A Saudi entrepreneur creates tea blends steeped in Madinah’s heritage

Lamees Madani (L), who created Naanie Tea in Jeddah in 2019, combining a blend of herbs that only grow in Madinah. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 09 October 2020

A Saudi entrepreneur creates tea blends steeped in Madinah’s heritage

  • Lamees Madani dreams of sharing the region’s unique tea leaves with the entire Arab world 
  • Naanie Tea, available in Jeddah and Riyadh since 2019, can now be purchased online

DUBAI: Mention Saudi Arabia’s city of Madinah and few will think of the rich variety of herbs that grow in its fertile soil. But for Lamees Madani, who traces her own roots to the holy city, the two are inseparable.

Besides being the one of the three holiest cities in Islam, Madinah is the capital of Saudi Arabia’s Madinah region. While its 1.5 million residents mostly live in the urban area, the city also boasts the Hejaz mountain range, empty valleys, agricultural spaces, older dormant volcanoes and the Nafud desert.

“I wasn’t born in Madinah, but I am originally from there,” Madani told Arab News. “I grew up there in my grandfather’s and uncle’s houses and they used to add these special herbs to their tea. The idea came from this heritage.”

Madani created Naanie Tea in Jeddah in 2019, combining a blend of herbs that only grow in Madinah. “They have different aromas and names, and they’re all from the ‘naanaa’ (mint in Arabic) family,” she said. “Some of them are called etra (lemongrass), dosh and habag.”

 

Her business idea is steeped in the heritage of Madinah, where locals have long grown a variety of herbs in their farms and gardens for use in cookery, seasoning and drinks — especially tea.

“The story comes from this background and the heritage of older people who used to do this for tea time,” Madani said.

Depending on the season, Madani uses six different herbs from three organic farms, dries them and then blends them in a single teabag. Her aim is to make the unique flavors of Madinah convenient and accessible to customers far and wide.

“The idea is to make it easy for people who love Madinah and love the taste of these herbs, but can’t get them easily,” Madani said. “For people living abroad, or while traveling, it’s practical and easy to use. It’s also 100 percent natural, with no caffeine, preservatives or added sugar. It’s a blend of different natural organic herbs that form an infusion.”

FASTFACT

MADINAH

* Madinah is the second-holiest of three cities in the Islamic tradition.

* It is the main city of the Madinah region in KSA’s western reaches.

* The estimated population of Madinah in 2020 is 1,488,782.

Born in the US city of Tucson in Arizona, where her father was studying a Ph.D., Madani moved to Jeddah at the age of two. It was there she earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood studies at the King Abdul Aziz University, and later obtained a master’s degree.

After a couple of years working at a kindergarten, Madani began her career at Effat University, which takes its name from Queen Effat, who pioneered women’s education in Saudi Arabia. There, she mainly served the university’s communications and public relations department.

Five years in communications at Jeddah Port then followed, by which time Madani felt it was time for a change. “I found I’d had enough of working for others and thought I needed to start my own business,” she said.

“The idea for Naanie Tea was in my mind from the very beginning. I took some courses in e-commerce. The idea was cooked there, and I started on a very small scale by testing the blends at home with all my friends and family.”

Right from the start, Naanie Tea caused a stir in the Kingdom. “People loved it so much,” Madani said. “It’s the first of its kind in the Saudi and Arab markets, and I’m stunned that nobody has ever thought of making use of these unique herbs. Everybody loves them, and they’ve been there for millennia.”

Keeping Madinah's traditions alive

Love for Madinah has prompted another female Saudi entrepreneur to invest tens of thousands of riyals in keeping the traditions of the city alive. Mashael Al-Sihli’s Madiniat Cafe looks to introduce tourists to the true culture of Madinah, as well as giving nostalgic locals a taste of the “good old days.” The decoration is meant to mirror the identity of old Madinah. “Not only the decor shows the old life of the Madinah people, but also the way we offer drinks and desserts,” Al-Sihli told Arab News in February. “The clothes on display also make one feel that they are truly living the experience of the old people of Madinah.” The idea of the cafe came to her after she worked at home making service plates, gifts and antiquities. “I had the chance to put my works at the Madinah pavilion in the Janadriyah National Heritage and Culture Festival,” Al-Sihli said. “There, a company representative approached me and offered to help me with a bank loan as part of their social responsibility program.”

She opened Madiniat Cafe last year, and customers packed the premises from the outset. Al-Sihli said she traveled to China and Egypt to buy some of the items in the cafe that were used by the people of Madinah in the past. “All my designs were inspired by the traditions of Madinah and the old daily lives of its men, and I put them on display. I then thought of gathering these products in one place,” she said. “I noticed that the people who come here yearn for the old days and enjoy sitting in such a place where every piece reminds them of their old days,” she told Arab News. “Elderly visitors, who make up the majority of visitors, also find joy in telling me stories about their life in the past.” — Mohammed Al-Kinani

So far, one blend is available across seven branches of Manuel Market in Jeddah and 11 stores in Riyadh, with plans underway for another product line. Boxes can also be ordered online and delivered anywhere in the Kingdom.

Madani said her dream is to see her brand sold across the Arab world. “Muslims love having something from Madinah. And for non-Muslims, it’s about having something organic, natural, healthy and traditional,” she told Arab News. “I’d love to see it in all capitals and hotels in the world, and restaurants, gyms and health centers.”

Priced at SR38 ($10) a box, the tea is more expensive than other commercial brands, mainly because the ingredients are organic and grown at a select few farms in Madinah. The process is also labor intensive. “It goes through a very delicate, long and handmade process,” Madani said. “Then, I send it to the factory in Jeddah where it is packaged and designed.”

 

The brand has proved a particular hit with consumers looking for a healthy detox. “People are getting healthier. They’re leading a more health-conscious lifestyle and trying to cut down on caffeine and sugar,” she said.

Madani’s business success is part of a wider trend in Saudi society, where untapped creativity is finally getting the encouragement it needs. Saudi Vision 2030, the kingdom’s plan to diversify its economy, has offered young entrepreneurs the means to develop their brands and ideas.

To know that exciting times lie ahead does not require reading tea leaves any more. “Saudi Arabia is changing dramatically — the market is full of local brands in every single sector and everything is booming now. Saudis are so enthusiastic,” Madani said.

“Across the country, there are so many local brands, amazing and creative ideas, and young people, and in a few years’ time you will see a lot more.”

---------------------

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

Nutrition is the most important part when it comes to bodybuilding, then comes type of exercise, and good rest. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

  • Ali Al-Salam, who stopped consuming animal products in 2017, says certain steps must be completed to have an athletic body

JEDDAH: The vegan diet has risen in popularity in Saudi Arabia in recent years and has been a constant topic of debate among Saudis, attracting the interest of many, including athletes.

Ongoing debates about whether the vegan diet is sufficient for normal people, let alone bodybuilders, abound, but one Saudi is answering them physically.
Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.
Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease, but other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.
Speaking to Arab News, 33-year-old Saudi vegan bodybuilder, Ali Al-Salam, who first started his vegan diet three years ago when he was suffering from high blood pressure, highlighted that the consumption of animal products is a deep rooted idea among bodybuilders and athletes.
“We always hear that in order to build muscle, we must consume animal products. In some parts of the world, there are people who can only have a small amount of animal products yet they live their lives healthily and comfortably and are not suffering from malnutrition — on the contrary, they have a lower level of chronic illnesses.”

When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.

Ali Al-Salam, Saudi vegan bodybuilder

He said it also opened his eyes to what goes on in the dairy and meat industry; he began researching in 2016 and decided to become vegan in 2017.
“I was just like every other athlete, I used to consume a high amounts of protein. I remember in the last days before turning vegan, I used to have 10 egg whites and a piece of steak for breakfast to fulfil my protein needs. This made me think, ‘is this the only way to consume protein?’ And from then on, I started researching and got introduced to the vegan diet at a larger scale,” he said.
“When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.”
He explained that bodybuilding does not solely rely on protein, and that there are steps that must be completed in order to reach an athletic body. Nutrition is the most important part, then comes type of exercise, and good rest.
“When we talk about good nutrition, it does not just rely on protein. Yes, it is important, but the amount of calories in general is more important,” he said.
“Let’s say you needed 200 grams of protein, does that mean if you consumed 200 grams of it, you would gain muscle? No. You need all the basic nutrients to reach a certain amount of calories in general,” he added.
He highlighted that as soon as people register for gym memberships, they immediately look for supplements because they think they cannot reach the needed amount of protein.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.

• Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease.

• But other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.

• Vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants.

• Animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.

“I’m talking about non-vegans here too, where their protein intake is already high. Marketing plays a big role here. People link protein to animal products because our society grew up with this idea as well.
“Can a vegan build muscle? Yes, when they eat right, exercise correctly and rest well. The misconception about protein stems from amino acids. People think vegan food lacks amino acids, and only animal products are full of them and that is far from the truth,” he added.
When comparing vegan athletes to regular athletes, he said vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants which helps greatly in recovery, and because “animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.”