Campus Food & Drink

Life of Chai

Story by Catherina Savattere
Photo by Ashley Nordquist

Stephen Cameron, who owns Blue Lotus Chai with is wife Barbara, give their all to the company by seeing every tin and bag through it's process
Stephen Cameron, who owns Blue Lotus Chai with is wife Barbara, give their all to the company by seeing every tin and bag through it’s process

The headquarters of the Blue Lotus Chai company are located off the beaten path, which seems to be the road most often taken by the founder and owner, Barbara Cameron. Nested between industrial buildings outside the center of Eugene is a small office annexed to a warehouse. These serve as the heart of the rapidly expanding business. If the warm smell of spices wafting from the warehouse into the office doesn’t immediately soothe you, both Cameron and her husband Stephan will. They radiate warmth and peace with every unhurried movement and euphonious statement.

Cameron was born and raised in Los Angeles, but she always felt a little out of place there. She left for school at 18, but her desire to travel ultimately led her away from her studies.

“I was a free spirited young person, so I went to Europe and traveled around,” says Cameron. “I always was kind of a gypsy and it was hard for me to ever really imagine settling down.” By the time she was in her late twenties, however, she had established her roots in Eugene with a husband and children. “When we came to Eugene it was just kind of like this feeling of being home… and here I am all these years later, it’s still home,” she says with a smile.

During this time, Cameron bred alpacas. She did everything from delivering the babies herself to breading a nationally known male. Unbeknownst to her, everything would change in 2005 when her husband died. After 12 years of breeding, she decided that she was done with the alpaca business and it was time to head to India, the highly recommended homeland of her meditation teacher. This turned out to be a star-crossed decision, not only because the alpaca business crashed four months after she sold off her herd, but because her trip to India ended up inspiring her next business endeavor.

The small but effective assembly lines helps Blue Lotus Chai fulfill orders from around the world.
The small but effective assembly lines helps Blue Lotus Chai fulfill orders from around the world.

“I had the freedom for the first time in my life… since I was 16… so I was able to [go to India] and I did it every year after that for about three years,” Cameron recalls. She recounts her travels to India as being joyous and connected by the Indian equivalent of coffee: chai tea. It seemed that in India, the beauty of chai lay not only in the taste but also in the opportunity it gave people to come together.

When Cameron returned home, she was so in love with the drink that she was disappointed in the quality of the same product offered in the States. “So I’d make my own,” she says. “I’d get black tea and I’d get all the spices and I’d be cracking cardamom seeds and grinding ginger and it’d take an hour every morning.” Eventually a friend of hers suggested making a flash dried version so she could reduce the time spent on this morning routine, and the idea of Blue Lotus Chai was born.

As the company grew, Cameron realized that she would need help, which is when Stephan entered the Blue Lotus picture. “At first he wasn’t really involved except as my boyfriend and then my husband,” Cameron states, “but right away I saw that I really needed him.”

Love is just another way in which the Cameron’s life has been truly blessed. Before their union, Stephan was also married and had a family on the East Coast; however, fate ended his previous marriage and brought him to the West Coast to join his brother in the construction business. In what seems to be the characteristic trait of the Cameron’s life, fate would once again align their paths.

“I’m a meditator, Barbara is a meditator, we met meditating, and discovered that we were really soul twins with soul flames. I can’t explain it, the love of my life really,” Stephan affirms. These feelings create a natural cohesiveness that appears to fuel their work ethic. For Barbara, the greatest benefit of running the company together is the effect it has on their relationship. “I’d have to say that my very favorite thing is being able to work with Stephan all the time. That it gives us an opportunity to be together 24/7 pretty much,” she admits.

The two appear to thrive when taking life day by day and weaving each event into one beautifully cohesive life. Naturally, this lifestyle is reflected in their company. “Our product is kind of a synthesis of the traditions of India meeting the efficiency and desire for convenience and speed of the West,” claims Barbara. “Where we are right now, as far as our growth, I wouldn’t have guessed. We’re just growing really really fast, I mean we’re doubling or tripling our sales every year.” No matter what direction it takes, one thing is for certain: the two will stay true to their vision. “No matter what happens, we want to keep the quality of the chai and the ethics that we hold,” confirms Stephan.

The two haven’t had what most would call a traditional life, but it has worked out fantastically for them. For the Cameron’s, life has progressed much like the movement the blue lotus symbolizes, continually rising from darkness into light.

Each tin or bag of Blue Lotus Chai comes with a fare-trade bamboo spoon to portion out just enough of the tea powder.
Each tin or bag of Blue Lotus Chai comes with a fare-trade bamboo spoon to portion out just enough of the tea powder.

 

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