// WHERE TRUE PASSION COMES FROM - THE POWER OF TEA, TASTE & SIMPLICITY
Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better start into the day - I’m surrounded by the delicious smells of freshly brewed teas and home-baked banana bread (I wish there was already something like smell transmission) 🙂
And Today’s interview guest is someone who I’ve been excited to meet and get on the show for weeks. I’m here to visit Manu Kumar, the passionate owner of a stunning hidden gem, called ManuTeeFaktur.
ManuTeeFaktur is a place where you can buy the freshest, healthiest organic tea creations right at the spot where they’re being brewed. Everything here is hand- and homemade by Manu himself, from roasting the ingredients, to the process of brewing, filling ice teas into bottles - he’s even attaching the labels…
All is set in one of those alluring Berlin backyards, just a few steps from the canal at Paul-Lincke-Ufer…. An area you definitely need to check out.
And there’s so much more to this place, which you’ll all find out in the interview.
I’m hoping you love this episode as much as I do, get lots of inspiration and new ideas - and pass by to visit Manu and his stunning little factory of goodness very soon.
// Watch the intro video to get you into the scene:
In this interview, you'll learn more about
- What is special about ManuTeeFaktur & how it all began
- The secrets of truly good tea & how it is connected to yoga
- Why it's such an exciting time in Berlin for green ideas & change makers
- What sparkles Manu's passion & why he's not alone in the business
- The importance of listening to people, the 150% rule & other essential learnings
// LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE HERE:
// OR READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF OUR INTERVIEW HERE:
Hey Manu! Thanks so much for sharing a piece of your valued time - and maybe a few secrets - with us!
I’m really excited to finally meet you and take a look behind the scenes of this beautiful, beautiful place...Already when we were emailing the first time and you were saying something like “everything that makes Berlin greener, stylisher, veggie, more fun... is good for the city”, I thought: I gotta meet him, he must be awesome!
Oh welcome, really glad to have you over here!
Let’s first set the people out there into the scene - where are we now? In a few sentences: How do you want people to imagine ManuTeeFaktur?
I see it a little bit like... the CeeCee blog*, in their book they had me under secret gems. Or hidden gems. I feel a bit like this. Actually, I feel a bit like this is a little island, because we’re here, in a second backyard, in Kreuzberg. I’ve been living here almost 15, 20 years… Different times! Beautiful, but, yeah, also negative parts in that time. But - I love this backyard! I’m here since 20 years and it’s good to be just 50 metres away from the “Ufer”, from the canal. Because there, you have this mass of people… It’s a different world. It’s just making money and running and talking and screaming. And here, it’s a bit like breathing for me
Oh yeah. I totally feel that. When I enter the backyard… those Berlin backyards have something special. Outside you have all the hustle and bustle and then you come in… and it’s like an oasis, like you were saying.
It’s like an oasis and still authentic. Look at this: there’s a car repair guy, the door is open. My dog’s probably just over there, cause he sleeps there or runs around. There’s a dance studio, there’s a metal worker, there’s a record store up there, designers, artists, but also these ‘real-working’ people. It’s still a bit of what I like in the city and not too clean. If you just go to the next 2 or 3 backyards, it’s very homogenic. Everyone’s wearing the same clothes, talking bout the same blabla… So I like this, it’s still authentic. And it’s also modern!I mean many people are coming in, moving in new…
Yeah, it’s always moving. I guess it’s a good place to be creative. Cool. Now, I’d be super interested in learning how it all got started. Can you give us a rough idea about what was your purpose, your drive for creating a place like this?
[laughs] actually I’m a victim myself. That’s my feeling - it just happened, as many things in my life are just happening and suddenly I’m in the middle of something… I grew up with tea! I make it short - but the love from tea comes because my father is from India, so I’m half Indian and I traveled intensively through Asia. And all my life, I was drinking tea, I think from the first day. So the passion and the love for tea comes from that.
And here in the studio was my arts studio, I was just painting here in this huge place myself...
Ooh, your arts studio?
Yeah, I was painting. Well, first I studied architecture and pursued that for a while, and then as an artist. I studied again, did both… and this place was the first coworking space in Europe for sure. Maybe even in the world. I called it the Business Class Net… And it was fun! There was one here, one in New York, one in the Mojave Desert, Itaparica (it’s an island in Brazil), Goa… in places where you would love to work as a “digital nomad”.
And where we are sitting, this lovely place here, was the kitchen. And outside, there were around 10-15 people sitting and working. And each morning, I was cooking tea for everybody. Just cooked it and said “come, have one”. Out of that it really happened, the people asked me “can we have some more”, “can we take some home for my friends”, or for the cafés outside, and then they started coming and saying “hey, can we pay you”! That was just two and a half years ago. So it just happened by itself.
Plus, once I was gone for about two weeks and when I came back everyone was saying “Hey, next time you go away, you must tell in advance and cook in advance”. I was really pushed into this tea thing and I thought that maybe also other people would like that. So I just started it and it was fun!
I was also a bit fed up, because for a while I was just working on the computer. Just digital stuff. And suddenly I have to cut something and cook and carry and bottles and running around, it was real work. Also doing the label - you see, I’m just doing a new label. And cutting and measuring...
So you’re doing it all by yourself?
Yeah! Manu - it’s my real name 🙂 But, I have to say that friends are always helping me. The typo is from Steffen, a friend helped with the design in the beginning - I have many people helping me. But ManuTeeFaktur is still one person.
Amazing, wow. All these facts - do you still work as an architect?
No. This is my full time job since… yeah, come on 🙂 Now, since two months, we have 10,000 mint plants outside Berlin! 3 years ago, when I started, it's been 400 plants and last year 1,500 - and now plus 8,000 this year. All on an organic field, run by an organic farmer. He plants and harvests it for me. The same is happening with fresh lemongrass in Thailand and Sri Lanka, and soon the same will happen for us with ginger in South America. And this is a big difference, because we have to pay in advance for all the stuff - the plants, the flowers. The people take care and we guarantee to take the stuff from them, so we know where it’s coming from - it’s my plants.
Oh yeah. This would have been something I would have loved to ask next, how you source your products, the ingredients and what is important for you. Great you already tapped into that now.
Yeah, even if I don’t plant it myself. But last week, we just had a little harvest for the mint, the first cut this year and I was also helping there, sure...
...that must be kind of fun as well right? You go there, you cut your own products
It is great! But you have to get up really early [laughing] - but actually, it is beautiful! You go there and are surrounded by fresh mint. Always when I was cooking it and giving it to my friends, I was pretty proud. And I remember, the first time when there’s this lady with her bicycle and the basket and a bag passing, and with her skirt, and then I see suddenly “oh, there’s my bottles in the bag”!!!
Right. I mean, I already see all the different flavors of tea around me and they all sound so so delicious. What would you say is your favorite creation right now?
Hahaha, good answer!
It’s true! ManuTeeFaktur is for me like the ‘best-of’ selection. I made it very easy for myself, because normally when I do art, I have to invent everything new. But for the tea, I am just going for the old recipes. For the ice teas, the ‘Tuareg Mint’, the ‘Lemongrass’, the ‘Viet Nam’, even the Kombucha
>> I just go for very old, traditional recipes. I’m trying to make them as pure as possible <<
© Daniel Faro, CeeCeeCreative
© Daniel Faro, CeeCeeCreative
© Marco Baass
Your content here...
The only changes I do is: take - out - the sugar! Because we all have too much sugar and refined sugar, I’m very against that! I would say this is also a new thing, because 200 years ago, there was no refined sugar, so it’s a new thing from our societies. So I’m just taking all the best teas and best recipes and remold them...
This is such an interesting approach towards creating your recipes. Not always going for what’s super fancy…
I’m fed up with this. Look at these recipes. They are so old and they are tested a million times, so they are perfect! We don’t need somebody that tells us “Oh, next year vanilla is fashion”, so everything must have vanilla in it. And the year after it’s, I don’t know which berry… It’s ridiculous. For me. And I don’t like that. I have my classics, but I also sometimes have to switch. Sometimes it’s a Black one, then it’s Rooibos, then a Green, an Oolong. They are many different varieties already!
Super interesting to understand your approach.
Yes. Simple 🙂
Yeah. Another thing that really catches me on your website is that you call this place your “laboratory of health”. I think that sounds super exciting, makes me curious straight away. How did it happen? How did you come up with this awesome title?
It happened because I was always drinking tea for myself. Because I love it, I love the taste and I think it’s good for me. But first, it’s important that it tastes good! Otherwise, I’m just like a teacher or the monk, telling the world what to do, which does not feel right. Everybody likes himself first, so the taste is very important.
But also: it feels good! After a while, if you drink good stuff and eat good stuff, you feel much healthier - that’s very important. And if you look at the design: it’s all the pharmacy style and you have latin names and it’s very pure. My father’s a doctor, my brother’s a doctor. I’m definitely not a doctor [laughs], but the approach comes definitely from this alternative kind of medicine. I think it’s much better to take care of yourself, instead of heading to the doctor if something is happening. I mean this is also very important but…
Yeah, it’s preventive to lead a healthy lifestyle instead of getting sick and reacting.
I always compare all my products, or let’s say the ManuTeeFaktur with Yoga! Also, when you asked first how I’m doing the recipes… you’ve got all those different yoga styles now - there are a million different yoga styles and classes, but actually: yoga is old! It is so, so old and it’s so pure and on the other hand, it’s so fashion now! But I say the purer the better. You can of course make new names up, but the asana is still the same. So it’s very old knowledge, but still: it looks really nice, it’s fashionable, it’s sexy, it’s lalalari. But it’s also helpful! If you do yoga regularly, it’s FUN! And you feel much better.
And you learn how to understand your body. I think it’s all kind of linked, I totally agree with you. Cause if you learn to listen to your body, your body tells you that it wants healthy stuff.
I see a really interesting link between healthy lifestyle and green lifestyle - what do you think? Would you agree?
Erm, yeah, but then you must tell me exactly what you understand… what is green you know? Because we have so much ‘green coloring’ now. Even Beijing for the Olympic Games was ‘green’
Haha, yep that’s true. I mean in terms of leading a more eco-minded lifestyle. It doesn’t all have to be super dogmatic. It’s just, I see a link of people, for example wanting to try vegan food... and of course you got the ethical aspects. But a lot of people would also go for it because they think that (at least certain types of it) is healthy. As you say, first it’s about us…
It’s always first! First it must taste good to the people, then it must be healthy for ourselves and then, the third thing is also, that it’s also sustainable.
Or the people working, the plants, the flowers, it’s all connected. Maybe it’s a bit kitschy, cause I’m half Indian or using this karma thing… It can’t be healthy for myself if the people are bleeding for it and are treated badly. You know it and… well, of course, I’m vegetarian…
Have you always been?
No, no I was not… but yeah, good products must have a good path. From the planting, how the people are treated, to the selling in the end… Also, I had this sometimes concerning the prices. My philosophy is also:
>> Every product has its price. And this price is always paid. ALWAYS. And now we have to think: who pays it? <<
Your content here...
Most of the time it’s that nature pays, we just take the stuff and don’t pay it back. Or the people very low in the chain working in the beginning, or... yeah, we can decide who’s paying… or you as a customer. So this is what I always would tell the people and they have to decide. You can’t force anybody - and should not. But it’s going back to this green economy, green products, green lifestyle, that many people care about this now and feel better. It’s not just the body, it’s first of all, but you feel better if you know okay, I didn’t pay the mafia…
Yeah, it’s a holistic thing. Okay, your body feels better, but also your mind. People become more mindful, right?
Yes, going back to yoga, huh - it’s all connected!
Totally, it’s all connected, you’re right! And why do you think that your concept, but also the concept, this trend towards being more conscious and eco-minded works so well in Berlin?
I would say firstly, because Berlin was really backwards. So Berlin was a bit… we have this word in German “Dornröschenschlaf”: it was sleeping for a hundred years, locked away from the world and all trends - which makes it so exciting!
It was exciting for the people, coming to find a sleeping beauty, having no idea about the world, what’s going on. So it really started from scratch here and now we catch up with the rest of the world! Plus, now we have all the people coming from all over the world, and the internet, everybody’s much more connected, so it goes faster. But it’s so obvious here, because we started like 5 years backwards.
Yeah, but then it came like a ‘boom’ and suddenly it’s all there, right? Everyone wants to come and explore it.
It’s very exciting for Europeans, or especially Germans. Germany is, let’s say a big market and they’re also still sleeping. So Berlin is a stage for Germany I’d say. I think most foreigners, they start now these businesses here - but they saw this already in New York, Rio, London and then they say “Oh, it’s not here! You never heard of vegan? Okay, so why don’t we do that?!” They know that already and have a chance to develop a trend here, but actually the trend is already a couple of years old and in all these other countries happening. But Germans, they don’t know it and they come from other cities and go “Oh, what’s happening here in Berlin” - so it’s an exciting moment!
This is such an interesting thing to say! I really believe that without this mix of all different cultures and foreigners coming in, Berlin would never be at this point where it is now, because everyone brings in their ideas. They’re all coming to Berlin, having this idea in mind that in Berlin - because it’s so trendy - these things would exist. And then they come over and say “hey, why isn’t that here? - okay, we build it”
Yeah! One and a half years ago, I had the first Kombucha, Raw Kombucha - and the Americans all knew it, but Germans didn’t know. The funny thing is, it was here at the beginning of the last century, coming from Russia to Germany and then to the US. But nobody of the Germans know this and in the US, San Francisco, it’s crazy! They have like 150 brands in the US…
But at the same time, what I think also excites the foreigners to visit Berlin is that whole new mix and creativity…
...because here it’s not really an industry yet. Here it’s all these mini companies, like run by one, two, three guys, starting something by themselves, without money and they try to catch up with the rest of the world.
Haha, yeah but that totally makes Berlin - for me, and I think for a lot of other people as well. That it’s not yet so commercialized. And I don’t think… of course things are changing, but I think this is what makes it so special…
It makes it special. It’s the time, and especially in Berlin it is a moment… after reunification, then for 20 years there was nothing big happening here, something was coming and going. And now since 5, 6 years it’s like crazy. Everybody is trying to buy something here of course and to establish a business here…
The good thing is that in Berlin, you always had this creative scene…
Yeah, but the city’s behaving differently. So real creativity is in my… I would say the city of Berlin should really look after them a bit and push them a bit.
You’re right… Ok, moving it back from Berlin to YOUR place, because I want to talk about YOU of course! You recently opened the Secret Teahouse as addition to the manufacture. Why did that happen?
It again just happened in a way 🙂 The Secret Tea House is not just ManuTeeFaktur, it’s the LoveBite Girl, Monica from Sydney. And she is gluten-free. She’s baking gluten-free because she can’t eat by herself - she discovered that by herself, in that time there was no testing. How she found out that she can’t eat gluten was when she came back from Japan. She was living in Japan for 5 years and she was very healthy there. Then she was back in Sydney and suddenly she wasn’t feeling good, got headaches and she was thinking: what’s the difference? And it’s the rice cultures. They don’t use wheat, but rice. So it had no gluten. She found out and started baking all this gluten-free stuff for herself. And she does wonderful baking. Again, firstly it’s something nice. A nice treat. They smell nice, they taste good, it’s a nice package and in the end, there’s no refined sugars again. It’s healthy for you, sweet stuff that’s healthy! Aaand in the end, it’s also gluten-free.
Wow, that’s amazing!
She is baking here, and the ManuTeeFaktur is here, we are working here together. And the people are coming. They’re asking if they can test our creations. So we opened the Secret Tea House as a tasting space and it turned out well. It is open, plenty of people are coming and very interesting people are coming, also for us.
>> They come with ideas and we share <<
© Evey Kwong
© Daniel Faro, CeeCee Creative
So did it also change the way people perceive you, or how you interact with them?
It was all an interaction. The people came here and talked about “oh I have this experience”, and they look for us. We’re not so easy to find.
Well, already while I was sitting here interviewing you, there were 4 or 5 people coming in.
Yeah, and officially it’s closed today! The concept is very good, people love it. Monica and I said, there’s the café next to us, and we want to have a Tea House. But some kind of alternative tea house. You know, you have healthy stuff, but you have fun, it’s good stuff. There is communication! Not just about the food… Monica was also doing book swaps for example.
Oh nice! So you have quite a few little special events going on…
Sometimes we have - but at the moment we’re looking for a bigger space. This is getting too small, and the production is here. So we’re looking for another spot we can open…
Are you trying to stay in the area?
I’m not sure… In Berlin, let’s say Berlin first and then we’ll see 🙂 A beautiful location is important. Monica, if you look at her packaging - everything must be beautiful, we’re both a bit kitschy in that…
But that’s so important to make people curious, it’s about selling and creating beautiful stuff. This is what draws people in, and on top it’s all healthy and it’s organic.
There’s different steps, and different levels of quality. But yeah, I hope I can do that!
Oh yes. It probably comes from your artist background that aesthetics play a big role, design, packaging, interior, you can totally feel that. It’s definitely a great mix.
And… What makes you feel passionate and excited about doing what you do?
What’s so thrilling about this work is that it’s SO diverse. Like last week, in one morning they delivered new bottles, I carry them and handle the deliveries. The next day, I’m standing in the field, cutting cutting cutting. Then cooking, making Kombucha, now I’m doing new labels, I have to decide about how to make the bottles and… making nice interviews 🙂 Buying ingredients, find suppliers… it’s so diverse! So every day I do totally different 15 jobs. This is really what I love most. And in the end I have… product is so cold, the word product. But I have something that the people love, they ask for me and they enjoy it. So it’s very very sensitive.
>> I love people having a good tea and then writing me an email. Yeah, it’s beautiful. <<
And now I’m also able to import more organic stuff. I really want to visit all those organic tea gardens - so this is the next step. But well, I’m a one-man-show…
Oh nice, you mean in the other countries? Will you make a story about it?
I would love to do that, sure! I mean, more and more I would love to have my production, my fields for the tea…
Good Future plans! And… can you think of the most important things that you learned since ManuTeeFaktur exists? Business wise, or personal, any aha-moments?
Hah, I mean there are 50 [laughter]... EVERYTHING takes longer than expected!
Yes, I can sign that !
On the other hand, it’s just three years now and I’m impressed how fast it’s developing now!Of course, it’s a lot of work - if I would have known what kind of work it is, getting out between 4 and 5am (like today)...
Haha, but sometimes it can also be nice and healthy to get up early, right 😉 ?
Hehe, sometimes, yes. No, but there’s so many aha-moments. To make everything 150%, I would say, is very important…
I can really feel that.
Yeah, but in the end - if you do something really, really proper and you put all your energy and love into something, then it works!
And - what I also learned is to listen more! Listen to others. Before I was just doing art, so I painted something and if people don’t like - well… But if you make tea, I have all the bottles here and people say “I like this and this one not”, then you can also learn by listening to other people, the feedback. So the Secret Tea House was very important for Monica and me, because you can interact, they ask, you can tell them something, BUT you also get feedback from them. They tell you “this is good, but erm… it’s too salty 🙂 or I don’t know…
Oh that’s super important, I mean you have this place, this possibility, it’s good to use it! Your customers will appreciate it so much if you ask them for their opinion.
Yes, it was a big help with the recipes. Especially, for the Kombucha we had 4 or 5 different ones, and within two weeks I knew which one is working and which one not and why. It’s like a market study.
Really, super interesting points you are tapping into. And I promised you, I’m not going to steal too much of your day. So to wrap it all up:
If there was one thing you could pass on to the GreenMe Berlin tribe - what would it be?
Just keep on going, just do it! If you have an idea, if you think this is missing or “I would LOVE to have something like this in Berlin” and it’s not existing, just do it! Here it’s possible! In other cities, it’s already existing, or it’s impossible, it’s too expensive… Here you can still play! Yeah, I would say, just go for it NOW.
And always start with yourself. Don’t tell anybody what to do, just do it for yourself. This is how you change the world.
>> Eat green, think green, drink green and the rest - if nobody buys it, it will change by itself <<
Exactly! Amazing! Manu, thank you so much for sharing all your thoughts, your creative insights, your secrets… Berlin can be so glad to have people like you - who are making our lives just so much healthier and tastier and more beautiful.
People out there, make sure to stop by at ManuTeeFaktur in Kreuzberg, it’s a truly unique place!
I put you all the details below the interview, plus you’ll find it on the GreenMe Berlin Map - and if you haven’t done yet, sign up for our newsletter and you’ll get a Free Best of Guide to some of our favorite green places in Berlin. And I’ll tell you a secret: ManuTeeFaktur is in there too 🙂
>> Thanks so much for listening, have an amazing day - and remember to keep it green !