mo’mugi: North America’s First and Only Barley Tea 

May 31, 2024

A eureka moment, defined as “a moment of sudden, triumphant discovery, inspiration, or insight,” is what propelled two sisters to launch The Canadian Barley Tea Company, the first and only mo’mugi barley tea producers in North America. Recently being given the designation of ‘Amazon’s Choice’ for barley tea in Canada, Janice Ishizaka and Cilla Watkins founded their company in 2019 and have been working tirelessly to get mo’mugi into every household across the country.  

Janice, one half of the sister duo that founded The Canadian Barley Tea Company, found herself working long hours as a teacher in Japan in 1998. To combat her fatigue, Janice turned to coffee. “I was drinking coffee to keep me going and it was giving me the jitters,” she said in conversation from Japan. “I noticed my Japanese coworkers were all drinking this brown, cold drink that I had never tried or heard of, and they didn’t have any jitters. It turned out to be mugicha, which means barley tea. I tried it and loved it.”  

As Janice dug into the benefits of mugicha, she discovered it not only helped sustain her during her long teaching hours, but it also boasts an extensive list of health benefits. Enjoyed hot or cold, barley tea has been a beverage staple in Japan for more than 500 years. Devoid of sugar and caffeine, the powerhouse drink is scientifically proven to hydrate better than water, provide antioxidants, and helps fight tooth decay.  

Janice eventually had children in Japan and when she attended baby groups, she realized babies as young as six-months-old were happily drinking barley tea from their bottles. Her children also came to love mugicha and they would always remind her to pack their barley tea for trips to Canada. “As I was shoving tea bags into our luggage before one of our trips back home, I looked at the packaging and I saw that some of the barley was from Canada,” said Janice, reflecting on the moment of clarity that became the catalyst for The Canadian Barley Tea Company. “I said to myself, why do we import things into Canada that we can make ourselves?”  

After placing a call to Cilla, a dental hygienist in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, who was interested in the fact that barley tea helps fight cavities, the sisters decided to start researching methods on how to make their Canadian-made mugicha idea a reality. In 2019, they entered a local BC entrepreneurship competition with their mo’mugi barley tea and won two prizes, giving The Canadian Barley Tea Company its official start. “It took a lot of work and pivoting,” said Janice of the lengthy process to get their product, tea bags, and packaging just right. “It was a lot of researching, learning, and trial and error.”  

Going into their fifth year of production, the sisters chose to bootstrap their business, taking advantage of NCFDC’s DELIA fund, an affordable lending solution committed to providing loans to Canadian women-owned enterprises for business start-up, stabilization, and expansion. “DELIA has been an absolute lifeline for our business,” Janice said of the fund, which is supported by FedDev Ontario and ISED Canada. “This loan allowed us to continue our business, to grow, and to reach new people.”  

“We are proud to back innovative and creative women-led ventures like The Canadian Barley Tea Company,” said NCFDC Executive Director, Wendy Curtis. “Through programs like DELIA, our organization continues to be committed to gender equity in economic advancement.”   

The small business of just two continues to make great strides in the Canadian market, with Cilla being responsible for most of the manufacturing of the mo’mugi and Janice looking after marketing and sales of their product. mo’mugi barley tea can be found on Amazon Canada, in select stores across the country, and via The Canadian Barley Tea Company’s website.   

As they look to the future, the sisters dream of having their product in every fridge in Canada by way of partnering with a larger beverage company to expand their current reach. “We are very, very proud to be 100% Canadian,” said Janice. “Canada has so much potential and so many good things that we don’t need to import. We can make our own and we can be innovative.” 

Click here to learn more about DELIA and apply today. 

 

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