Heartsongs Adventures in Black Rock City

For the past 8 years, I have been making tea for a living. I brew chai and I brew teas that are made with hot peppers and citrus. I brew and bottle the teas at the Heartsong Chai Hut in Ashland Oregon. This strange career has led to some very strange niches.

For example, several years ago, the Heartsong Crew began serving our teas at festivals. We quickly evolved this into a tea bar serving till the wee hours of morning. Heartsong’s reputation for providing hydration to thirsty, celebrating masses, drew in a loyal following. Then one day, at a party in Mt. Shasta, a group of rowdy people gathered on an outside porch to greet the sun. People were sipping my tea and we were speaking of the spice. I said, “Sometime somewhere someone will realize how beneficial the Pepper Brews will be to the people of Black Rock City and they will take me there.” One of the rowdies, took a sip, smiled and said, “Done! You are going to Burning Man.”

Sure enough, a month later I’m packing a makeshift brewery and heading out to the desert to brew my tea. Turns out I was brought to Temple Camp to brew for the Temple Crew. I set up my little kitchen and get to work hydrating and nourishing these hardworking folks. News of the “spicy shit” spread well beyond camp. This buzz about my brews changed my life. Working for years within the sterile and highly regulated industry of food manufacturing, this was the first time I felt recognized and celebrated as an artist.

Heartsong was invited back in 2006. We returned to BRC with the Temple Crew. This time we arrived the day the playa opened and brewed for the city builders. We brewed all sorts of teas for the Temple Crew, the Man Crew, DPW and the rest of the people building the city infrastructure. When the event officially began we opened our double decker mobile tea temple and served our brews to dusty, thirsty people on the Esplenade, out at the Temple and at Entheon Village. In the end, the Heartsong Crew spent just over a month on the playa, burning our Tea Temple on the Temple burn platform on Monday night. The highlight of my year was when Super Dave came to find me asking if he could have a private stash of Habanero Honey Brew. Super Dave is one of the guys on the playa that seems to make EVERYTHING come together. And here he was, standing in my camp, telling me how the “spicy shit” was sustaining his world!

In 2007, we returned to the playa, this time camping with the superstars of Burners Without Boarders. This year, all our brews were in kegs and on tap at our tea bar. This mobile tea bar served 500 gallons of tea in five days on the Esplenade. It weathered dust storms, was towed by a fleet of bicycles, served the Critical Tits ride, took a face-plant during a windstorm, hydrated the lamp lighters, witnessed the great light saber battle and survived an attack from the Beet People. We brought a crew of fifteen folks, ten of them playa virgins… what a wild ride!

People often ask me why Heartsong participates in Burning Man. The questioning is something along the lines of “Isn’t it a commerce free event? How do you make money?” It is difficult to explain why this journey to the desert is so important to my company and myself. While it is true that Heartsong doesn’t directly generate income at the Burning Man Festival, the networking opportunities we encounter there have proven to be incredibly beneficial in the long run. People that first experience Heartsong Brews on the playa, bond with us in an unusual way. These relationships continually lead to prosperous, co-created efforts off playa. While Heartsong’s Brews are currently distributed only in Oregon and Black Rock City, our customer base extends from BC Canada to Gerlach, Nevada to Los Angeles, California, thanks to the citizens of BRC. And now is when it gets exciting, as the distribution of our brews is expanding to include Washington and Northern California!

Most important to me is actively creating a space in Black Rock City that is nourishing, hydrating and alcohol free. I also appreciate the opportunity to bring people I love together to make this incredible offering! Burning Man is a gorgeous, empowering and one of a kind exercise for our team. This year we spent nine days on the playa together, working hard, playing hard and enjoying our time together. When we returned to Ashland, we had greatly enhanced our ability to communicate, listen, problem solve, co-create and appreciate one another.

In response to those who nay-say the presence of corporations on the playa I ask you to take a closer look. In deed, many hard-core burners are successful entrepreneurs. Who else would pay to take a working vacation? Feel free to complain about the unending ads for U-Haul and Ryder truck, the “eco” car parked next to the Green Man, or the pallets of Rockstar that appear out of nowhere with no one to pick up after them. But please be careful not to complain about the artists who represent themselves and who happen to be incorporated in efforts to make a living in the crazy other world that is 358 days a year.

In 2005, the Heartsong Herbal Brewing Company was a one-person company. She was on the playa brewing tea. In 2006 there were three of us. We took turns running the company and serving the city builders. And by 2007 Heartsong was a four-person company. We had just opened our microbrewery and café. We celebrated the successful launch of this facility by brewing 500 gallons of tea and taking it out to the playa. To keep the café open, we hired two recent high school graduates to run it while the four of us went out to serve BRC.

This is the spirit of Burning Man, gathering people together to share our collective skills with strangers for the sake of creative expression and celebration. We appreciate companies like ourselves that represent themselves humbly through participation in the city. We very much appreciate the opportunity to grow, to learn and to get schooled by the playa. Looking forward to 2008!



Elizabeth Chai Mama

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Lived in the Rogue Valley 11 years now, been running the Heartsong Herbal Brewing Company for 8....
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