heard a health expert show a realization that this could happen.

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