Need to Know | Boba Delivery

Tea industry news for the week of May 18.

  • Boba Tea Tops Beverage Delivery Lists
  • East Africa Update
  • Turkish Tea Harvest
  • Robotic Waitstaff Serves Tea
  • Nepal Asks India to Resume Tea Imports

Boba Tea Tops Unique Food Orders

In March YELP! marketers decided to find out what food and beverages people across the country were being delivered right now! Data scientists tracked how frequently a dish is ordered in each state relative to its popularity in other states.

“When we first looked at the results, pizza delivery reigned supreme, which is no surprise since it delivers well and it’s perfect for a family night in. However, we dug into the data to find the most uniquely popular delivery order in every state*, and that’s when things got interesting,” writes YELP!

Winners include a run on crayfish in Texas, poke bowls in Indiana, pad thai in Washington, sushi in South Carolina and naan in Wyoming but guess what topped the list of delivery orders in California last week? How about Michigan? and Hawaii?

Boba tea.

“What we found was a mix of delectable dishes and drinks that tell a story of how American taste buds differ from state to state and region to region,” according to the company.

Click here to see the full list.

*Samuel Hansen at Yelp! employed a natural language processing technique called term frequency-inverse document frequency (TF-IDF), which quantifies how frequently a dish is ordered in a state relative to its popularity in other states.

East Africa Update

Rwanda’s tea sector, largely spared from lockdowns, saw a marked increase in production during the first quarter. The harvest totaled 9,000 metric tons generating $27.6 million in revenue, which is up by 15% from the same period in 2019.

But there are still formidable challenges getting that tea to market.

East African tea growers truck tea destined for export to the auction at Mombasa. Kenya’s borders remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, but Tanzania and Kenya required each driver be tested before crossing.

The result offers a lesson in what can go wrong. A shortage of testing supplies and the sheer number of truckers led to delays that extended from hours, to days, to weeks. Few of those who were tested showed symptoms and none were quarantined while they awaited results. Unable to afford hotel rooms they slept in or under their trucks, cooked together and played sports to kill time. Some wore masks but many did not and very few practiced social distancing. During the two weeks ending last week 150 truckers crossing into Kenya at Namanga tested positive and were eventually ordered back across the border but by then they had infected hundreds of local merchants and fellow truck drivers.

The Washington Post reports that beginning this week, only drivers that have tested negative prior to arrival at the border will be permitted to cross. Uganda has since discovered dozens of infected truck drivers crossing from Kenya. Zambia closed its border to Tanzanian truckers. Kenya is the largest tea producer in the region at approximately 500 million kilograms followed by Uganda which harvests 60 million kilos annually; Tanzania at 35 million, Rwanda at 30 million and Burundi at 9 million kilos per year.

At the Mombasa auction Rwanda growers earned an average $2.68 per kilogram of tea last year, followed by Kenya growers who received an average $2.59, Burundi at $2.21 per kilo, Tanzania $1.36, and Uganda $1.21. The overall average price was $2 per kilo.

Kenya currently has 1,214 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There have been 51 deaths. Tanzania is reported to have 509 confirmed cases with 21 deaths. Rwanda has 327 confirmed cases with no deaths reported as of the second week of May.

Holiday Travel Restrictions Eased for Turkish Tea Growers

Climate dictates that Turkish tea be harvested in three flushes, unlike Africa, Sri Lanka, and Southern India where plucking continues year-round. Tea is grown there on sparsely populate hills facing the Black Sea where growers depend on seasonal labor.

This year’s spring flush was interrupted by a March 28 lockdown to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Fatma Genc, a researcher at Istanbul’s Marmara University, told The National, that 50,000 tea farmers were unable to prepare their fields for the harvest. Ramadan, which began April 23, complicated timing for Muslims.

“The failure to harvest this year will make it difficult to meet even domestic demand,” said Genc told the newspaper. “Tea prices, which have been hiked twice in a row this year, will increase even more if the producers cannot go to the field.”

This week farm owners and laborers from across the country were finally able to travel to northern Turkey on trips extending through the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival that follows the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Seasonal labor from neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan continue to face border restrictions leading to some creative solutions. The city of Findikli in Rize hired locals to harvest around half of the 30,000 metric tons produced nearby in an agreement that spans six months. Workers harvest for 10 days and while the leaves for the next flush are growing they complete municipal projects.

In Rize Province, the heart of the growing region, 16,000 laborers were given permission to travel between fields and home. The Provincial General Hygiene Council required testing at least one member of each family, about 6,000 in all. Screenings continue.

The provinces of Rize, Trabzon, Artvin and Giresun produce around 260,000 metric tons of tea annually, most of it sold domestically. Turks consume an average 3.5 kilos of tea a year, more than any other country. While much of the tea is imported, a significant shortfall is expected due to rising costs and the fact that much of the domestic tea went unpicked. Caykur, the state-owned producer that supplies 60% of the country’s tea is running a deficit and facing additional costs due to the pandemic. Caykur purchases tea from 200,000 independent farmers.

Turkey has 157,814 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 4,369 deaths, making it ninth on the list of countries most impacted by the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Tea garden in Turkey’s Rize Province, along the Black Sea.

Robotic Waitstaff Serves Tea

Tearoom Robot Reduces Contact with Waitstaff Easing Customer Concerns

The Tea Terrace, a small London-based chain of tea rooms that was forced to close during the March outbreak intends to open this July with the assistance of family-friendly robots.

Forbes magazine reports that managing director Ehab Shouly found while surveying customers that fear of crowding and contamination by waitstaff were their greatest concerns. Spacing tables was a relatively simple adjustment but a previous experiment with automated service at the company’s Surrey tearoom proved prescient. Last July The Tea Terrace became the first restaurant in the UK and Europe to introduce a robotic waitress, named Theresa.

Theresa is summoned by guests using controls at the table. The robot responds to voice commands. Shouly has also introduced functional assistants such as Captain Tom, a bot that delivers up to four trays each with teapot, teaware, and food.

Modifications are underway to expand robotic services to all four tearooms which serve 200 to 300 guests per day on weekends.

Nepal Asks India to Resume Imports

Tea growers in Nepal are seeking the resumption of exports to India, according to Nepal’s Ministry of Commerce and Supplies.

India stopped importing tea the week of May 6 and has not responded to Nepali officials. Periodically India has shown its displeasure with Nepal by refusing entry of tea and other exports such as palm oil.

Purna Kumar Karki, president of Jhapa Tea Entrepreneurs Association, told My Republica that Indian authorities impose non-tariff barriers on Nepali products from time to time “for no reason.”

Sanjay Bansal, chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA), recently appealed to West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha to regulate the sale of Nepal tea to save the Darjeeling Tea Industry. Darjeeling growers maintain that Nepal undercuts their unique tea which is protected with a global Geographical Indication certifying its authenticity.

Bansal told The Statesman Nepal did not impose a lockdown and growers there have been producing at a high rate since February. “These teas are ready and are in the process of being shipped to India through the Indo-Nepal land borders in West Bengal to be sold in the local markets by taking advantage of the absence of Darjeeling Tea in the market due to the lockdown restrictions,” said Bansal.

In a related matter, Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry, North Bengal (FOCIN), has requested Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to allow small wholesale and retail shop owners to open their establishments.