Business

How tea made by grinding leaves on a rock in Limpopo made it into Food Lover’s Market

Business Insider SA
Setsong African Tea (Instagram)
Setsong African Tea (Instagram)

  • Setšong African Tea Crafters is a small business that supplies indigenous teas made from leaves and roots found in Limpopo.
  • The concept came about in 2014, when Nondumiso Phaahla went to Limpopo and found elderly women making the teas.
  • The company was recently announced as the winner of the Food Lover’s Market Seeds of Change Supplier Development Partnership, and will supply the retailer soon.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za. 

Setšong African Tea Crafters, which offers eight different types of indigenous teas, has pitched its way into becoming a supplier for Food Lover’s Market.

It is the winner of the Food Lover’s Market Seeds of Change Supplier Development Partnership, after pitching against 270 other companies.

The story dates back to 2014, by way of the Siyaphila Youth Support Initiative, a community development organisation run by Nondumiso Phaahla, who is also the managing director of the business.  

While doing community work in the village of Ga-Phaahla in Sikhukhune, Phaahla realised that there was a lot of indigenous knowledge of different foods, fruits and herbs that are beneficial and sustainable for a healthy lifestyle.

Liquid Gold  

According to Retang Phaahla, Nondumiso's daughter and operational director of the company, her grandmother’s sister would always grind leaves on a rock in the evening, and they were curious to find out what she was making.

“One evening my mom asked her what she was grinding, [possibly] out of suspicion of the strange things people in some rural area do with muti. 

“She told her that it’s tea that they drink since they couldn’t afford to buy tea at the shop. She didn’t want people seeing them grinding the leaves because they’d know that they can’t afford to buy tea,” Retang told Business Insider South Africa.

Nondumiso, who is a tea lover, asked for a cup, and was blown away by the taste of the tea.

Grinding for tea (Instagram)
Grinding the tea (Instagram)

She then brought a sample of the Tepane black bush tea for Retang in Gauteng. They drank it regularly at home, and Retang started to experiment with different recipes.

“I’d mix it with different herbs and in fact the very first time I came up with an infusion, I actually went to Food Lover’s Market, funny enough, to buy ginger, pepper and cinnamon, and other different herbs to use,” she said.

The same thing happened in a neighbouring village called G-Matlala, where Rating’s father had bought a farm.

The organisation started engaging with the community and found it had a tea of its own, the Diya Red Root tea.

Retang and her family continued experimenting with the different types of teas. The next step was to approach various companies and the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), an entity that helps develop small businesses.


SEDA then took the business to SAB to get the teas analysed. After approaching the University of Pretoria, the enterprise found out that these teas have many health benefits.

“We went back to the community and shared the results of the research with them. It was very empowering for the community members to get scientific validation about the health benefits of the teas,” Retang said.

Now the company is 100% rural-based. It employs 20 permanent staff and 15 casual staff. This includes both the elderly people who founded the teas, and their children.

The company also supplies various cafes and pharmacies in different provinces in South Africa, and Spar outlets in Gauteng and Limpopo.   

Pitching for success

Setsong African Tea is no stranger to the Food Lover’s Market Seeds of Change Supplier Development Partnership programme. The small business joined in 2021 when the competition launched for the first time and only made it to the top thirty.

“I think last year I rushed through my application, but this year I really took time to complete my application properly, do my video better and put more effort into this time.

“I was really hoping to make it at least to the top 10. Judging by all the amazing work that other business were doing, I really didn’t think we would get to number one,” Retang said.

Retang also adds that she thinks the fact that 49% of their business is owned by the community is what made their business stand out from the rest.

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