Darjeeling Silence is Deafening

Darjeeling Silence is Deafening

In West Bengal, India massive crowds are pressing for Gorkhaland statehood

Internet service in the Darjeeling Hills was disabled June 19 and service providers remain under orders not to allow online communication through July 25. The order is a security precaution to pre-empt organizers from coordinating protests throughout the region from Siliguri to Sikkim and north to the border with Nepal.

DARJEELING, West Bengal

Residents near the Sadar police station in Darjeeling normally file 30 complaints a day, mostly for petty crimes. Not a single complaint has been filed since June 9, shortly after hundreds of thousands of Gorkha began a strike for statehood now in its 33rd day.

Residents are keeping their distance from local police and riot-clad members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) following weeks of unrest in which seven people have died and hundreds more, including police, were seriously injured. Heavily armed CRPF were deployed to Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Sonada on July 14. There are 11 CRPF companies now in place in the region but they are not under siege. In most cities, police stand watch over peaceful gatherings.

Headlines worldwide portrayed the violence with a reminder of the 1,200 killed during similar uprisings from 1986 to 1988.

Residents describe a different story.

Allan Rai is a 20-year-old studying tea management. He asked that his location and personal details remain private at this time.

The protests are orderly and residents are determined to prevail, he writes.

“On reading your recent article as well as sharing it with a few of my companions, we felt that the information you were provided was quite biased and portrayed only one side of the story,” writes Rai.

The article he is referring to appeared in World Tea News under the headline: Darjeeling Uproar Disrupts Tea Operations.

He counters with these points supporting the Gorkha protest:

  • Firstly, the ongoing movement is a mass movement not adhering to any political party. The common people of the entire region are supporting the demand for a separate state irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, and other differential status. The Gorkhas from different parts of India as well as those across the world have come in support for Gorkhaland.
  • With regards to the strike being held off for 12 hours on the auspicious occasion of Eid, our Muslim brothers and sisters are in solidarity for our demand for Gorkhaland and were willing to continue with the strike even on the day of their festival.
  • Approximately 70% of people in Darjeeling and adjoining areas of Doars depend on income from tea plantations directly or indirectly. In almost all the tea factories, 99% of the workers are the natives i.e., the Gorkhas. A separate state is the aspiration of each individual worker in these factories.
  • Tea workers were protesting for the minimum wage act, which has not been implemented in Darjeeling and Dooars. The Gorkhaland movement began stirring among tea workers who fully support the movement for a separate state. They even carry their lunch from home and actively participate in the rallies every day.
  • The movement would not have gained such vast momentum if it were not for social media. Not only the Gorkhas, but people from other communities in India and from several parts around the globe are in solidarity for the cause of Gorkhaland.
  • Gorkhaland is not a separatist movement, unlike Kashmir where they are demanding a separation from the nation entirely. Our movement is for a separate state within the Indian nation for the cause of our IDENTITY and DIGNITY that has been denied to us for the past 110 years.
  • The movement here is rather democratic and apolitical. The only visible violence is the atrocities committed by the Bengal Government by ordering forces to charge and fire bullets at peaceful protestors in broad daylight.
  • The violence on June 17 that claimed four innocent lives was due to a clash between the protestors and the armed forces. This was because on previous days these armed forces charged women and elders who were peacefully protesting. On June 16 police raided the house of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) chief. The media flashed that they found weapons and explosives when all that they found was an archery kit that was for training school children, agricultural tools and other traditional weapons along with two cartons of fire crackers. The media termed these “weapons and explosives.” This led to a massive rally in Darjeeling. When the armed forces tried to intervene, it led to a clash and resulted in the death of the four martyrs.

Gorkha tea worker in Darjeeling

The Current Situation

Each day thousands of tea workers from the fields join city residents at a now-familiar 10 a.m. gathering at the historic Darjeeling train station. They rally, tour the city along Mall Road and end their protest at Chowk Bazar. Some groups chant in front of the magistrate’s office. Groups of 500 to 2,000 listen as speakers from the organizing bodies address the crowd for about an hour before dispersing.

There is nothing much else for locals to do. The tea gardens are closed, the factories idle. The tourists are too scared to stay, schools are closed, outdoor sporting events canceled. Restaurants, pubs, shops, and grocers as well as banks and ATMs are locked to prevent looting, according to the Times of India.

Residents report that each day you see the same faces whether the march is for the GJM (Gorkha Janmukti Morcha), the GNLF (Gorkha National Liberation Front), the ABGL (Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League) or the CPRM (Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists). All support the effort to establish Gorkhaland, a state carved from the upper reaches of West Bengal.

The scene is familiar to travelers. In January in Chennai tens of thousands of protestors expressed their outrage over the ban of a traditional bull-taming contest known as jallikattu. The sport was continued.

Five years ago, thousands in Darjeeling took to the streets to peacefully protest the expansion of 50 Wal-Mart locations across India. I missed a flight to Kolkata due to the resulting congestion in every village along the 60-mile road to Bagdogra Airport.  There are many names for the protests which draw the people of India into the streets carrying signs and chanting. Nationwide a cessation of work is know as a hartal. Locally these strikes are called anishchitkal bandh (indefinite strike).

One key difference is the interruption of the internet, which has choked off contact with the Gorkha. The Hindu reports this decision has led to widespread resentment, which is being tapped into by the movement. On Monday the GJM marched to the magistrate’s office demanding that internet service be restored.

Peaceful street protests

Dangerous Precedent

“This movement is not a sudden, it has been prevalent for 110 years, however, it was highly voiced out during the year 1986 under the leadership of late Subash Ghising,” writes Allan Rai.

“During the ongoing agitation in those days my father was among the activists for the cause of Gorkhaland. The movement turned out to be violent, killing 1,200 innocent civilians as well as injuring many. Despite this violence the demand for Gorkhaland was not fulfilled,” he writes.

“Instead they settled with the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), a semi-autonomous body to look after the administration in the hills. This granting of autonomy led the masses to believe that now the hills would see better administration and development,” reports Rai.

Here is an excerpt from my upbeat report at the time:

“A new territory was carved from West Bengal’s Darjeeling district but India rejected demands for a separate state. The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) will have powers to manage public works, social welfare, health and forests and agriculture including valued tea gardens. Existing land records will be transferred to the authority

“The agreement will end the violence in the hills of Darjeeling and pave the way for development,” newly elected West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told the crowd of joyous Gorkhas gathered in the village of Pintail. She praised the signing as historic. “There is nothing to fear… Bengal is not being divided. Darjeeling is close to our heart,” she said.

“There will be an elected local body, there will be schools, colleges, hospitals, jobs will be available and Darjeeling will shine,” said Banerjee who shared her vision of Switzerland as a model.

Autonomous Region Fails

“The autonomy status was just a farce and the state still continued to intervene and rule over the region, depriving it of the development it deserved,” according to Rai. “I’ve been well acquainted with this movement. Since I was a child, I heard stories about the agitation of 1986, which our loving elders referred to as the most devastating “chyassi ko andolan” one of the biggest and most violent movement in the history of Gorkhaland,” he continues.

Protests soon resumed, often involving garden workers, with frequent strikes disrupting tea production and reducing productivity.

Tensions are greater now than at anytime since the bloodshed of the 1980s.

“The agitation which has been going on for over one month will turn terrible and it will be a decisive battle for our independence,” GJM Chief Bimal Gurung told reporters Saturday night. “If I need to shed my blood I am ready to do that, but the fight will go on till Gorkhaland is achieved,” Gurung said.

So, Why Gorkhaland?

“Darjeeling tea is our pride and our heritage,” writes Rai. “It has been one of the world’s leading brands of tea. However, the tea plantations and factories in the region do not flourish or prosper to their full potential due to several reasons, one of them being inequitable distribution of monetary resource. The revenue collected from the Darjeeling tea does not return to those who produce it. Thus, there is not much monetary support to maintain the factories and the wages of the workers are very low compared to the wages of workers in other states of our country,” he writes.

“Workers are provided with facilities such as PF, Pensions that do not even amount to $15.50 (INRs1000) per month and medical facilities that are mentioned in the documents for name sake as there are no medical units or hospitals. Owing to these factors many factories in the region have been shut down. This has led to widespread unemployment resulting in deaths due to starvation as well as depression,” he said.

“When visiting tea estates, people usually meet the owners and managers of these estates. This leads them to understand only the owner’s or the manager’s point of view regarding the estates. However, they often fail to consider the daily wage workers of the estate and fail to understand or even consider the terms or the conditions in which they work to earn their minimal standard of living.

I’m sure when people drink our Darjeeling tea they sip it in delight but has anyone thought about the condition of the old lady in the garden who plucked those luscious leaves with her delicate hands? Or the ever-smiling man who turns these tea leaves into an aromatic sipping delight? Has anyone thought that even under these extreme and crucial conditions these simple workers do not fail to do their job and supply us with our world-famous brand of tea?

“The people of this region are very hardworking and generous, they work 8 hours a day for a meager amount of $2 (INRs130) per day. These workers are living in such harsh conditions yet has anyone even bothered to think about them? These are the things that one must ponder upon to realize the potential that the tea plantations will reach, if, a separate state is formed,” he concludes.

Sources: World Tea News, The Hindu, Indian Express

Next, Gorkhas speak in support of their cause:

Anjana Gurung
Anmol Gurung

Like father, like son

Only a few hours remain in the already-successful Kickstarter campaign to launch Nepal Tea, LLC. This is the time to pour it on. Donors can contribute through Wednesday, March 8. – Dan Bolton


Nischal Banskota at Kanchanjangha Tea Estate

Nishchal Banskota is 24.

He is pictured at right in his not-so-long-ago teens, perched on a rock in the family’s Kanchanjangha Tea Estate, the first tea garden in Nepal to achieve organic certification.

His father, Deepak Prakash Baskota, is nearing four score. The path these two men travel closely adheres to the ancient proverb “Like father, like son” a beloved truth first published in the 1300s but with an oral tradition as old as mankind.

Nishchal is Deepak and Dambar Baskota’s youngest son. He graduated last year from Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire, settled in Jersey City, NJ and in May 2016 launched Nepal Tea, LLC.

Nepal Tea is one of very few companies that imports single-origin tea direct from the garden. This guarantees quality and freshness and a good return for growers who can bypass middle-men in the supply chain.

“Not only does Nepal Tea believe in providing the best quality tea to the tea drinkers around the world,” Nishchal says proudly, “It infallibly does so with the “Do Good to Others” motto and farmer’s first approach. This is what distinguishes us from the numerous commercial tea whole-sellers/retailers.”

Did you hear his resolve in that statement?

Six decades ago when his father was only 15 year old, Deepak Prakash Baskota recalls the first time he saw the thousands of hectares of tea gardens that blanket the foothills of India’s Darjeeling tea growing region. He left inspired. On returning to the village of Phidin, he shared his vision of planting a tea garden near Ranitar in the remote hilly region of Panchthar district in the rugged Himalayan foothills. In 1954 growing tea was a new concept. Villagers questioned his ambitions and his grandiose dream of one day building a tea factory.

Deepak Prakash Baskota, his wife Dambar and youngest son Nishchal

In response he decided to dive head-first into the project. First he read everything he could find to read, borrowing books to better understand what was required, and then exploring the nearby hills in search of terrain suitable for tea. Ranitar is 50 kilometers north of tea-rich Ilam but the only way to know for certain whether tea would thrive was to conduct soil tests. Deepak learned that the nearest soil laboratory was in Siliguri, West Bengal and so he walked 167 kilometers across the foothills of northern India carrying two heavy sacks of soil. The trip took three days. Later he discovered that delivering a handful of soil would have been sufficient.

Encouraged by the positive results but unable to purchase land, he and his wife, Dambar, planted the first tea trees in their backyard. Then, as the trees matured during the next four years, he invested in new plantings, visiting Darjeeling as often as possible to learn how to make tea.

Gradually villagers began to grasp the potential and offered adjacent land for expansion until there was more than 200 acres. Growers established a cooperative to sell their leaves. Eventually they produced enough leaf to require a factory which was completed in 1984.

The family prospered, making Nishchal’s childhood very different than that of his father and mother. Yet he developed the same confidence and self-motivation that led him to found a national newspaper at 17 and manage a project to build a school for underprivileged children during his college years. He volunteers for the Nepal Red Cross Society and 4 E’s Social Service programs. He worked as a financial planning analyst during his school years.

Nishchal Banskota

“While finance remains my keen interest of study, it has not limited me to explore beyond my apparent horizon and make a difference,” says Nishchal, “I constantly attempt to challenge my entrepreneurial spirit to drive change.”

Nepal Tea is a fine purveyor worthy of your donations but its mission runs deeper than commerce.

Children in Nepal do not receive a free education. One-in-four live in poverty and only 57% of Nepali adults can read and write. Banskota said a portion of tea sales are donated to a scholarship fund that has educated 2,300 students since 2002.

Nishchal would like every child of the 600 farmers who work at the Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center (KTE-RC) to have the opportunity he enjoyed.

This is your opportunity to make the vision of two generations of dreamers a reality.

Nepal Tea LLC Kickstarter campaign

Friends in Tea

Last week donors pledged $15,000 to bring Tea Journey to life.

As you read this note our total paid subscriptions will top 325 and our Kickstarter campaign will have reached nearly 30% of the final goal. There are now 30 days left in the campaign. Many Kickstarter ventures are fully funded in a 30-day window but we need to act quickly to draw attention to our “replenish rewards.”

We need to make the most of each day…

Founding sponsors have committed an additional 1,000 packets of tea and several new tea experience rewards totaling $20,000. This boosts the value of Tea Journey rewards to $95,000 USD (our current goal).

The word is getting out. We have 185 Kickstarter subscribers (and another 130 who subscribed direct from the website). They hail from Iceland and Indonesia to Eastern Europe, India, UK and New Zealand. Those who see the prototype tell us they love it.

The combination of support from bloggers, media and social media has brought us this far but reaching goal depends on peer-to-peer appeals to your friends in tea. Eighty-two percent of our Kickstarter donors are friends in tea. They are responding to short personal notes at a rate of 1% – that’s 5 per 500 notes sent.

A simple note is all it takes: 70% of millennials prefer a “peer” endorsement and rely on non-celebrity bloggers over the glitz and glam of stars. Only 3% of the 14,000 consumers surveyed by Collective Bias say they even consider buying a product endorsed by a celebrity.

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Do these five things and we will be celebrating our success on June 1.

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If you are short of cash I will be happy to reimburse you…. better yet, send a note to dan@tea-biz.com with your Paypal email and I will send you $30 in advance.

I emailed 317 appeals this week and there were 60%+ opens resulting in several donors.

I know a lot of people but not nearly enough to reach the Kickstarter goal.

If you help us by doing this, I am convinced that together the tea community will reach the $96,000 goal but it needs to be done now…. send as many as you can as quickly as practical. It takes donors several days to evaluate the magazine. In many instances it takes appeals from three or four of you to tip the scale.

Tomorrow is too late.

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During the past decade I have met thousands of tea drinkers on a path of discovery, a journey to find the special teas that tantalize their sense of taste and reward them with tales of exotic terroir and artisanship so compelling they are eager to share.

I believe that there is a perfect tea for each of us and that finding that tea is the key to fully realizing the health and wellness tea brings.

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Ron Studd put it this way: “I have a strong feeling that there are many interested in getting to the next level with tea, but they don’t have a good way to get there specifically with knowledge.  I know that was a problem I had when I returned to the States.  You get people that say they’re enthusiasts, but when their depth of tea knowledge and practice is so shallow, it’s tough to find inspiration and encouragement that can only come from a wider community of other enthusiasts at or beyond your own knowledge.”

In the past year I assembled an awesome team of journalists and tea experts in the tea lands and their counterparts in the west dedicated to obtaining and sharing authentic, elusive and exclusive knowledge. We call our venture Tea Journey. It was christened by Tony Gebely and ratified by a group so passionate about tea I am humbled to stand as their leader.* Together we created something very special, a digital magazine available online, via iOS and Android and downloadable as a PDF.

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This mobile magazine features articles written in the tea lands by native-speaking writers. The articles are beautifully illustrated and there are informative videos that bring history to life and describe the amazing work that goes into creating tea:

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Click to view the prototype we created. I know you will find the content compelling. Then join us.

Three hundred enthusiasts already have invested $25,000 in making this Kickstarter project a reality.

MARKETING-TJ_SigArt_China_360pxRon Studd continues: “When reading the magazine articles, I kept thinking ‘this is exactly what I need!’ Even for topics that I may be familiar with, there’s so much effort that went into making the content intuitive and interesting that any level of enthusiast will enjoy.  It’s also just nice to know ‘I’m not the only one interested in this!’ ”

There are 30 days left in the campaign. Our goal is 1,000 paid subscribers. Those who donate receive their choice of amazing gifts of tea; tea experiences of a lifetime or splendid teaware.

Choose from hundreds of rewards valued at $95,000.

That’s what it will cost to launch Tea Journey. The deadline is June 1.

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*The Tea Journey Team

Dan Bolton, Editor/Publisher
Nan Cui, Associate Publisher
Si Chen, Senior Editor
Hans Niebergall, Business Development
Ashley Sostaric-Finkes, Marketing Director
Suzette Hammond, Education Director
Beibei Lu, Art Director
Jennifer Sauer, Video Editor
Kathe Meseman, Finance Director
________________________________________
Contributing Editors

Ian Chun, Origins
Jennifer English,
Podcast
Jennifer Quail,
Teaware & Antiquities
Cynthia Gold,
Culinary Tea
Bruce Richardson,
Tea Retail
Dan Robertson,
Origins
Jennifer Sauer, 
Videography
Jennifer English,
Tea Journey Podcast
Cynthia Gold,
Tea Cuisine

________________________________________
Contributors

Stephen Carroll
Barbara Fairchild
Jeff Fuchs
Keith Horner
JT Hunter
Nicholas Lozito
Nicole Martin
Frank Miller
Katrina Munichiello
Hans Niebergall
Geoffrey Norman
Stephenie Overman
James Norwood Pratt
Dan Robertson
Felicia Stewart
Peter Surowski
Jason Walker
Nathan Wakeford
________________________________________
Advisors

Victoria Bisogno, El Club Del Te
Kevin Gascoyne,
Camellia Sinensis
Tony Gebely, World of Tea
Austin Hodge
, Seven Cups Fine Chinese Tea
Joshua Kaiser, Co-founder Rishi Organic Tea
Brian Keating, Sage Group
Bob Krul
, Boreal Wildcraft
Andrew McNeill, Seven Cups Fine Chinese Tea
Dr. Nada Milosavljevic
, Harvard Medical
Elyse Petersen, Tealet
Jane Pettigrew, UK Tea Academy
James Norwood Pratt, Tea Lovers Treasury
Dan Robertson, The Tea House

________________________________________
Founding Sponsors:
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Companies interested in becoming founding sponsors should contact Suzette Hammond at suzette.hammond@teajourney.pub to inquire.

Austin Hodge’s Qingming Report 2014

Qing Ming 2014

By Austin Hodge, President of Seven Cups
Seven Cups is an importer of Chinese tea, located in Tucson, Arizona

Filed April 6, 2014. An abridged version appeared in World Tea News previously. Read our previous story about Qing Ming and its meaning from our April 7 Need to Know post.

I started writing this on the way up Xigui Mountain in Lincang Country to check out the condition of some ancient tea trees. We raced  along a one lane winding road for about 80 kilometers, starting in Lincang City, a thousand feet above the valley floor. Along the mountain roads there are hard working stone carvers making new facades for the ancestors of local tea growers, as well as plenty of colorful fake money to be burned so that they have some cash. There is plenty of incense also to celebrate Qing Ming, the tomb sweeping holiday, pivotal for both ancestor worship and tea. It was typical of my trip traveling through Lincang Country, visiting areas that are producing some of the most sought after puer. This puer is certainly some of the most expensive, ranging into the thousands of dollars per kilo.

My first question has been how’s the weather? How has it affected the tea? In this area of Yunnan the weather has not been problematic.  The old tea trees are producing excellently. The prices here have been doubling every year, and questions about a new bubble are met with exuberant denial even though the evidence is abundant that a crash is coming.

A few weeks ago I was in Hangzhou in Zhejiang, and then I traveled to Anhui and Fujian. The harvest had just begun in Zhejiang, coming a few days before I got the in Xinchang, guaranteeing a very robust pre-Qingming harvest. In all of those places I could not find any evidence that the hot, dry summer last year would have any effect on this years crop. There has never been any time in history, that I know of, where the was no pre-Qingming tea produced, so I can only see those dire predictions coming out of the Chinese press last year, as an attempt to imitate American cable news journalism. I was a little bit early for the harvest to begin in Huangshan but there was no indication that there would not be a great crop this year. The same was true in the Wuyishan area where twice I was caught in the rain searching for shelter while up in the mountains.

On our way to Xishuanbana in Southern Yunnan, just out side of Jingmai, we were caught in a violent thunderstorm while having dinner. According to one of the peasants that owned the place, the government had been seeding the clouds to create some badly needed rain. The ferocious storm tried to blow his little corrugated metal Chinese greasy spoon away while we ate. Just down the road we passed a massive metal billboard sign that had been blown off of a roof blocking most of the road. This last winter brought record low temperatures to the south of Yunnan; snow fell for the first time in some places, damaging some of the forests.

The day before Qing Ming, yesterday, I got a much more reliable report from an old friend in Youle, on top of one of the ‘Six Famous Mountains’ of Xishaunbana. Yang Guanqi is one of my favorite producers in the area  and my go-to guy when it comes to any question about Xishuanbana.  The rumor about the cloud seeding was probably not true, because the rain had been going on for days, and it rained while we were looking over his ancient tree garden in the afternoon. Still the drought that has been going on for years in Southern Yunnan will not be countered by a few days rain. It has drastically affected the old trees and overall production is way down and will be this year also. The trees will not be harmed, but their new growth will be small and has been decreasing every year. This year will be the no different. The younger bushes are going to produce more quality in contrast. Tea consumers should be very skeptical when buying any cakes being advertised as coming from old trees. The price of all puer will go up this year.

Dubai Tea Report: Golden Leaf Awards

Indian Teas Recognized at Golden Leaf Awards in Dubai

By Dan Bolton

DUBAI, UAE – India’s great wealth of tea gardens and expertise extends far south of the fabled Himalayas.

Golden Leaf India Judge Kurush Bharucha (foreground) and Sanjay Sethi (background) sip and slurp.

Golden Leaf India Judge Kurush Bharucha (foreground) and Sanjay Sethi (background) sip and slurp.

Last week, judges of the Golden Leaf India Awards announced 34 outstanding teas in multiple categories as winners of the annual competition. Judging took place at the 5th Global Dubai Tea Forum April 9th. Categories include traditional fannings and orthodox black pekoe and broken pekoe teas along with a test of skill in green tea making.

Kanan Devan Hills Plantation won six Golden Leaf Awards, three each from both CTC and Orthogox categories  from its factories located in the High Ranges of Munnar in Kerala, India. KDHP is the largest tea plantation company in  South India garden and the largest producer-tea exporter in South India with an annual production of 25 million kilos. The plantation spans 23,000 hectares.

WTN140414_GoldenLeafAwards_TastingLine“This has been a testament to KDHP’s efforts on quality enhancement over the years as we won an unprecedented 6 awards in each of the categories that we entered, which no one else has managed thus far,” Chacko P. Thomas.

The total brings to 29 the number of Golden Leaf trophies awarded KDHP.

Golden Leaf India Judge Yahya Beyad, owner of Britannia Teas stands over the spittoon.

Golden Leaf India Judge Yahya Beyad, owner of Britannia Teas stands over the spittoon.

Wentworth and Woodbriar Estates, also in Kerala, each won three Golden Leaf trophies to net the Woodbriar Group a total of six. The Harrisons Malayalam Ltd., Tea Company took home four prizes and Devon Plantations & Industries, Vigneshwar Estate, Koadanad Estate and Joonktollee Tea & Industries each received three of the attractive trophies.

The prizes for best green teas when to Bluegate Beverages in the Nilgiris for its whole leaf and to Poabs Organic Products for its green tea fannings.

The competition is a joint initiative of the Tea Board of India and the United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI). The panel of judges included Sanjay Sethi, Moshin Saify, Yahya Beyad, Kurush Bharucha and Mike Jones.

Golden Leaf India Judge Moshin Saify reports his scores.

Golden Leaf India Judge Moshin Saify reports his scores.

Indian tea is grown at elevations of 7,500 meters, as high as any in the Himalayan foothills and the plantations date to the late 1800s. South India teas are known for their aroma, balanced astringency and lingering aftertaste. This awards event was first organized in 2005. The judges gave high praise to this year’s competitors.

Presentation of the awards concluded the Dubai tea conference with 300 attendees offering an enthusiastic round of applause.

The victors return to Munnar, Conoor, Annamallais and Wandiperiyar with trophies for their display cases and the knowledge their teas rank among the best India has to offer.

Learn more: www.upasi.org/goldenleaf.html

 

Patent Persuasion – Need to Know

What tea professionals need to start the week —

Single-serve lawsuits draw a line in the sand… growers of Honeybush in South Africa voice concern over rising demand… AriZona retains its position as the market leader in ready-to-drink tea in convenience stores… Numi introduces single serve tea in RealCups.

Patent Persuasion

Numi Organic Tea announced its new single-cup line last week, about the same time Harney & Sons Fine Teas launched their selection of single-cup teas.

Neither company chose to partner with Keurig Green Mountain which licenses its K-Cup technology to major tea blenders including Lipton, Snapple, Bigelow, Teavana, Twinings, Tetley, Celestial Seasonings and Tazo.

LOGO_KeurigGreenMountain_replacesGMCRTheir decision is based on economics in part. The largest brands produce K-Cups in huge quantities paying less per cup and can therefore better afford to pay Keurig Green Mountain a royalty of 6.2 cents per cup.

There is also a principal involved, a line in the sand with KGM on one side facing a growing number of private label manufacturers including California-based Rogers Family Coffee and Toronto-based Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee. Each of these firms packages their own lines in Keurig-compatible non-licensed capsules and packs tea for companies like Republic of Tea (Rogers).

Since its patents expired in September 2012, Green Mountain has watched its market share erode. Last year unlicensed packs grew from 7% to 14% share of the $3.1 billion single-serve market, according to data from Mintel International. Green Mountain, which once controlled 80% of the market by value, now controls 20% (with another 13% held by Keurig  manufactured Caribou, Newman’s Own and Eight O’Clock coffee).

Starbucks has sold 2 billion K-Cups in a successful partnership with Keurig dating to 2011 and currently has a 12% share. Folgers (JM Smucker) has 12% share, according to IRI data (which counts grocery, drug store and mass market sales). Last week Starbucks renegotiated its deal with Keurig, striking terms that had prevented Keurig from partnering with other super-premium brands but gaining access to the lower end of the market for brands like Seattle’s Best. Almost immediately Peets Coffee & Tea announced it would partner with Keurig Green Mountain. Peets had previously offered its coffee only in RealCup™ Even though it now faces competition in the premium segment, Starbucks is quite confident it will be rewarded for expanding its offerings. Single-cups are the fastest growing coffee segment and many more homes are going to dump their Mr. Coffee for a pod machine.

Keurig believes that by developing superior equipment and partnering with companies like Starbucks to insure a large assortment of licensed brands it will win back market share.

REALCUP(TM) LOGOIn choosing to contract with Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee, Numi joins a growing number of grocery chains including Kroger and Safeway, large manufacturers such as Kraft and Mondelez International, and independent coffee roasters who believe that open competition leads to product innovation, improved quality and greater consumer value.

On Feb. 12,  TreeHouse Foods, a multibillion-dollar private label manufacturer, filed suit against Keurig, Inc., and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (collectively known as Keurig Green Mountain) alleging they engaged in anti-competitive acts to unlawfully maintain their monopoly over the cups used in single-serve brewers. A month later The Rogers Family Co. also filed suit alleging Keurig used its monopoly power in the single-serve coffee brewer and coffee pod markets to require its distribution partners to enter into “exclusive anti-competitive agreements designed to maintain Keurig’s monopoly power by excluding competition.”

In a release announcing the suit, TreeHouse writes that “Green Mountain has announced plans to eliminate the current lineup of K-cup brewers, which function with competitive cups, to exclude competition and force consumers to purchase higher-priced Green Mountain cups. TreeHouse’s lawsuit maintains that any supposed consumer benefits from the new technology are more than outweighed by the harm to competition and consumers by eliminating their choice and forcing them to pay higher prices for Green Mountain cups.”

“Such an anti-competitive product redesign would force consumers to pay at least 15 percent to 25 percent more for K-Cups, would block consumers from their preferred beverages and would restrain competition,” Oak Brook, Illinois-based TreeHouse said in its complaint.

Keurig Green Mountain Spokeswoman Suzanne DuLong responded that “We believe these claims are totally without merit, and we intend to defend these lawsuits vigorously.”

Coffee industry leader Mother Parkers agrees with TreeHouse Foods actions to stop a Keurig® monopoly, according to the company.

“The patents have expired; consumers have declared that they want choice,” said Bill VandenBygaart, Vice President of Business Development at Mother Parkers. “In our opinion, this action by Keurig as well as the pattern of anti-competitive activities described in the Complaint will continue to hurt the category.”

Tea and coffee drinkers “should decide which coffee they will brew, not Keurig® or Green Mountain Coffee Roasters®,” said VandenBygaart. “We support efforts to keep the single-serve business open to competition and believe that competition will deliver a better cup of coffee or tea.”

Numi Co-founder Ahmed Rahim was eager to enter the single-serve business, but it was paramount that the taste he so carefully crafted was present in each cup brewed from a single-serve capsule, according to a press release announcing the decision.

“I was impressed by the taste delivered by a RealCup™ capsule,” said Rahim. “It was clear to me that the superior taste from the carefully chosen real ingredients used in Numi® Organic Tea’s blends would be found in the teacup and not left behind in the capsule.” In choosing he placed Numi on the “one for all, all for one” side of the line.

No one wants to lose their monopoly. Keurig Green Mountain aggressively responded to the suit but the company’s decision to erect an even more formidable patent barricade is ultimately going to dampen innovation. In February KGM CEO Brian Kelley unveiled a new Keurig 2.0 brewer that will not work with non-licensed K-Cups. The patent for “intelligent extraction” which depends on a bar-code and radio-frequency ID means that owners will once again be forced to purchase Keurig coffee. It will also thwart the use of refill capsules.

The reality is that Keurig will find it hard to convince coffee drinkers they must pay for the new brewers through a premium of as much as three times the actual cost of coffee contained in the capsule.  Kelley has promised the technology will produce a better cup of coffee, leading existing Keurig owners to upgrade. Keurig has sold 16 million brewers to date. Installing RFID technology in existing models is not practical. Adding this feature to new less expensive models drives up their cost.

Keurig may abandon its first-generation brewers but private label capsules are here to stay, as evidenced by the rapid growth of the Hamilton Beach FlexBrew. This non-licensed $49.95 Keurig-compatible brewer in five months is already found in 11,000 outlets. It is outselling Keurig’s comparable K-10 because it not only accepts K-Cups, it accepts refillable cups, has a wire mesh basket for your own freshly ground coffee and will brew European-style filter pad coffee as well as tea pods.

Keurig 2.0 will certainly offer more features; and with its partners likely make a better cup of coffee. It may well triumph in its niche — but not by unfairly stifling competitive innovation.

CASE: TreeHouse Foods Inc. v. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., 14-cv-00905, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Source: TreeHouse Foods

Fast Growth RTD Tea

While carbonated drinks remain the most widely consumed beverage in America the U.S. Beverage industry reported another year-to-year drop in volume, this time down 1.42% in convenience outlets compared to 2012. In contrast RTD tea is the fastest growing segment of the beverage category.

SLIDES-RTD_AriZonaTea_greenteaginsengAriZona Tea was the top-selling brand in convenience last year with almost $270 million in sales. Lipton Brisk ($153 million) and Lipton PureLeaf ($125 million) trailed according to data from IRI.

The biggest growth was Coca-Cola’s FUZE juice fortified with vitamins. Sales increased 250% to $33 million. The bottled tea category generated $1.23 billion sales in convenience outlets in 2013.

Bottled water showed big gains as soda consumption continues to decline but ready-to-drink tea may be the ultimate victor now that the world’s major bottlers are give it a boost.

Coca-Cola reported last month that its tea volume grew by 11% last quarter. Sales of Honest Tea are up 25% compared to 2012 and it is now a $100 million brand. FUZE tea and juice blends and Gold Peak shows solid growth as well.

Market research firm Canadean released its Global Iced/RTD Tea Drinks Report last week noting North America had net volume growth of 74 million gallons (280 million liters). The $5.1 billion U.S. market for RTD tea is expected to increase to $5.3 billion in 2014 with projected growth rate of 6% through 2018.

 “The refreshing taste and perceived natural, healthy image of iced/RTD tea drinks will continue to generate growth and place the category in a good position to take advantage of the slowing carbonates market,” according to Canadean.

RTD tea is not just gaining customers in the United States.

Of the impressive 18.7 billion liters forecast to join the market between 2013 and 2018, over 15 billion liters is projected to come from Asia, with a massive contribution from China (as it overcomes its temporary setback) and Indonesia, according to Canadean. “Soft drink categories have continued with healthy double-digit growth, primarily owing to the key categories such as iced/RTD tea drinks and packaged water. The company reports that in Europe most carbonated consumption continued to occur in West Europe (primarily Benelux) in 2012. The region consumes 55% of global volumes but has lost considerable ground to Asia.

Excessive Demand Depletes Honeybush

Demand is depleting stocks of Honeybush, a largely wild-harvested South African bush used to make a popular herbal drink.

SLIDES-INNO_RTD_HoneybushTeaIt has become a popular because of its sweet flavor and it is often praised for its potential health benefits. There are 23 species of Honeybush; several are used to make an herbal beverage. In 1997 the harvest was 27 metric tons but when companies like Tazo, Twinings and Stash offering Honeybush blends in their lineup demand rose to 200 metric tons.

The challenge is supply.

Honeybush (Cyclopia sp.) is a legume that grows only in the mountains north of South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Honeybush is part of the fynbos biome a habitat that is under pressure similar to that experienced by Rooibos which experienced a three-fold increase in demand. The result was widespread cultivation on land farmed at the expense of other native plant species.

Richard Cowling, of the Department of Botany at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, cautioned that steps should be taken to prevent mistakes by the Rooibos tea industry.

“What is required is the mainstreaming of biodiversity and sustainability into the policies and practices of the Honeybush industry at this early stage of its development,” Cowling told the Flower Valley Conservation Trust. This could be done through certification championed by the local industry. Certification could ensure that sustainable veld harvesting guidelines are followed, that cultivation only takes place on old lands and that fair labor practices are met, he said.

There is very limited commercial cultivation of Honeybush so supply has relied heavily on wild bushes. The small plantations that currently exist are only able to supply 25% of the need. Honeybush traders travel into the mountains and harvest what is to be sold. Concerns have been raised that improper harvesting has damaged the existing supply. Wildfires, droughts, and over-harvesting have now raised serious questions about the plants’ long-term survival. Beginning in the mid-2000s, supply began to drop significantly, just at a time when global demand was increasing. The supply problems pose significant challenges to blending for consistent flavor and appearance and prices have now doubled.

Currently 15% of the Honeybush produced stays in South Africa. The rest is exported, with 85% of those exports going to the United States and Germany. Honeybush producers worry that the plant simply will not survive and work is now being done to establish nurseries and plantations to grow more Honeybush for commercial use.

These supply concerns are coinciding with efforts by the European Union and South Africa to assist one another with protecting geographic trademarks for products including Honeybush.

Neill Coetzee at Cape Town South Africa’s Coetzee & Coetzee (Pty) Ltd. is one such exporter. He identified five species that are commercially utilized. Two are slow growing and mainly wild harvested, he writes.

One species, Cyclopia longifolia, is “a new kid on the block and showing big commercialization prospects,” according to Coetzee. “This tea is very similar to Cyclopia intermedia (the original honeybush) but grows well in cultivation,” writes Coetzee whose firm trades in natural and organic ingredients, medicinal plants, herbal teas, Rooibos and Honeybush.

Small quantities of Honeybush are grown on lands from Mosselbay to Oudsthoorn (the eastern sides of the Western Cape province) and on the western side of the Eastern Cape province (Joubertina to Kareedouw). There are two Rooibos plantations situated near Honeybush producers but most Rooibos is grown 200 miles away in the Cederberg Mountains near Clanwilliam, considered the heart of Rooibos cultivation.

Learn more: South African Broadcasting Corporation

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