Golden Chai: Behind the R&D Bench with Ben LeVine

Golden Chai: Behind the R&D Bench with Ben LeVine

I'm often asked, how do we come up with new Rasa blends? What's the process? How do you decide what herbs to use? In celebration of launching our Golden Chai Rasa, let me take you on the journey of a Rasa creation. First, I have to admit Golden Chai Rasa was not our idea, it was yours. A year ago we surveyed many of you and it was very clear that turmeric and chai were crowd favorites, and many of you have requested them via email and social since then, as well. So I had my creative brief—a community-requested golden chai.

The next step after the concept is the ingredient brainstorm. I look at dozens of ingredients through many lenses, with flavor and function being primary. If I'm doing my job, our blends will taste uniquely delicious and be functional in a way you truly feel. Beauty, dose, solubility, bio-availability, price, clinical research, traditional use, safety, sustainability, and sourcing are all in the next level of scrutiny applied after my initial brainstorm. 

Turmeric was the first herb on my list, of course, as it plays a lead role in both flavor and function. Despite, or perhaps because, of turmeric's soaring popularity, quality turmeric extracts are remarkably hard to find. The straight non-extracted root won't do for Rasa because curcuminoids (the active constituents of turmeric) are not water-soluble. If a barrier is present, like a tea bag or a french press, some flavor might come through but most of the beneficial compounds are not making it to the cup. And even if they do, the bio-availability is extremely poor.

With this in mind I scoured the research for an extract that was both water soluble and supremely bio-available. What I found blew me away. What I found was the world's most researched and bio-available turmeric extract, with over 70 published studies, including many human clinical trials. What makes our BCM-95® extract unique? Most companies focus solely on curcuminoids. But, research shows that blending the natural essential oils of turmeric back into the extract is a powerful reunion of plant chemistry that makes our extract 7 times more bio-available than the standard turmeric/black pepper extract combinations frequently seen on the market. Yes, 7 times! Solubility & bio-availability: solved ✅

The next step is dose. How much turmeric should we put in the blend? When working on dose, many methods are at play. Some herbs like ashwagandha seem to exhibit a linear dose response (the more the better), while others, like rhodiola, are more biphasic and we see the most benefit from a goldilocks approach that's not too high or too low. With the many studies for this turmeric extract dosing is somewhat easy because I have guidelines. But I also take into account synergy. In this case, boswellia & saigon cinnamon are acting as inflammation-support as well, which means I can use less turmeric than I would if I were using it alone. We're in search of the MED, or minimum effective dose. What's the smallest dose that will still give us the desired result, leaving more room for other herbs and flavors? Finally, how does it feel to me personally? Ideally, our least sensitive customers will feel something while our most sensitive customers won't get overwhelmed. Whew. Dose established: 300 mg ✅

How about sourcing and sustainability? If an herb checks all the boxes above but is under threat in the wild or is farmed in an exploitive and extractive manner then we won't consider it. Arjuna, our supply partner in India, was very transparent and answered all my questions and more. The turmeric used for the extract is grown in the traditional way with no pesticides in a remote corner of northeast India. The harvested roots are sun-dried, powdered, and then extracted. Solar panels at the extract facility in India provide the total power requirements for the extraction process. In addition, the facility practices rainwater harvesting to help combat the declining water tables in many Indian states. Other green initiatives include extensive tree planting and an effluent treatment plant. All of this makes me proud to support Arjuna and include their extract in our blend. Sustainability: ✅

After going through this process with the other new ingredients, the last step is blending them together to form Golden Rasa Chai. This can take dozens of iterations, often way more. I'll blend and taste until I have a version ready for the team (and any friends/family/strangers I convince to try). They'll taste and give me feedback, which I'll use to continue improving the blend. Lopa has final approval and is a big reason our blends are meticulously crafted. Every time I think I've hit upon the final formulation, she'll have one more idea to try. Lopa, if you're reading this— it's exhausting, but thanks for pushing me. Lopa approved: ✅

And now we've reached the destination on our journey, we're ready to deliver Golden Chai Rasa to you—the blend is concepted, researched, sourced, formulated, taste-tested, produced, launched, and let out in the wild! What makes this intensive process most worth it is when the first reviews start rolling in. Because we put so much time and research into our products, we love hearing from you. No question is too detailed nor poem too extravagant, and we accept songs and handwritten cards, too—it all pushes us, inspires us, and keeps us moving forward. Thank you.

For people, plants, and processes,