Tea auction houses are a choke point for black tea transactions globally. The routine flow of commercial grades of tea is in jeopardy as major tea auctions react to the pandemic. Twin threats loom, the first involves gatherings that ensure the safety of participants. The second is the logistics. India’s national lockdown was tragically timed to the onset of the first flush, which observers predict is lost.
TheColombo Tea Traders Association (CCTA) successfully conducted an all-digital auction – a first in 126 years of “outcry” bidding. The pandemic shut down the auction temporarily, halted shipping, and closed factories engaged in processing, blending, and packaging tea. “The tea industry has since regained its composure and momentum, and all its operations are now gradually resuming full capacity islandwide,” according to CCTA. The e-auction runs April 4-6, with samples available for viewing online and for purchase remotely under the guidance of theColombo Tea Brokers’ Association.
India’s Darjeeling growers earn 40% of their business during March and early April as first-flush teas are rushed to clients in Europe, Russia, Japan, and the US. Plucking had just commenced when India’s prime minister ordered a 21-day national lockdown on March 25. Tea bushes welcome spring with their best quality shoots, which amount to 25% of the crop by volume but bring an estimated $20 million (INRs150 crore), or roughly 40% of revenue. Lost sales are compounded by the fact that by April 15, when the lockdown is scheduled to end, trees will be overgrown, forcing a time-consuming and costly pruning. Darjeeling annually produces about 8 million kilos of tea. That will not be the case in 2020.
The financial losses Darjeeling faces led the Union Home Ministry on April 3 to amend its workforce order to permit gardens to operate with up to half their workers if they enforce social distancing. However, few seem willing to operate processing factories, bought-leaf factories are closed to smallholders, and workers’ unions in West Bengal and Assam strenuously oppose returning to work due to the contagion and limited healthcare. North Bengal accounts for a quarter of India’s 1.3 billion kilo harvest.
India’s street corner chaiwallahs and tea stand vendors operate without inventory or cash reserves. In the past three weeks, the steady business of supplying office workers has disappeared along with crowded trains and bus stations. At 20 rupees per cup, these workers earn less than $1.50 per day after expenses.
The approximately 1600 US tea shops in all but eight states where residents are now under orders to stay at home, are experiencing dramatic declines in foot traffic. It is hard to profit from small transactions, so Emma’s Tea Spot in Baltimore promoted its curbside pickup and delivery by offering staples as incentives. These include eggs, bread, and toilet paper. Orders are mainly by phone with payment prior to pickup or delivery. No employees come into contact with customers since orders are placed in a sanitized pickup area outside the building.
China Harvest Underway
Saturday (April 4) marked the opening day of the tea harvest in China. Qingming celebrations, which involve traveling to the ancestral homes of urban Chinese, are subdued in many parts of the country this year as more than 3,000 perished amid 83,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Tea harvests in Zhejiang and Anhui Province are in full swing. Harvesting is underway but delayed in Hubei, which is the third-largest producing province and the center of the pandemic.
Yunnan continues to experience a severe drought. Chinese authorities say 1.14 million of the province’s 47 million residents are experiencing difficulties accessing drinking water, along with a quarter of a million head of livestock. Crops covering 180,000 hectares are drought damaged according to the provincial water conservancy department. “At present, 78 rivers in Yunnan have been cut off, 115 reservoirs have dried up, and 99 irrigation wells have an insufficient water supply,” according to a report published by Xinhua News Service.
The European Tea Society is hosting a free webinar on How Pandemics and Climate Change are Affecting the Tea Trade.
Statistics compiled from a survey of retailers following China’s unprecedented lockdown of 700 million people reveal that while international chains like Starbucks and Costa and big national chains, including Ten Ren and Luckin, experienced severe financial setbacks, independent tea and coffee shops suffered mortal blows.
Now that the contagion has spread to Italy, shop owners are taking a hit comparable to their Chinese counterparts.
“Being in the “orange” zone we’ve seen the downtown area of Milan losing its fabric, most people (not all, fortunately) are just not going out and are avoiding close contacts with others (i.e., any crowded area) We’re currently recording a drop of 40% to 50% both in the store and the tearoom. We’ve adopted the sanitary ordinances that set a “safety perimeter” of one-meter minimum distance from others and have had to cancel all planned events and tea seminars,” writes a veteran shop owner who established his specialty tea business in 2008.
In China, a Kamen survey of 2,000 shop owners, those with ten shops or less, revealed that 75% of the stores closed during the epidemic. Closures were due to policy prohibitions (primarily in Hubei Province) and concerns about personnel safety as well as the absence of foot traffic.
Globally there were 98,000 confirmed cases and 3,347 deaths, including 148 in Italy. The death count in Hubei Province is 3,000, with 23,972 of the 67,466 confirmed cases still in the hospital.
Revenue, compared to the same period in the previous year, declined to zero at 65.9% of the shops surveyed. Business declined 50% to 80% at 19% of the shops. Asked to evaluate the loss, 65.93% of shop operators said the event was devastating, with 30.97% saying the impact is controllable. Only 3.1% reported minimal impact. The Chinese government has announced subsidies, low-interest loans, and relief from taxes for retailers in the vicinity of Wuhan.
Starbucks announced this week that 85% of its shops in China have reopened. In a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Starbucks estimated losses of $430 million from the closure of half of its Chinese shops.
Morocco Hoards Chinese Tea
Fearful of the impact on shipments of green tea imports, Morocco is hoarding tea. The president of the Moroccan association of tea and coffee manufacturers (AMITC), Mohamed Astaib, announced that Morocco had imported enough tea to last six months as a preventive measure. Logistics is partly to blame as hundreds of thousands of containers stacked up at China’s 34 ports.
In an article published by the China Media Times Tea Weekly Yu Lu, vice president of the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Products (CFNA) said that Morocco, China’s largest trading partner, implemented stringent standards for pesticide residue for 60 chemicals. As a result, sales decreased by 4.2%.
Moroccans consume 70,000 metric tons of tea annually, making it the 9th largest tea importer in the world.
The tea floor at Fortnum & Mason in London’s high street is stocked exclusively with tea sourced globally. In first for the company, it will now sell a non-caffeinated children’s tea in four flavors.
The Small & Wild brand, blended by two millennial-aged mothers, launched two years ago. The teas are ethically sourced, sugar-free blends of natural herbs and fruit.
The decision follows a U.K. consumer shift to tisanes, which are growing in popularity. Hardly stodgy, the fabled tea company reaped a windfall last year on sales of a bottled sparkling tea.
Teatime forRampaging Vikings
Fans of the widely acclaimed television series Vikings gave a nod of understanding with word that researchers attribute the Viking’s barbarian behavior to a hallucinogenic herbal tea. Warriors high on a brew of stinking henbane amd alcohol experienced less pain, according to Karsten Fatur, an ethnobotanist at the University of Ljbuljana in Slovenia. Fatur speculates that ingesting this tea before battle led 9th century Norse Berserkergang “berserkers” to howl like beasts as they rushed wildly into battle wearing animal skins and little armor. Unchecked aggression, unpredictability, and dissociative effects, such as losing touch with reality, might have allowed them to kill indiscriminately without moral qualms, writes Fatur.
The coronavirus outbreak is causing logistical havoc in advance of the world’s most valuable tea harvest.
“All parts of the country (except Hubei Province) are gradually returning to work and production under the guidance of the tea district government,” writes Tea Weekly.
Hubei Province, an important producing region, remains under lockdown with 2,500 (2,467) deaths, and 80,000 (78,914) confirmed cases of the fast-spreading epidemic centered in the city of Wuhan.
“China is reeling from the outbreak of novel coronavirus-caused pneumonia,” according to Cai Jun, secretary general of tea with the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Products (CFNA). CFNA is an influential trade association that operates under the supervision of China’s Ministry of Commerce.
Setbacks are not due to illness or deaths of tea garden workers; it is the result of a national effort to limit travel, close factories, ban public gatherings and shutdown bus, train, air, and subways to prevent the virus from spreading.
“As far as I know, Chinese tea people are all safe and sound, which indicates that drinking tea helps to strengthen immunity,” writes Mr. Cai.
China’s tea industry saw this coming, according to tea retailer Austin Hodge, founder of Seven Cups Fine Chinese Tea in Tucson, Ariz. Hodge, who imports tea direct from China, recalls the SARS epidemic in 2003. The Chinese learned valuable lessons from that outbreak, which killed 774 globally.
“No tea is going to waste. They are not plucking if they cannot process,” explains Hodge, who praised the Chinese for “making all the necessary adjustments.”
“In rural tea country, the real issue isn’t the virus; it’s the lockdown and logistics. Everybody is local. They don’t have to travel anywhere,” he said.
He expects his first tea of the year to arrive on schedule in a week or two.
Procedures at China’s largest tea company factory in Erhai are typical. The plant resumed operations Feb. 13 as 700 workers were screened for fever, completed and signed a personal health commitment promising to wear masks, disinfect their hands and periodically visit one of six health test points. Upon entering the factory, they scanned the “Yunnan Epidemic Prevention” QR code with their cell phones, activating a cell phone (WeChat mini app) that tracks their movement and warns employers if they have encountered someone who has come down with the virus.
Effective Feb. 11, all Yunnan residents must scan a QR code to enter and exit public places, including residential complexes, markets, malls, hospitals, and public transit hubs. “No name, ID or other content is stored,” and Yunnan promises to destroy the tracking data once the virus is contained.
A factory manager estimated the increased security reduced productivity by 10%.
In the southern-most tea gardens where the harvest is just beginning, those who prune and pluck tea are required to wear masks and are not permitted to form groups. They must keep a minimum distance of 10 feet apart while working.
The China Tea Circulation Association reports that specialty harvests began Feb. 10 in Gaoxian in Sichuan and on Feb. 20 in southern Zhejiang (Wenzhou and Lishui).
“Under the epidemic situation, while doing a good job of prevention and control, multiple tea-producing areas and companies across the country have also organized tea farmers to start the first batch of 2020 spring tea picking,” according to the association.
“We’re not in picking season yet, so the virus hasn’t had much effect on the tea production and international trade. Although it does affect the sales, it’s overall manageable,” writes Mr. Cai.
Grocery stores and supermarkets remain open, and food and beverage delivery are permitted, but the lockdown has cut foot traffic at China’s premier tea malls to a fraction of normal.
“When most tea markets are not open, companies are encouraged to sell online and micro-businesses,” advises the Agriculture and Rural Bureau of Yuzhou District as reported on the Sichuan News Network. Production of Chuancha in Yuzhou is projected at 1,800 metric tons valued at more than $42.5 million (RMB300 million).
More than 500 million Chinese drink approximately 1.9 million metric tons of tea annually, according to the China Tea Marketing Association. The domestic tea market is valued at $18 billion.
During the crisis, overall retail sales are being stripped of $144 billion a week, according to China’s Evergrande Think Tank (as reported by Forbes).
The impact thus far is most significant in congested urban areas. Every province, including Tibet, has reported cases of Covid-19, but tea regions were spared the initial brunt of the epidemic. Hubei reported 64,084 cases and 2,346 deaths.
Enshi tea producers are the closest hot spot, about 500 kilometers west of Wuhan. Plucking generally commences March 15 on Wufeng Mountain. Enshi is a green tea region, one of the few that specializes in steamed green teas. Train and bus service was suspended in January, all 70,000 cinemas in the province were closed, and public gatherings were forbidden. Only grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores, and hospitals are operating.
Generally speaking, the spread of Covid-19 in tea growing areas is slow, and infections in neighborhoods and local outbreaks are comparatively rare. Covid-19 cases in other places such as Enshi and Shennongjia are still attributed to imported cases, and the risk of spread is relatively low,” according to Epidemiologist Dr. Liang Wannian, Beijing’s health chief. His responses to questions from reporters were posted by the State Council of Information Office in Beijing.
How Bad Could It Get?
In addition to tea and coffee, Yunnan is one of the most important growing regions for cut flowers. Harvesting flowers is time-sensitive, and Valentine’s Day represents a significant but fleeting business opportunity.
Fresh-cut flowers from Yunnan are exported to 46 countries and makeup 70% of domestic market share in China’s major cities. Growers earn $64,000 (RMB450,000) per hectare on average selling flowers for $0.20 (RMB1.43) per bloom.
This year the timing could not have been worse, resulting in big losses due to a critical break in the supply chain as trucks, trains, and flights were suspended.
The magnitude of the problem became evident in early February at the Dounan Flower Market in Kunming. Dounan is the largest fresh-cut flower market in Asia. During the period Jan 27 to Feb 5, trade volume in the market slumped 95% to $61,355 (RMB431,500). Sales were 4.78% percent compared to the same period in 2019. Dounan sold 6.53 billion cut flowers valued at RMB5.4 billion last year.
This was compounded by the fact that 50 million consumers were confined to their homes in the Wuhan region and that offices nationwide were closed for as long as two weeks beyond the traditional spring festival travel holiday. The auction was shut down for several days, re-opening Feb. 10.
One-third of Yunnan’s annual cut-flower revenue is earned in February, according to Wang Jihua, deputy director of the Yunnan Provincial Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Mr. Wang estimates that the loss of Yunnan’s flower industry, including supporting industries such as logistics, during the special period will reach RMB3 to RMB5 billion ($425,000 to $715,000).”
Transport options were cut by 90% during the height of the lockdown and are only now being restored. Roadblocks prevented entire villages from access to larger cities and towns. Tea faces a less critical timeline―processing must begin within four hours once leaves are plucked―but the logistics of transportation are the same.
Phil Orlando, Chief Equity Market Strategist and Head of Client Portfolio Management at Federated Investors, told Bloomberg Newsweek the world’s stock markets had not indicated the true impact on trade. “In my humble opinion, it will be bigger than people think,” he said.
Orlando was proved correct Feb. 25 when stock markets globally suffered steep declines.
The last three weeks of February were the first in which the number of patients cured of the disease outnumbers those who contracted Covid-19. It is too soon to declare an end to the crisis, but progress is evident.
“The epidemic is under effective control due to the Chinese government’s prevention and control measures,” writes Mr. Cai. During the lockdown, “most people work from home except those who work in the sectors responsible for the supply of the necessities. We have full confidence and capability to win this fight against the epidemic,” he said.
Mr. Cai said that China’s major tea companies “have shown a dedication to fighting this virus by donating money and necessary supplies to those affected areas.” CFNA was forced to postpone three tea conferences scheduled for March, and several tea fairs, including the spring edition of the Global Tea Fair, are being rescheduled.
China’s 80 million rural tea laborers annually produce 2.56 million metric tonnes of mainly green tea on 3 million hectares of land. Their effort results in half of the world’s annual tea production of 5.2 million metric tons.
Domestic sales by volume are mainly of green tea, but many localities, including Quimen, Fuzhou, Wuyi, and Fuding (in Fujian province) and Pu’er in Yunnan Province, specialize in the production of high-value oolong, white, jasmine, black, and post-fermented teas.
The China Tea Marketing Association estimates 63.1% of domestic sales are from green tea; Pu’er teas represent 14% of sales; oolong represents 11.1%; black tea accounts for 9.9% of sales and white tea for 1.5% with yellow tea estimated at 0.4% in 2018. The Chinese will drink 670,000 metric tonnes of tea in 2020, for which they will spend $18 billion.
Tea plantation acreage has grown substantially since 2006 with most new plantings south of the Yangtze River valley in Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, and Hubei provinces—the four best-known tea growing regions.
Tea grown south of the Yangtze river spans several provinces. It is called Jiangnan and includes Zhejiang, Jiangxi, portions of Anhui, and Hunan provinces. It is the largest tea producing region by volume. Hubei province is split with Wuhan north of the Yangtze and Enshi, south of the river near the Wufeng Mountains. Wuhan is 850 kilometers inland from Shanghai, which is at the mouth of the Yangtze.
Tea grown north of the Yangtze (Jiangbei) spans Henan, Shandong and northern Anhui. Jiangbei is China’s smallest tea growing region.
South China is known as the Huanan growing region. This superior tea growing region spans coastal Fujian, Guangxi, and Hainan island. Fujian is the most important tea producing province by value.
Tea in Southwestern China within the Xinan region is grown in Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces. The earliest teas are plucked in late February in the semi-tropical portions of this zone bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar.
Brian R. Keating, 62, a specialty tea visionary, well-respected tea blender, formulator, market researcher and consultant died Sunday, Sept. 2.
Keating was visiting long-time friend Mary Greengo at her Queen Mary Tea Room in Seattle when he collapsed in the Tea Emporium. Paramedics responded. He was later pronounced dead at the University of Washington Medical Center.
Keating worked in the tea industry for more than 30 years. His marketing reports, first published in 1993, foretold the growth of specialty tea industry. Sage Group published 10 “Specialty Tea is Hot” reports on every facet of the industry, co-authored several culinary works and “How to Make Tea” (2016) a consumer title distributed globally.
Keating was the first tea buyer and blend-master at Whole Foods Market (via its subsidiary Allegro Coffee) where he was responsible for creating 40 new tea products in a lab of his design. He previously owned one of America’s most successful specialty tea shops and cafés.
Keating pioneered may innovative tea beverages including the first tea-based energy drink, SPORTea. His role with World Tea Expo dates to the inception of the event.
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.
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
“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.
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.
“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.
Tea: A User’s Guide
Purchase at World of Tea
Eggs and Toast Media
If you are one of those who load the software and ignore the user’s guide then regret never fully utilizing its features, you need to read this book. Tea is as complex as you make it—many dunk and run, but if you savor the nuances of specialty tea and want to really immerse yourself, this book contains the most thoughtful and detailed insights of any Western author. Eggs and Toast Media, 250 pages, $20 (PDF Download at World of Tea). Also available on Kindle and in print at Amazon.com.LEARN MORE
A User’s Guide to Tea You will Use
Reviewed by Dan Bolton
Start with a bountiful quantity of leaf, and a second steep reveals nuances that delight. And so it is with a second reading of Tony Gebely’s remarkable new book, Tea: A User’s Guide.
As Gebely, 33, explains it: “Multiple steeps allow us to achieve snapshots of the tea as dissolution begins, runs its course, and slowly putters out…. These snapshots accentuate nuances in the tea that may become muffled during longer infusions.”
His brilliant 250-page work distills and organizes hundreds of posts from the award-winning World of Tea blog that established Gebely’s reputation for clarity on a complex topic. The blog has twice been named best blog in the annual World Tea Awards.
Tea contains an estimated 30,000 polyphenolic compounds, writes Gebely in an opening chapter on tea chemistry that introduces the pigments, enzymes, amino acids, carbs, volatiles, and mineral building blocks that make tea such a remarkable beverage.
The body of the book describes 130 classic specialty teas with the precision of a high-level computer scientist. Gebely works as a chief technology and integration officer and has assisted several tea retailers configure web and in-store software. He applies rigorous conformity throughout the book; every tea is photographed (leaves and liquor) in a cup that holds precisely 20 cubic centimeters of water from Clairvic Spring in Volvic, France. The pH-neutral water contains 130 parts per million of total dissolved solids with a mineral content in mg/l of calcium (12), sulfates (9), potassium (6), silica (32), and chlorides (15).
A second read prompted a dozen margin notes underscoring the points he makes about preparation and the insights he offers in the chapter on processing. In his introduction, he establishes that “this book isn’t about all tea. It’s about specialty tea. The goal of this book is to celebrate the diversity of fresh, complex loose-leaf specialty teas.”
Gebely provides the knowledge needed to develop a personal style of tea appreciation, particularly salient in the West, where brewing tea is mainly “dunk and run.” There are few mentions of tea culture in this reference: “Early on while writing this manuscript, I realized that by separating tea culture from objective tea study, we are left with a much better framework for tea education,” he writes.
What Western tea drinkers need is to hone their skills in selecting and preparing fine tea. Gebely’s simple steeping chart is a starting point. Instead of the typical manufacturer’s temp and timer icons, Gebely introduces a grid.
Blocks represent a safe zone of both time and temperature given the recommended dosage.
“Your ideal parameters may vary, especially the steeping time,” he writes, explaining the relationship between dosages, time, and temperature.
This user’s guide is just that, explaining tea chemistry and processing and presenting historical background (without mythology) covering a most intriguing collection of teas. He offers a very useful explanation for establishing “altered tea” as the seventh main category.
The majority of teas sold in the United States are altered in some way, observes Gebely. Some of the most exquisite specialty teas (think jasmine scented) are altered. The category embraces flavored and scented teas, blends that feature inclusions such as fruit, nuts, and florals along with breakfast blends of pure teas that deliver consistency in flavor despite the annual variance of the harvest. Herein lies masala chai and Japanese genmaicha, a mix of sencha and roasted rice and beloved Earl Grey, a tea flavored with oil of bergamot that accounts for a quarter of U.S. tea consumed by volume.
Gebely’s diverse tea descriptions demonstrate the 35 nations that grow tea and offer a style for every taste. However, more critical, in his view, is giving readers the confidence to brew any tea they might want to try.
In The Kinetics of Steeping section, some 182 pages in, Gebely announces “the most important part… the entire reason for your tea journey.
“Steeping is the final step in the lives of tea leaves. And in their final act, they slowly unfold and unravel, creating a beverage that tells the story of where they came from. Every time we drink liquor from the steeped leaves, it tell us what the weather was like before they were plucked and how they were handled, processed, and stored before they reached your cup,” writes Gebely.
It is these chapters on preparation, including tea evaluation, and storage that the margin notes in your edition will likely equal or even exceed the margin notes in mine.