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Teas and tarps: A passion that suits him to a tea

On a recent rainy Sunday in Santa Ana, a team of volunteers from NextGen OC, the young adult program of Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, set off to pass out tea and tarps to the homeless around town.
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June 1, 2016

On a recent rainy Sunday in Santa Ana, a team of volunteers from NextGen OC, the young adult program of Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, set off to pass out tea and tarps to the homeless around town. 

They were led by Noah Bleich, a Pico-Robertson-based entrepreneur who had just launched a Kickstarter campaign for his creation, The TeaBook, a binder with slots for 144 tea packets. He and his volunteers gave the homeless the option to choose a tea from the book, as well as a tarp for protection from the elements.

“There is a long Jewish tradition of building shelters for the needy,” Bleich said. “Tarps give the protection. We let them pick which tea they want because very often, the homeless don’t get a choice. At a soup kitchen, they show up and get whatever food is made available to them. With The TeaBook, they can select what flavor they want to drink. They feel like they’re participating and that it’s not a handout.”

Nitzan Harel, the NextGen marketing, communications and events coordinator, attended the April 10 outing in Santa Ana and said the homeless there were grateful for everything they received, including the chance to make a decision. 

“Usually, decisions are made for them or taken away from them,” she said. “It was a small decision, but it was really important.”

TeaBook creator Noah Bleich (left) offers tea to a homeless man during a Teas and Tarps event in Orange County. Photo courtesy of Noah Bleich

Harel said she and her friends were able to strike up conversations with those they were helping to find out about their everyday lives. 

“One of the groups had an intense conversation about what homeless people really want,” she said. “A man said he just wanted books, because the library wouldn’t let them in. A volunteer then brought him books.” 

The Orange County event was the second time Bleich held Teas and Tarps; the first one occurred March 6 on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Between the two events, about 50 volunteers took part, he said. Bleich said he plans to assemble another outing the next time it rains. 

In the meantime, he’s busy promoting The TeaBook to the public. It’s an idea he thought of as a result of Shabbat meals, when he would host 20 of his closest friends and found it unwieldy to set out upward of 30 boxes of tea or a big tea box. His solution was to create a binder in which he could store all his tea in a single, easy-to-access place.

The idea dates back a decade, but Bleich didn’t start working on it until his mother, Linda, who died in 2011, had a prototype of the book made for him a year before she died. “She told me to never give up and to always follow my dreams,” Bleich said.

It took years to find a manufacturer, come up with the right design, apply for a patent, and get the company up and running. In the meantime, he maintained his day job as the owner of Tech Erase, which erased data from electronics for security and privacy, to pay the bills. At the beginning of 2015, he decided to take a leap of faith. He sold the company and started dedicating all his time to The TeaBook. 

Though tea drinking has been around for thousands of years, Bleich said that there hasn’t been a significantly new way to store it in centuries. 

“People used tea boxes for a long time, even during the Boston Tea Party. Now some people may use a tin. This is the first type of storage that’s actually unique,” he said.

Bleich’s business partner, lawyer Jeffrey Berman, said the advantages of the books, which are available in five colors, are obvious. “I’ve seen my tea pantries, and there is tea everywhere. … You can now take it off the shelf and get it organized,” he said.

The TeaBook will be sold at a retail price of $29.99. The recent Kickstarter campaign raised more than $20,000 for the company, and backers who pledged $9 or more received 20 kosher-certified teabags featuring drawings by local cartoonist Chari Pere. One of them is mint but called “ShakeSpearmint,” and shows a drawing of Shakespeare, while another is Earl Grey with a picture of Agatha Christie (“ChrisTea”) on it. 

As for their end goal with The TeaBook, Bleich and Berman hope to sell it in retail stores. They want to establish a subscription service for their teas where customers will pay $99 for half a year and receive 40 teas a month. They’ll also keep producing the collectible teabags with limited-edition runs featuring artists’ original work. 

To Bleich, tea is more than just a drink. It’s a great unifier and a metaphor for all human beings. 

“One of the interesting things is that you would think there are a variety of teas out there,” he said. “Like all people, tea comes from one place. It’s from one plant. But out of that plant you get a lot of teas. There’s black tea, green tea, herbal tea. We all seem different. But at the end of the day, we’re all the same.”  

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