Need to Know

Tea Industry News for the Week of May 11.

  • Tea & Tariffs
  • Export Value of Tea Declined in 2019
  • U.S. Consumers Remain Wary of Reopening
  • Tea is Piling up
  • Attend the SofaSummit on International Tea Day
Global Tea Exports Declined 18.8% year-over-year in 2019.

Tea Export Value Declined in 2019

Logistical hurdles in tea producing countries greatly complicated export this quarter as demand declines and prices remain low. Recessions in Russia, Europe, and North America dim prospects of a profitable return for the export segment where sales have declined in value by an average 12.8% since 2015.

The declared value of global tea exports depreciated 18.8% year-over-year in 2019.

Sales from tea exports totaled only $6.4 billion in 2019, according to analyst Daniel Workman at World’s Top Exports. Tea shipments worldwide were valued at $7.3 billion five years ago.

China, at $2 billion in sales, remains the leading tea exporter, accounting for 31.8% of total exports by value, up 13.5% compared to 2018.

China faced several impediments to growth prior to the coronavirus outbreak but retained its rank as the top tea exporter globally in 2019. Green tea exports, the main tea crop, totaled 304,000 metric tons and were valued at $2.02 billion. The average price of exported green tea was $4.34 per kilo in 2019.

China’s tea exports were generally stable and of improved quality, despite the U.S.-China trade dispute and uncertainties in the world economy, according to agricultural and trade officials. Tea exports to the U.S. in 2019 were down 5.1% to 15,000 metric tons, but this was easily offset by a 15.6% increase in purchases by ASEAN nations. The 23,000 metric tons sold to ASEAN countries was valued at $400 million, up 55.7% compared to 2018.

China reported a 13.6% overall revenue increase year-over-year. Black tea exports were up 6.7% to 35,000 metric tons increasing in value by 24.5% to $350 million, according to China customs statistics. Black tea averaged $9.92 per kilo, up 16.72% year-on-year.

Yu Lu, vice president of the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Products (CFNA) said the average annual compound growth rate of exports was 3% during the past three years. Green tea accounts for 82.8% of the total volume, which topped 367,000 metric tons last year.

Trade with countries along the Belt and Road increased 4% last year, earning China $560 million, a year-on-year increase of 307%, according to Yu Lu.

India exported $803 million worth of tea in 2019, up 4.6% compared to the prior year. India set a production record in 2019 growing by 3.8% thanks mostly to smallholders, but while volume reached 1,390 million kilos, the country accounted for only 12.6% of tea exports by value.

Sri Lanka’s 11.3% market share by value and Kenya’s 5.7% share also contribute significant volume, but each saw steep declines in value as prices for cut, tea, curl CTC grades fell. During the past five years (2015-20), the value of Kenyan tea exports declined by 71.3%. During that same period, the value of tea sold for export by Taiwan increased 131.3%; sales of Japanese tea are up 59.6%, and the value of Chinese tea for export is up 46.5%, according to World’s Top Exports.

Selling to domestic consumers is appealing in China and Japan, where higher prices are the norm, but India may benefit most from increasing domestic consumption.

Tea & Tariffs

The economic impact of the pandemic makes it unlikely that China will meet the expectations of a “phase one” agreement negotiated with the U.S. in January. As a result, U.S. President Donald Trump said he might initiate another round of tariffs targeting China.

Or maybe, not.

“I’m very torn, I have not decided yet, if you want to know the truth,” President Trump told reporters last week.

On Friday, to keep what have been productive discussions on track, the U.S. Trade Representatives’ office released this statement: “In spite of the current global health emergency, both countries fully expect to meet their obligations under the agreement in a timely manner.”

In January, China agreed to a 2020 increase of $76.7 billion over 2017 imports. China has since purchased less than $25 billion of U.S. goods, which is a decline of 5.9% through April compared to 2019, reports Bloomberg. The 2020 goal is almost $200 billion in sales.

U.S. trade plunged in March. Overall the U.S. bought 6.5% fewer goods than during the same period in 2019. Imports of Chinese tea through March 2020 declined 23% compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Global Agricultural Trade System database (GATS). Lower sales are due, in part, to a 15% tariff imposed in September 2019. The duty was later reduced to 7.5% in February 2020, but by then, many blenders had switched suppliers. During the first quarter in 2019, the U.S. imported Chinese tea valued at $32 million, a total that declined to $24.7 million during the same period in 2020.

Volume is down 31% from 8.7 million metric tons to 6 million metric tons through March. China is predominately a green tea exporter, but volumes of every category slid, except organic flavored green tea.

Jason Walker, marketing director at Firsd Tea in New Jersey, the U.S. offices of China’s largest tea exporter, writes that while “U.S. imports of Chinese black tea have generally declined over the past five years. More recently, the U.S.-China trade war and coronavirus pandemic have contributed to this slowdown. However, organic black tea imports from China have been rising, with a 66% increase in volume.”

Since workers were able to return to the fields before April, tea production China was spared the pandemic-associated drop in yield experienced in India and Sri Lanka. Imports recorded during the first quarter include little of the spring harvest. Second-quarter statistics will be more revealing as they will reflect the logistical challenges that are still rippling through the supply chain.

“Firsd Tea has been watching the activity at U.S. ports for indications of delays and disruptions. We have not seen any to date,” writes Walker. “In terms of containers leaving China, we have not seen any disruptions since normal business resumed around the end of February in China. At this point, China operations have implemented monitoring systems and PPE (personal protection equipment) requirements for workers. We are watching for indications of flare-ups, but so far, we don’t see evidence of another wave of infection,” writes Walker.

Blenders initially found themselves racing to meet the demand for packaged goods, particularly private label for grocery, but orders for foodservice grades has virtually disappeared due to the unprecedented restaurant and retail tea closures. This alone will substantially reduce tea imports from every producing country.

Specialty tea importers receiving Chinese tea this spring say that demand remains steady despite a three-fold increase in airfreight, which is a far greater expense than the 7.5% tariff.

“Importers were working with a three-fold increase in air freight delivery in April. Rates are still high, but at least cargo is moving faster now,” writes Andrew McNeill with Seven Cups Fine Chinese Tea in Tucson, Ariz.

China recognizes the desirability of retaining a presence in the U.S. market as Europe is likely to experience a more severe recession than the rest of the world. The European Commission last Wednesday released projections that show economic activity shrinking by 7.4% in the 27-nation bloc, according to the New York Times. Economists predict the deepest economic recession in EU history.

While the U.S. administration is angry at China, the escalation of retaliatory measures challenges the prevailing business assumptions guiding American companies in China. U.S. companies invested $14 billion in new factories and other long-term investments in China last year, according to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the Rhodium Group, a consultancy that tracks foreign direct investment flows.

Shawn Donnan, writing in Bloomberg Supply Lines, suggests, “it’s worth remembering every so often that it is still businesses and not governments that really make the decisions that drive globalization and supply chains and that they aren’t decoupling yet.”

Reenergize Local Consumption

Pradyumna Barbora, a specialty tea producer in Assam, points to a straightforward solution: Increasing average per capita consumption from 750 to 800 grams will “uplift the Assam tea industry,” he writes.

“If every tea lover in the country increases their consumption by a mere 50 grams per month, and starts sourcing their tea locally, the gardens will be able to meet their expected minimum wages whilst creating a better living environment for themselves,” writes Barbora, spokesman for Tea for Unity, a group of Assam planters. “We are losing focus on a high-quality heritage product which fetches much more and is more valuable than commercially mass-produced tea,” writes Barbora. The tea industry employs more than a million workers,” he explains, “Investment will improve the mindset of the workforce, translating into greater efficiency and quality.”

Learn more: Tea for Unity

Tea is Piling Up

Processed tea is piling up as demand declines, and transport is interrupted. Globally, warehouses usually empty by the start of the spring harvest. An abundance of tea stored in 2019 is compounding problems in India. Consider the 21 villages in Champawat, a tea-growing region where warehouses are bulging because drivers are not permitted to travel.

Tea, valued at INRs360,000 ($4,700), was ready to be sent for auction in April, “but we have not been able to transport it due to the lockdown. If the stock is not sent to Kolkata soon, those involved in tea plantation and its selling may face a financial strain,” Desmond Brikbeck, manager of several local tea gardens, told the Times of India.

U.S. Consumers Remain Wary of Reopening

Datassential continues its weekly series of webinars tracking consumer behavior during the pandemic. The COVID-19 series is free and hosted by managing director Jack Li, whose company pioneered the use of menu data to predict flavor trends.

The topic May 8 was “The Next Phase” (download PDF).

Reopening is underway led by Starbucks, which announced that 85% of its corporate stores would soon resume operations.

Li notes that concern has declined somewhat as some states reopen, “but America is still anxious, with slightly more than half of the people feeling very concerned and hugely worried about their own personal health.”

“Avoidance of eating out is steady, but down from a month ago with 55% of those surveyed saying they will “definitely avoid going out” and 27% saying they are “nervous but will still eat out.” The number of individuals reporting “no concerns whatsoever” increased to 18%, up 2% since April 27 but down 23% since March 10, according to Datassential.

Health remains the top concern, but economic worries are intensifying, according to Li, who found that 57% of respondents are more concerned about the public-health crisis (down 2% since April 27 and down 6% since April 10). Those who say they are most concerned about the economic crisis increased 2% from April 27 to 43% of respondents.

“Not much has changed in the past month. America is still at home and still longing to get back out,” writes Li. “People are excited to get back to activities like dinner and a movie, or lunch and shopping at the mall,” he said.

When asked: “Which of the following food & drink places or activities are you most excited to get back to?” 45% selected “dining at my favorite sit-down restaurant,” and 42% selected “visiting recreational places” with 39% longing to “meet family and friends at restaurants.”

Going to coffee shops (20%) and drinking at bars (19%) ranked in the middle. Visiting nightclubs, concerts, and lounges appealed to only 10%. Visiting cafeterias (5%) was the least exciting activity.

Editor’s note: Unemployment increased to 14.7% in April, the highest since the Great Depression. New claims topped 26.5 million during the five weeks ending April. The proportion of employed working-age adults (51.3%) is the lowest on record. Datassential found that 16% of survey respondents are still going to school or working as usual, with 16% stuck at home due to layoffs and furloughs. An additional 33% of those taking part in the weekly survey are working or attending school remotely, with 35% not working overall.

Next episode: “What Consumers Want Right Now.”

EVENTS

Attend the SofaSummit on International Tea Day

Thursday, May 21, is International Tea Day, a global event declared by the United Nations that will, for the first time, be celebrated in every county. The U.N. organized the event to elevate tea by drawing attention to “the importance of tea for rural development and sustainable livelihoods, and to improve the tea value chain to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

To celebrate, the Tea & Herbal Association of Canada, in coordination with many prominent industry leaders, is hosting an all-day tribute May 21, beginning at 9 a.m. through 7 p.m. EST. The tea and chat will “circumnavigate the globe,” spanning 14 time zones with participants from 13 countries. Watch on YouTube live – no registration required.

Shabnam Weber will host on THAC’s YouTube Channel: http://tiny.cc/gyqdoz

Click to learn more: International Tea Day.

UK Tea & Infusions Association

Raising Our Cup to All Tea Drinkers

The

Participants (in order of appearance) include:

Yu Lu, China Chamber of Commerce CCFNA

Rajah Banerjee, Makaibari

Arun Singh, Tea Vision

Ketan Patel, Jalinga Tea

Stephen Twining, Twinings

Alfred Njage, KTDA

Cindi Bigelow, Bigelow Tea

Gabriella Lombardi, Cha Tea Atelier

Joyce Maina, Cambridge Tea Academy

Will Battle, Fine Tea Merchants

Joe Panter, Camellia PLC

Ramaz Chanturiya, Tea Masters Cup (Russia)

Carolina Okulovich, Don Basilio

Rona Tison, ItoEn

James Norwood Pratt, Author

Jane Pettigrew, UK Tea Academy

Kevin Gascoyne, Camellia Sinensis

Jeff Fuchs, Tea Horse Road

Tania Stacey & David Lyons, Cuppa Cha & AUSTCS

Cecilia Corral, Tian Té Mexico

Fred Yoo, Myung Wong Cultural Foundation

*Corrected 9/13 to clarify this event was organized solely by the THAC.

Virtual Tea Tasting

The Ceylon Artisan Tea Association is hosting its third in a series of virtual tea tasting webinars. Amba Estate was featured on April 30. This week features Forest Hill Tea, which was recently profiled in Tea Journey magazine.

Click this link to join the meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9997849844

Meeting ID: 999 784 9844

The Zoom event begins at 5.30 p.m. Wednesday, May 13 in Colombo Sri Lanka (India|Asia) | 8 a.m. EST (New York) | 1 p.m. (London) | 2 p.m. (EU) | 8 p.m. (Singapore and Hong Kong) | 9 p.m. (Japan and Korea)

If you miss the live event, recordings of these webinars are available for viewing at no charge.


Enhance your well-being with tea. Tea Journey is a bridge connecting those who craft handmade teas in 35 countries with the growing number of premium tea consumers globally. Tea Journey educates readers not only in the selection and preparation of healthy whole leaf tea but also in the manufacture of authentic teaware and utensils designed to enhance the tea experience.

Curious about tea? Subscribe free to Tea Journey Magazine

Need to Know

Tea industry news for the week of April 20

  • Monitoring Consumer Behavior
  • Record Prices at Colombo’s Digital Auction
  • Kenya May Ban Direct Tea Sales
  • Physical Distancing on 1,500 Acres in Assam
  • Private Investors Back Millennia Flash-Frozen Tea

Monitoring Consumer Behavior

Datassential surveys consumers weekly and hosts a Friday webinar Food + Coronavirus to share what they have learned about fast-changing consumer behavior. The presentations are free. Mark DiDomenico is director of consumer solutions at Datassential. He told participants during a webinar hosted by the National Coffee Association last week that American consumers at this point are more worried about their health than wealth (health concerns peaked at 67% April 1 and remained at 61% the week of April 8). Respondents (64%) consistently say they will “definitely avoid” eating out.

When asked “since the onset of social distancing, where have you cut back on spending?” eating at restaurants topped the list at 57%.

“Consumers are avoiding risk but also seeking ways to adjust,” said DiDomenico, who cited examples such as cooking from scratch (42% say they do this more often), eating comfort foods (+33%), stress eating (+24%), and drinking alcohol more often at home (+14%). Moving forward? “Consumers are likely to avoid buffets and salad bars. Half say they will order for delivery (and disinfect delivery packaging), he said. Shopping for food online (+22%) is a new behavior that is very likely to stick, he said.

Global Impact

David Parnham, Research Director at Café Culture in Australia, recently completed a report on the immediate impact of lockdowns. The impact is sobering. While Australians were not strictly confined to their homes (New Zealand is in lockdown), a survey of cafe owners found that 19% experienced a 70-90% decline in sales, with an additional 19% reporting declines of 50-70% and 29% reporting declines of 20-50% in sales. Café Culture Managing Director Sean Edwards posted several helpful suggestions from café owners for “Staying Afloat in Tough Times.”

Business News

Sri Lanka is embracing a digital future for the Colombo Tea Auction according to Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Jayampathy Molligoda. The country’s first three electronic auctions in April resulted in sales of 16.5 million kilos of tea. Efforts to switch from outcry to electronic bidding span 20 years, according to Jayantha Karunaratne, chairman of the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association. “Changing the mindset of some players is not an easy task, said Karunaratne, adding, “Our vision is to go online because it provides advantages such as lower cost, greater efficiency, and more transparency.”

As soon as the auction opened demand from Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East drove record prices. An Uvakellie from Vellapatna Estate, owned by Madulsima Plantations, sold for SLRs810 ($4.21) per kilo and a Uva High from Finlays Oodoowerre Estate sold for SLRs980 ($5.10) a kilo, a record for FBOPF1 grade tea at auction. Akbar Brothers purchased the lot. Dickwella Estate then broke the SLRs980 mark at SLRs1000 ($5.20) per kilo for an FBOPF1 bought by Ceylon Tea Marketing.

“The response from industry stakeholders has been fantastic. The Sri Lankan tea industry has once again proven its resilience to upheavals,” said Dhammike Wedande, senior vice president of Asia Siyaka Commodities, a leading tea broker.

Direct Trade Ban
Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture intends to ban direct tea sales. New regulations state that “henceforth, sale by private treaty (direct sales overseas) is outlawed,” forcing growers to sell exclusively through the auction process.

The new regulations raised concerns voiced by the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA), which manages auction and direct tea sales in Mombasa.

“Exporters who have long-term contracts with international buyers might have to review those contracts, and we don’t know how this is going to affect the market,” EATTA Managing Director Edward Mudibo told Business Daily.

The Tea Auction in Mombasa, the world’s largest by volume, is experiencing difficulties associated with the spread of the coronavirus and was relocated to a hotel.

The entire auction system is “dysfunctional,” according to small growers who appealed to Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene to curb predatory behavior amid falling prices. Reformers agree and hope to automate bidding.

Kenyatta’s reforms, announced last week by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, require the Kenya Tea Development Agency to pay 50% of the price of monthly deliveries. The remainder is to be paid as an annual bonus. In the past, KTDA factories paid farmers KS14-16 per kilo. Buyers will now pay 10% down with the balance due before export. Factories must pay farmers within 30 days after receiving auction proceeds. Also, brokers representing factories will be limited in the number they represent (no more than 15 factories in the current proposal).

Physical Distancing on 1,500 Acres

India reported more than 1,500 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours ending Monday, April 20, bringing the national total to 17,656 confirmed cases with 559 deaths. There is no indication of a “flattening curve” with the contagion likely to peak in four to six weeks. West Bengal, which includes the fabled Darjeeling growing region, has 339 reported cases with 12 deaths. Assam reports 35 cases with one death.

Samar Jyoti Chaliha, who manages the Dikom Tea Estate near Dibrugarh in Assam, harvested only 17,000 kilos of tea in March due to government-ordered lockdowns. Usually, the garden produces 40,000 kilos of first flush tea. The early harvest typically yields 70,000 kilos, “but this year, I may be able to make a max of 45,000 to 50,000 kilos,” said Chaliha. The workforce is a concern. “I am limited to 50% of peak season’s employment (3,800 workers),” he said. Chaliha is currently paying 1,800 workers, but few are plucking tea. “Overgrown bushes take a lot of time. Right now, it is more slashing/skiffing and hand breaking overgrown leaves and branches which are tossed to the ground. We cannot make tea out of this stuff,” he said.

Restoring the bushes should be complete by April 23 or 24. It will then take another 15 days to come up with succulent leaves, which brings us to the beginning of the second flush, he explained. A typical second flush yields approximately 260,000 kilos (2.6 lakhs) during May and June.

“I don’t know how the bushes will behave after skiffing at this time of year (pruning is normally done in winter when the plants are dormant). Dikom produced an average of almost 3,000 kilos per hectare last year, a highly productive yield. “If all goes well, the second flush should be fine,” he said.

The garden currently has 1,500 acres (635 hectares) under tea. Given the vast area, instead of limiting the number of workers to one per acre, when they are most needed, consideration should have been given to simply assigning smaller numbers of workers within each block (say 100 vs. 200). Growers could assign 100 masked pluckers to each of two widely separated sections and maintain safe distancing of 10 feet between pluckers. Even with 3,800 workers in the field at the same time, in most of Assam’s licensed tea gardens, there would only be two workers per acre. “Apparently, no one took this up with the government,” he said.

Production News

India will take additional steps to spot-check tea to ensure it complies with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI ) norms. Random checks should result in higher prices a necessity given the lower volumes at auction. “Tea failing to adhere to the FSSAI parameters may not be allowed to be offered in the auctions depending on the extent of the violations by the producers,” according to the circular issued to planters. Tea Board Deputy Chairman Arun Kumar Ray told the Deccan Herald, “right now, the priority is to comply with the health safety norms and hygienic practices in tea gardens to combat the COVID-19 crisis.”

In Sri Lanka, February Yield Marks Decade Low

Sri Lanka harvested only 17.9 million kilos of tea in February, down 3.8 million kilos from February 2019. High grown and medium grown tea showed marginal gains, but tea from the lowest elevations declined 28.3% due to drought. Forbes and Walker Tea Brokers report the first two months of 2020 yielded only 39.8 million kilos, down 5.1 million kilos compared to the first two months of 2019.

Health News
Sri Lanka is promoting black tea as an immunity booster with the slogan: “Double Your Protection” The campaign online and in print states that “Black tea is not only delicious but packed with immune-boosting theaflavin antioxidants. Enjoy 3 to 4 cups daily, and be protected both inside and out.”

The Times of India reports that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will study the antiviral properties of theaflavin-3, a compound found in black tea. The United Planters’ Association of South India (UPASI) circulated a press release citing work by researchers in Taiwan and China, suggesting replication of SARS CoV-2 is inhibited by polyphenols commonly found in tea. These include Theaflavin-1, Theaflavin-2, and Theaflavin-3, all of which are abundant in black tea.

The European Journal of Preventative Cardiology reports fewer heart attacks and a lower risk of dying of heart disease among tea drinkers participating in a Chinese study of 100,000 adults over seven years. Those who consumed three or more cups of tea per week had a 20% lower risk of heart attack or related cardiac incidents and a 22% lower risk of dying of heart disease.

Retail News

Millennia Tea, a Canada-based supplier of flash-frozen tea leaves, closed its first private funding round at $500,000+. The pioneering brand, based in Saint John, processes tea much like leafy produce at origin where it is washed and frozen to preserve antioxidants destroyed during the drying process.

Tea cubes
Millennia also markets cubes of fresh tea leaves

Shelly King, CEO of Natural Products Canada, a key investor and strategic advisor, told Huddle that “today’s health-conscious consumer has embraced ‘food as medicine’ and is looking for ways to optimize the nutritional value of their everyday pleasures like a simple cup of tea.”

“Millennia TEA has a category-changing product that ticks all the boxes for today’s consumer,” said King.

Upcoming Events
The United Nations has designated May 21 as International Tea Day to raise awareness of the need for sustainable production and to honor those working to supply the world with tea. The British have a reputation for never enough when it comes to tea, so they also celebrate National Tea Day (Tuesday, April 21). The Sun once again published a chart of tea in 16 shades from red amber to milky white. The article always leads to squabbles over exactly how much is too much dairy. Historian Seren Charrington-Hollins explains why milk is added last:

One of the fiercest topics is whether to put the milk in the cup before or after the tea. In the early days of British tea-drinking, when the china we had was of such poor quality that it would crack under the heat of boiling water, milk was always put in first to cool the tea.

“But in the 18th century better china started to arrive and those who could afford it switched to putting milk in after the water, as a social signifier. Continuing to put milk in first was associated with the lower classes.

“Tea tastes better if you put the milk in after the hot water because you avoid scalding the milk. You also maintain the perfect temperature for brewing, which is 95C,” advises Charrington-Hollins.

Need to Know

Tea industry news for the week of April 13
– Grocery Sales Spike
– Tea Production Declines
– Health Misinformation
– Skipping Port
– Edible Tea

Consumers emptied shelves stocking up on tea, but there is plenty more in warehouses.

Tea sales in grocery spiked as consumers rushed to stock up ahead of lockdowns in the US, Canada, and the UK. Sales in the UK the week of March 21 rose 55% compared to the previous year, according to Nielsen market research.

Grocery shoppers in the UK, on average, spent an additional $80 (£62.92) stocking up during March.

In the US, market information provider IRI in Chicago reports an 11% increase in year-to-date in sales of packaged tea in multi outlets (including grocery and convenience stores). Dollar sales of instant tea mixes rose 12%. Sales of refrigerated teas increased by 9.4%, and sales of refrigerated ready-to-drink coffee grew 23% year to date, compared to the same period in 2019. Coffee sales were up 8.2% to $2.6 billion through March 22.

Major brands, including Lipton, Tetley, Twinings, and PG Tips assured consumers confronting empty shelves that supplies were sufficient as grocery sales rose 20% to their highest level in a decade, according to Kantar Research. Herbals associated with improving immunity spiked as well with top sellers listing ingredients such as echinacea, ginger, ginseng, and lemon and honey.

Production Declines 

Plucking resumed Monday April 13 in Darjeeling on government orders limiting the workforce to 25% of normal. A large factory like Thurbo, one of the Goodricke Group, employs 400 but can operate with 100 staff by reducing the number of processing lines. Processing capacity makes it possible to resume plucking the valuable first flush leaves.

Financial analysts at ICRA estimate India’s tea industry will experience a decline of 90 million kilos in 2020. The estimate assumes 45-50 million fewer kilos of tea from plantations and 45 million fewer kilos from smallholders. Annual tea production will decline 6-7% in Assam and West Bengal and another 5-6% in South India. Bought-leaf factories remain closed.

ICRA estimates that the earliest tea estates could start production would be around the third week of April, given the present situation, according to The Economic Times. The government permitted plantations to resume harvesting this week, but mandates staffing at no more than half previous levels. Social distancing and health precautions are to be enforced. Since the lockdown, now in its third week, weeds are encroaching, pest counts are high, and a light pruning is needed before plucking resumes. These actions will add INRs15 per kilo to the cost of production, according to ICRA, noting: “Any decline in production in the second flush teas would result in a substantially higher cost per kilo.” In India, labor expense accounts for 65-70% of the cost of production.

Kenya saw exports decline by 4 million kilos in February to 40.5 million kilos compared to February 2019 totals, according to the Agriculture and Food Authority. Disruptions in the auction at Mombasa are to blame as the weather is excellent with moderate temperatures and favorable rainfall in the western and rift valleys. The harvest increased to 49.2 million kilos compared to 31.4 million kilos during the same period last year. Smallholders contributed 19 million kilos to the total. Prices at Mombasa were down, averaging $2.13 per kilo compared to an average price of $2.16 per kilo in February 2019.

Curfews in Sri Lanka temporarily stopped tea production in March. Plantations Minister Ramesh Pathirana said the nation’s tea plantations would be allowed to continue operations so long as they adhere to guidelines set by the Health Ministry. To facilitate transactions, the Ceylon Tea Traders Association has switched to online auctions after 137 years of outcry bidding. Banks and the government departments regulating food safety and trade that are essential to export are now open three days a week but operated by half their usual staff.

In Vietnam, first-quarter tea exports declined 2.4% in volume and lost 19% in value compared to the previous year. Shipments to China, Taiwan, and Russia, were virtually halted. The US is one of the top five destinations that together account for 75% of Vietnamese tea. Prices declined 13.5% to $37 million in February, averaging $1.48 per kilo, according to the Vietnam Tea Association. Trading partners are asking for lower prices, delayed delivery, and even canceling contracts, according to the association.

Health Misinformation

Physicians strongly disclaim a post stating that drinking tea is an effective cure for COVID-19, the disease caused by the newly discovered coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) in March declared there is no known cure for COVID-19. “To date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019,” according to WHO. The post, incorrectly attributed to CNN, appeared on WhatsApp and Facebook and was widely shared. The report did not appear on CNN. “While tea may strengthen immunity, there is no “research” indicating benefits for COVID-19 patients,” according to Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara, director of the Sri Lanka Medical Research Institute, as reported by AFP in a Fact Check published March 26.

“News reports in China in February also picked up on the claim that tea could be used to stop the virus but said it was not true,” according to the BBC News Reality Check.

Related…

Sri Lanka is promoting black tea as an immunity booster, and India may soon follow.

Citing a study by the Tea Research Association (TRA) that Ceylon tea contains high levels of theaflavin, Sri Lanka initiated an advertising campaign claiming that ‘Ceylon Black Tea’ enhances COVID-19 immunity. TRA maintains that theaflavin, the main polyphenol in black tea, boosts immunity based on studies published in medical journals

A 2003 experiment involving 21 volunteers by Dr. Jack Bukowski at Harvard Medical School showed that immune system blood cells from tea drinkers responded five times faster to germs than did the blood cells of a control group. Bukowski explained that L-theanine is broken down in the liver to ethylamine, a molecule that primes the response of an immune system element called the gamma-delta T cell.

“We know from other studies that these gamma-delta T cells in the blood are the first line of defense against many types of bacteria, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections,” he said. In 2007 Bukowski demonstrated that drinking five cups of tea daily increased the body’s ability to ward off colds and flu. His work appeared in The Journal of the American College Of Nutrition

The United Planters Association of South India (UPASI) Tea Research Foundation is compiling a brief to convince the Tea Board of India to follow Sri Lanka’s lead in promoting tea as a wellness drink.

Tea Board Chairman PK Bezbaruah told the Hindu Businessline, “Indian teas, particularly Assam and the South Indian teas, have a very high proportion of the Theaflavin compound and hence should ideally be more effective.”

“I think this can help push exports, particularly at a time when the output is expected to be at least 15% lower this year,” Bezbaruah said.

Skipping Port

Shipping companies are bypassing Indian ports essential to the tea trade. Container ships generally stop at one or two local ports to load cargo before traveling between continents. When containers are delayed in reaching port, ship captains have no reason to stop.

Canceling India’s tea auctions for two weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus set in motion a sequence leading to this unusual logistical snafu. Tea is exempt from transport restrictions, but shipments delayed at auction experienced further problems in transit as law enforcement agencies stopped trucks en route to ports. Exporters next experienced numerous cancellations of consignments following the collapse of retail demand in foodservice. New buyers are scarce, leading to acute cash flow problems that subsequently hampered exporter’s ability to meet contracted delivery dates.

NEW PRODUCTS

Edible Beetroot & Parsnip tea


Edible Tea

Nim’s, a UK-based fruit crisp brand, recently introduced the first edible teas. These can be brewed or eaten as a snack. Nim’s located in Sittingbourne, produces air-dried snacks using beetroot and pineapple, kiwi and pineapple, and beetroot and parsnip. The tea sells for $6.25 (£5) for 12 sachets. Once the tea is steeped, you can enjoy the rehydrated fruit and vegetables “Drink, Eat and be Healthier.”

Arizona Iced Tea introduces Hard Tea with vodka

Vodka Tea

Arizona Iced Tea launched a 5% ABV ginseng and honey-flavored green tea blended with vodka. The new line is named Arizona Hard. The initial rollout in Canada features 473ml single tall cans or 12-ounce (355ml) six-packs. The suggested retail price is CAD$3.49 for the individual can. In Canada, spiked tea can be delivered to your home by food delivery services such as SkipTheDishes.

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