Lower Connecticut River Valley Region Farms
Featured Farmer | Kristy Benson-Amarante | Bittersweet Farm
Bittersweet Farm is not only a unique type of farm, but like most farms it comes with a unique story. In short, Bittersweet Farm has evolved into an herbs-only farm that produces small-batch tea blends. Today, Bittersweet Farm sells over 50 kinds of teas – some herbal, some caffeinated, some naturally caffeine free, as well as stove top simmer blends, natural car fresheners, and DIY Elderberry Syrup and Fire Cider kits.
Bittersweet, currently evolving its name and transitioning to Bittersweet Tea Company, started over 7 years ago and had not one thing to do with growing herbs or blending teas. In 2015, Kristy Benson and her family (future husband Frank, daughter Alexa, and mother Linda) moved onto a small farm in Old Saybrook and she was able to start her small farm by growing all-natural veggies and raising chickens. This evolved into selling crop shares (CSA’s) and selling at the local farmer’s market. After some time, Kristy was feeling the pressure of running a small farm and was looking for an alternative way to combat the tension headaches that plagued her. After some research and tinkering in the kitchen, she came up with a palatable blend of some common herbs that helped her headaches. The same thing happened when she looked for some herbs to help her relax at night and slow down before going to bed. After making a few blends, she tucked some of them into some brown bags and handwrote some labels and took them to the farmers market that week. To her delight, her spontaneous idea of medicinal tea blends was an immediate success! The next week, she repeated the process and added more blends over the following months. In the meantime, she took herself to school online and hit the books, learning as much as she could about herbs and spices, tea leaves and the art of blending flavors together. Initially, Bittersweet Farm’s teas were all medicinal, but people began to ask for other kinds of teas like iced teas and caffeinated options. People offered such positive feedback about how good the teas made them feel and that just encouraged Kristy and the Bittersweet family even more. During this time, Kristy ran farm school classes for kids, offered homesteading classes on their farm, and began teaching Gardening 101 for new gardeners and traveled the library circuit around CT as a guest speaker.
In 2020, Kristy and her family relocated to Higganum and began the process of starting over. New farm, new house, new town... and now as a tea-only business. On their Higganum land, they grow many of the herbs that make it into those brown bags of tea. 8 kinds of mint, lemon balm, lemongrass, calendula, rosemary, thyme, holy basil, violet leaf, raspberry leaf, nettle, sage, echinacea… it’s a long list and a lot to harvest! They dry all of the herbs in dehydrators and store them for future use. Some ingredients like the spices they use cannot be grown in this climate, so they are sourced from reputable organic companies. Other herbs would take acres and acres to grow enough of, so those herbs are purchased too. As for the actual tea leaves, those come from the aforementioned companies. All of the recipes are Kristy’s own proprietary blends, and some are inspired by other herbalists or common popular blends… but with a twist of her own! They blend and make over 50 kinds of teas, many of which change with the seasons. Look for iced teas and cold brews in the summer, pumpkin spiced everything in the fall, and their unique and popular holiday blends. As for the Medicinals, they are tested and tweaked to help with ailments such as headaches, stomach upset, inflammation, sleep issues, and much, much more.
Bittersweet has come to pride themselves on providing natural, homegrown, small-batch teas that are affordable to all. Their packaging and labeling is purposefully simple and plain, and done in-house, which has helped to keep their costs down. Their blends, however, are far from simple and plain. Some of their most popular teas are Chai, Hibiscus, Anti-Inflammatory, and Sleepy Times Two = all of which have 7-10 ingredients per tea. Recently, they introduced a cold brew blend, as well as Do-It-Yourself Kits that are very popular! In the fall and winter, their stove top simmers fly off the shelves at the various shows they sell at, and people have a blast making gift boxes and baskets for their loved ones. More recently, Bittersweet is starting to be known in town as the place to go (or call) to get your hands on an obscure herb, a tea blend you’d like recreated, or to have a personalized gift made.
HOW BITTERSWEET GOT ITS NAME
On the day the family moved into their new farm and house in 2015, Kristy’s mother and then 9-year-old daughter had taken a break from unpacking, and she found them outside making a wreath from bittersweet vines that surrounded what was to be the new garden fence. Her mother, a master gardener before there was such a thing, could make a wreath out of anything you gave her. So, the two of them proudly hung this wreath on the new front door and the family went about settling in. Months later, as Kristy was planning her veggie and small animal farm, she asked the living room at large what they should name the farm. Needless to say, it was immediately unanimous. Everyone shouted, ‘Bittersweet Farm!’
As years went by, Bittersweet transitioned to selling only tea, yet their name was still Bittersweet Farm. It wasn't until 2021 when Kristy began meeting with business advisors that suggested that the name of the business didn't fit what they did, for a few reasons. The family mulled this over, tossed out many ideas, and decided that they would begin the transition to Bittersweet Tea Company starting at the end of 2022. Eventually, the plan was to lose the name 'Bittersweet' altogether, as it doesn't quite seem like a word that goes with a cup of tea. Kristy mulled this over and sat with this idea over the 2022 holidays and into the first of the year. Then, in mid-January of 2023 Kristy’s mother passed away unexpectedly. After only a few months of her passing, Kristy knows in her heart that Bittersweet will remain a part of their name for good. She said, “My mother was an entrepreneur herself and her knowledge, guidance, support, and downright cheerleading gave me the courage to start this business 7 years ago. My mother was with me every step of the way, and I could never have done any of this without her. I will never forget my mother and daughter making that wreath and then proudly shouting out the name 'Bittersweet Farm.' That is how we began this adventure, and that is how we shall remain.”
Look for Bittersweet Farm as the host of the Higganum Farmers Market, Saturday mornings (9-12) starting June 3- mid October at the former Haddam Elem. School on Rt. 154. Check them out online for a list of other events, shows, and markets, and a list of stores (there’s quite a few!) that carry their product. Shop online anytime at www.bitter-sweetfarm.com. Find them on Facebook, @kristybittersweetfarm, or Instagram, bittersweet_farms. Drop them a line at Kristy@bitter-sweetfarm.com.