As an econ major, Li wrote about the global commodity tea trade for a class on economic development. Today she runs Uproot Teas, a loose-leaf tea company in Boulder, Colorado.
A year into the pandemic, tired of lockdown and ready for a life change, Li quit her job at Bain in San Francisco. She went to work on a tea farm on Maui, Hawaii, which inspired her new career. “I decided to start a business partnering with growers like the ones I worked with in Hawaii, who were doing amazing things in sustainable, regenerative agriculture,” she says. “They not only produced really tasty teas, but also cared for the land so they could continue growing for generations to come.” Li knew about the dark side of big-box tea companies—how overproduction degrades soil quality and workers often receive unfair wages. To ensure more sustainability and fair compensation, Uproot Teas has trade partnerships with six farms in Vermont, Oregon, and Japan.
Li’s research project was “exactly where the rubber meets the road,” says Taryn Dinkelman, Li’s former professor. “Students are blown away as they recognize the power that economics tools and methods have for answering questions they are really invested in. I couldn’t be prouder that Cindy’s culminating project was such a formative experience for her.”
And a healthy one. Li believes tea can encourage people to take it easy. “Embrace the strong, rich culture of sitting down, making loose-leaf tea, and connecting with others or taking time for yourself,” she says.