Redder than Red

Sour, red, highly likeable and cumulatively beneficial – at Páty, in the tea manufactory of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, employees with disabilities sort and package the Malteser hibiscus tea which ends up at markets and on the shelves of bio shops.

“One day I bumped into one of my colleagues in the corridor and it turned out that our children have attended the same class. My colleague told me that a huge amount of tea had arrived to the Charity Service. I said I couldn’t believe it and I wanted to see it. We went there, we had a look at it, and from that moment I knew that I had to deal with it.” – Edina Jakus, the coordinator of the tea manufactory, tells the story of the first meeting.

Photos: Szabolcs Bánlaki

Meanwhile our tea is being prepared. The water is steaming in our mugs that were made next door, in the ceramics manufactory, and the hot drink slowly starts to get its typical reddish colour.

“I have always been a tea lover and I know that the tea is more precious if it’s made of bigger flowers and bigger leaves. This is one of the reasons why hibiscus tea took my breath away” – says Edina while sipping from the freshly made tea.

We are at Páty, in the institute of the Charity Service, in the basement of a residence where the tea manufactory is arranged more and more homelike by the workers. But they haven’t always had such a big room for maneuvering: at the beginning, it took place in a bigger building, where at one side of the corridor the filters were made, on the other side the ingredients were stocked and cooking smells were leaking from the social kitchen while working.

It takes a long distance from Africa to Páty

Before choosing the tea, the enthusiastic team was thinking a lot about what area they should start in. They’ve wanted to create a product − by employing disabled workers − that is simple, useable and can be connected to the mentality of the Charity Service of the Order of Malta.

The tea seemed an optimal choice, what’s more, not a huge factory had to be built up for the processing and a relatively small room was enough to start.

András Gaál started to participate at the process of product designing. “We bought several kinds of teas from various manufacturers. Then we compared the different packages used on the market. We were searching for a tea that is special and is not widely distributed yet. Thus we found the hibiscus tea, its red colour makes it even more »Malteser«” – András recalls the steps of the market research.

The hibiscus tea arrived from Africa – the necessary quantity was imported directly from the place of origin. The first difficulties emerged during the transportation: when arranging the custom’s duty and the licenses, they had to face a lot of paperwork and several problems.

At the beginning, a domestic employment initiative tender helped them with wage subsidies, sustaining workforce and machine purchasing. At that time was the filter machine purchased which produced only scrap.

Edina Jakus, Coordinator of the tea manufactory

“When repairing one of the machines the situation was really like a movie scene, where we had to decide whether to cut the blue or the red wire.” – Edina recalls the initial adventures. “If we chose the wrong one, the machine’s whole electronic system would burn down. Finally, we managed to make the right decision.”

Team(ű)hely (TeaManufactory)

During the conversation the manufactory’s sign turned up as well, which was temporarily leaning against the wall, waiting for getting its deserved place above the entrance. The expression teaműhely in Hungarian refers to tea manufactory, here the letter ű is made of ceramics and forms a steamy teacup – thus the word can be read like teamhely (team room) which shows in Hungarian what an organised teamwork is done in the background of the tea manufactory.

In the manufactory there are four disabled workers and besides that, socially employed workers assist the work as well. “Workers can serve every workflow process from the beginning to the end” – tells Edina while giving me a tour in the manufactory.

The tea, which is to be sorted, is held in the warehouse and they only bring a quantity to the manufactory that would be processed. “There are a lot of things in the consignments which are not necessarily tea. It turns out only if we open a bag and start to take it apart” – says Edina, while at the sorting department she is showing me the boxes which are to be filled with different components. The seeds could be planted in the framework of a cooperation with a gardening. The flowers may make the ingredients of cocktails.

The sorted hibiscus flower can go in two directions from here: the fibrous tea first goes into bags then into tea boxes.

The other part of the raw material gets to the filter machine where the finished tea bags are made.

The collection boxes arrive assembled on a plate and are plied by the young workers. Colours also help disabled workers: fibrous tea goes into the red boxes and tea bag goes into the white boxes.

“Youngsters work in blocks in the manufactory: seven hours per day is the maximum but everyone works as much as their health allows” – Edina tells me about the work schedule of the disabled workers. “We don’t have to think about them as if they were oddballs. They face the same problems just like those who work at other workplaces. They simply need more encouragement and a little bit more dynamism.”

Tea is a tangible, measurable device and workers feel that their job makes sense. “Many superfluous things can be done by workers with disabilities only in order to make them spend time at their workplaces. I want them to feel themselves useful during their time here” – says the coordinator. “I let them know for example, when we send a thousand boxes of tea to the ministry. They always know what we are up to and on whose table will the hibiscus tea arrive.”

Disabled workers are employed not only in the manufactory but also in the management team: the uniquely designed boxes and stickers are the result of a long work by Szabolcs Bánlaki.

Sales and value creation

Although, at bigger supermarket chains we can’t meet the hibiscus tea on the shelves yet, the Malteser tea is marketed in several bio shops, the Ministry of Human Resources orders from them for the second successive year, the tea is transported to several regions of the Charity Service of the Order of Malta, as well as the products are sold at Christmas markets and summer festivals.

In the gift shops many people buy these articles made by employees with disabilities because they want to support the workers. According to Edina and András it is important to change this attitude. “Hibiscus tea is the birth of a product that is also appropriate on the market. What’s more, it has a premium quality” – they said.

“It’s not the end of a process but we arrived to the end of a period. We have to show a good example: how far we can get from zero in a year’s time. We have to make a plan about what we expect from this year. We have to be opened in order to make certain places talk about us.” – András looks towards the future.

“In social work future planning doesn’t work well because it’s not the profit that matters but the employment. These things have to be merged and have to go hand in hand in order to proceed together in the same direction” – added Edina.

We would like to put an emphasis on widening the range of products: the summer is the season of ice tea and in the future making hibiscus syrup and cookies with hibiscus jam are also parts of the plan.

Meanwhile they won an employment tender which helped them to integrate a sieve workroom into their service. Thus youngsters living in the residence can learn new work stages and the list of products can be widened: also t-shirts and stickers can be produced which can flourish the marketing of the tea.

With the design developed during the long months, with the boxes and with the look a unique image background has been made for the tea. But one chain link is still missing, according to Edina. “If an applied artist would join us we could also learn what processes the tea has to go through before getting on the shelves. We need a person for this who works dauntlessly and would do it just for love because otherwise it couldn’t work.”

Réka Szakszon

Translated by: Petra Krsják