Light falls on shelves adorned with jars and canisters of fragrant exotic spices and tea leaves at the Shafa Blends shop on Fulks Corner Road. Shafa means healing in Farsi.
The Zolfagharian family has built their tea and spice emporium around health and wellbeing, drawing inspiration from the teachings of Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, philosopher and mystic.
I learned about Shafa Blends through their booth at the Main Street Farmers and Artists Market, and I had the opportunity recently to speak with patriarch Darius and his daughter, Kimia, in their Olde Towne Gaithersburg store.
“The place is small,” Darius said, “but has a lot of energy. Our products relate to people.”
To create their blends, the Zolfagharian family considers how lifestyle impacts what we eat and drink, and how this in turn affects our health. Every element of nature is an important component of the company’s culture and product.
“This is my playroom—it gives me comfort and is my refuge,” Darius said. “I am the blender, and the family are the tasters.”
Shafa Blends began in 2015 when Zolfagharian, who has a passion for food and health, retired from his engineering company and wanted to start a venture that would allow him to combine the two. He researched spice and tea blends for medicinal and health purposes and decided to open a store where he could further his master blending and create spice and tea combinations while offering customers an opportunity to try before they buy.
Their tea room in Montgomery Mall was active for about two years and closed because it was no longer a good fit for the business. Other changes followed, notably leadership of the business focusing on daughter Kimia and a change in name from Rumi Tea & Spice to Shafa Blends. The new shop has been open for about three months, and Kimia also oversees space at the Main Street and Fulks Corner farmers markets.
The family consults with customers and hand-crafts blends of herbs, spices and teas to suit individual needs. Darius’ research led him to create blends that incorporate the influential tastes of many cultures. Often, he believes, food is not tasty on its own and we are tempted to add cheese or butter, which may not be as healthy as spices and seasonings. He creates products with this in mind to infuse food with lively taste and healthful properties.
New to me was kabsa, a blend of spices that is part of the Saudi Arabian national dish with rice and meat, advieh, a versatile aromatic Persian blend, and pilpelchuma, an intense chile and garlic mixture with Israeli and Libyan roots. I love their zaatar, a condiment made from dried hyssop leaves, mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac and salt.
Many blends are pre-packaged and ready to enhance dishes such as rice, tacos, stews and vegetables. Darius creates blends with meals in mind so that if eggs are available, for example, his Omelette On-the-Go incorporates spices to make a complete meal. He said that he will create any mixture a customer desires. Many are salt-free, most are sugar free, and no artificial flavors or colors are used.
A bestseller is the turmeric and ginger tea blend. Turmeric, Darius said, has an amazing ability to reduce the inflammation of arthritis. One teaspoon of the blend in boiling water as a tea, drunk once a day for 18 days, will result in a decrease in arthritis pain, he said. Golden Milk Blend is a combination used to make turmeric lattes and other hot and cold beverages.
Tea blends are different than spice blends but use the same philosophy. They are primarily herbal and medicinal. Wife and mother Farah oversees most of the tea blending.
Persians drink tea all day every day, Darius explained, and commonly add cardamom and cinnamon, so he has incorporated these into the Persian Rose Garden tea. The Turkish Apple Tea is another popular choice.
Shafa Blends continues to develop and is expanding its wholesale business into local restaurants, bars and cafés. For more information, visit www.shafablends.com.