Need to Know | Over the Cliff | Elemental Exam

Need to Know | Over the Cliff | Elemental Exam

Tea Industry News for the week of July 27

  • Over the Cliff
  • World Tea Expo Goes Virtual
  • Made in America
  • DMCC Expansion Plans
  • Measuring Elements in Tea
Historic contraction follows 23 quarters of economic growth as high unemployment and rising infections make a long recovery likely.

Over the Cliff

Few tea ventures deployed parachutes capable of breaking the fall as the world’s economies catapulted over the second quarter cliff.

The result is closure of several high-profile tea retailers including small independents including 10-year-old Wenham Tea House in Massachusetts and 27-year-old Lucy’s Coffee & Tea in Birmingham, Ala. The Samovar Tea Lounge’s three San Francisco locations are “hibernating” for an unspecified time and the Floating Mountain Tea House will relocate from New York’s upper west side to Croton-on-Hudson upstate. Restaurants that featured fine tea, including Augustine in New York’s Beekman hotel, Vaucluse on Park Avenue and “even the glitzy McDonald’s flagship store off Times Square closed,” according to a list maintained by Eater New York. In July DAVIDsTEA permanently shuttered 213 locations including 42 in the U.S. leaving only 18 in Canada.

The U.S. experienced a record 9.5% drop in economic output, that if left unchecked before the year ends could lead to an unprecedented 32.9% annualized decline in GDP. Europe experienced a 12.1% decline, its worst contraction on record. Canada, which has suffered many fewer infections and COVID-19 deaths than the EU and US, estimates its economic activity will decline 12%, according to Statistics Canada. Retail sales in all the Western countries signal a deep recession with several segments, including food service, plummeting from the end of March and continuing their decline through April. Retail rallies began in May except in the U.S. where a new surge of infections led to a loss of steam by July.

The descent was especially rapid and painful in the U.S. It is difficult to get precise numbers on sales of tea in retail channels. Grocery sales figures are generally good as millions of customers that purchased tea at restaurants and cafes now brew at home. Online sales spiked last spring but are flattening. The tea shop category mirrors the fate that has befallen small independently owned cafes and bars with some segments such as Sunday afternoon tea in tony hotels and at cozy Victorian tearooms located in southern tourist towns virtually annihilated.

“Afternoon tea was devastated in the U.S. in particular—most of those businesses didn’t have a way to pivot online or offer tea-to-go,” writes Abraham Rowe, founder of Sinensis Research in Washington, D.C. Rowe observes that online sales proved to be a lifesaver, “people were loyal to some local shops, and are now shopping online from them.”

“Store closures are down a bit—I don’t have final figures, but hope to run another survey sometime to finalize it,” said Rowe.

As brick and mortar sales at tea merchants slipped over the precipice, online sales increased but not uniformly. An updraft enabled Amazon to glide to the bottom with a year-over-year increase of 34% in tea sales, totaling $29 million for the 52 weeks ending in May, according to Hinge Global. Walmart generated an unexpected $4 billion during the first quarter, up 4% over the same period compared to the previous year. The company announced it intends to become a “omnichannel” business. During the past year Walmart consolidated its online and physical store operations and is focused on expanding e-commerce rather than building new stores.

Amazon and Walmart are the exceptions amid a pandemic that devastated the retail sector. While customers ordered groceries online and had food delivered, very few tea ventures had time to deploy a Plan B. DAVIDsTEA, headquartered in Montreal, Canada, in March closed 231 locations eliminating $12.1 million in second quarter sales. Sales for the three months ended May 2 declined 27.3% to $32.2 million. Wholesale and online revenue climbed $9.3 million to $17.0 million. Online sales reflect the trend identified by Rowe at Sinensis Research: specialty tea buyers online remain loyal to their local tea shop whether in a mall or downtown.

“Sales in grocery stores and pharmacies across Canada continues solid growth,” according to Frank Zitella, who is both CFO and COO at DAVIDsTEA. He wrote in a July 31 earnings report that “with first quarter sales growth of over 120% year-over-year, we are extremely pleased that our loyal tea-loving customers have shifted to buying our teas online, and in supermarkets and drugstores. The strong performance of these sales channels provided us with the confidence that we are on the right path for the future.”

See: DAVIDsTEA Reorganizes for additional detail.

Calls to wholesalers confirm that while online sales have eased the painful loss of tea house closures, declining monthly orders from restaurants and hotels resulted in orders that are no where near pre-pandemic norms. The collapse of restaurant dining, which accounts for 20% of tea sales globally, is the biggest cause. Some 2.2 million restaurants worldwide are not expected to survive through 2020. Closings have a greater impact on coffee sales in the U.S. but in tea drinking nations like the UK and Russia the shift from away-from-home to at-home preparation has been significant.

McKinsey Small Business Forecast

“In a muted recovery, it could take more than five years for the most affected sectors to get back to 2019-level contributions to GDP,” according to McKinsey & Company. Small businesses, which are hard hit due to lower margins and limited reserves, constitute 68% of the food services and accommodations sector and are not expected to recover before the first quarter 2024 stretching into 2025. Arts, entertainment and recreation sectors will take even longer, according to U.S. Small Business Recovery After the COVID-19 Crisis.

“After the 2008 recession, larger companies recovered to their pre-crisis contribution to GDP in an average of four years, while smaller ones took an average of six,” writes McKinsey Global Institute.

“Improving operations and adapting business models can help small businesses in many industries recover,” observes McKinsey, but muted demand, operational challenges due to health and safety restrictions and new customer expectations all take time: “Finding the cash to do so may be a stretch.”

Working capital is often tied up in inventory and small businesses have added cost servicing their debt. A McKinsey survey of 1000 small firms finds the cost of servicing debt averages 30% of revenue. The shift to off-premise delivery and carryout “is likely to erode profitability and increase packaging costs and hinder their ability to sell high-margin items.” McKinsey found that nearly 40% of small businesses in the restaurant sector operate at a loss or break-even.

Solutions suggested in the report involve technology and marketing.

“Independent restaurants might digitize their businesses by using aggregators to increase their visibility, reach potential diners, and outsource their delivery,” write McKinsey authors Andre Dua, Deepa Mahajan, Lucienne Oyer and Sree Ramaswamy.

“Aggregators might help by offering additional on-boarding support or spotlighting small, independent restaurants on their platforms. Some combination of public and private aid may also be necessary for small restaurants, especially offering technical and financial support they’ll need to compete with larger ones that can build contact-less solutions at scale,” according to the report.

“The crisis has exposed financial frailties that have built over time, and the next normal could impose additional burdens,” according to the authors, who add, “The survival of US small businesses across the economy will require new business models and technology solutions that few have the resources to finance.”

World Tea Expo Goes Virtual

Organizers of the World Tea Expo this week announced a virtual summit scheduled for the first week of November.

The World Tea Conference + Expo was postponed from June 14-16 to October. It was later canceled due to restrictions on events drawing large crowds to the Colorado Convention Center, in Denver Colo.

The World Tea Virtual Summit + Resources is scheduled for Nov. 2-4.

“The virtual summit will introduce online networking and lead generation,” according to Questex, organizers of the event.

Cat Coughran, brand leader for World Tea Media, said the company is “exploring new ideas such as bringing international delegates and speakers in virtually, doing online buyer and seller 1-to-1 sessions as well as other innovations in sanitation, social distancing, workplace safety, etc. We plan to show working examples for other businesses in our industry.”

The next live, in-person event is scheduled for July 14-16, 2021.

Learn more: World Tea Expo

Made in America

Great quantities of tea are blended in America but according to the Made in America Act, a product manufactured in the US that claims to be American made, must contain at least 50% US ingredients.

A Lexology post this week discusses a class action suit “that calls out Bigelow Tea for pushing unpatriotic tea.”

The post summarizes a report by Linda Goldstein and Amy Ralph Mudge with the Washington D.C. based law firm Baker & Hostetler.

The complaint, filed in California’s Central District Court, by Kimberly Banks and Carol Cantwell, alleges that by promoting their tea as “Manufactured in the USA 100% American family owned” and “America’s classic” Bigelow violates provisions of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, False Advertising Law, Unfair Competition Law, and Breach of Express and Implied Warranty.

Plaintiffs allege themselves and other consumers, “purchased the Bigelow Tea products because they reasonably believed, based on the packaging and advertising, that these products are American-made. However, the products are comprised solely of foreign-sourced and processed tea.”

Had plaintiffs known the truth “they would have paid less for them or they would not have purchased them at all,” reads the complaint.

Bigelow Tea responded Friday with the following statement: “Bigelow unequivocally disputes the allegations in this California based lawsuit.”

“Every box with our statement of being “Manufactured in the USA” refers to the fact these teas are produced and distributed by one of our three Bigelow owned and operated manufacturing facilities, located in Connecticut, Kentucky, and Idaho.  In addition, our packaging clearly states that our teas are “Blended and Packaged in the USA”.  Bigelow continues to be open and transparent about our global sourcing of ingredients (many of which come from the United States) on both our website and the packaging of select varieties of our teas.”

“Frivolous lawsuits such as these are designed to purposefully damage the reputation and finances of the companies they target. Bigelow Tea is proud to be a 100% American family owned and operated manufacturing company and we are prepared to vigorously defend ourselves against this meritless lawsuit,” writes Bigelow.

While Bigelow owns the largest US tea farm, The Charleston Tea Garden, located in Charleston, South Carolina, the tea garden markets its tea under its own brand. The plantation website makes it clear that “Bigelow Teas are not made from any of the tea leaves grown or harvested here at the Charleston Tea Garden. Charleston Tea Garden teas are the only teas made from the tea leaves produced by the Camellia Sinensis plants grown in the fields of the Charleston Tea Garden.”

DMCC Expansion Plans

UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed tours DMCC’s tea and coffee centers. Photo courtesy DMCC.

Fifteen years ago, Ahmed Bin Sulayem, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai’s Multi Commodity Centre (DMCC) envisioned a tea trading hub that would service the world’s largest growing regions.

Today DMCC processes 48,000 metric tons of tea annually, accounting for 60% of global re-exports. The facility has processed 320 million kilos since its inception. The modern port facilities and airfreight capability attracted 800 new companies during the first half of 2020, said Bin Sulayem, adding that the months of May and June saw a “noticeable uptick despite an overall softer business climate.”

The tea center and atmospheric-controlled warehouse, which stores 5,000 metric tons, has a turnover of $184 million annually.

Commodity teas from 13 origins are blended for consistency and these blends, are often mixed to make herbal, floral inclusions sold as some of the world’s most popular teas. Examples include Earl Grey and the many breakfast blends distinct to markets in Ireland, Scotland, and England. Classic brands processed include Lipton and Red Rose as well as local blenders such as Tea Trading International DMCC, a Dubai-based British SME that markets brands Vertea and The Leaf to food-service catering, hotel, and resort customers.

DMCC’s tea and its new coffee center drew the attention recently of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, during a visit reported by Gulf Today.

“Under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, DMCC is fast becoming the global hub for the tea and coffee industry. Our ambitious plans to triple our capacity in the near future are strategically anchored in Dubai’s drive and ability to facilitate world trade,” said Bin Sulayem.

In a release by Arjun Katyal, of McLeod Russel Middle East DMCC, said, “The DMCC’s expansion plans are incredibly exciting, and represent a huge boost to Dubai’s status as a leading global trade hub. We have been a DMCC Tea Centre member since 2011, and have seen, first-hand, the expertise, experience and vision that has shaped the success of this facility. McLeod Russel Middle East DMCC has its sights set on continued growth, and we will continue to engage new markets and reach a wider customer base than ever before. The DMCC Tea Centre has an important role to play in our success story, and we congratulate them on their latest announcement.”

Since 2005 DMCC has become one of the fastest growing free zones in the world with more than 17,000 companies conducting business in a number of sectors including precious metals, tea and coffee, and food commodities. Establishments and individuals operating in DMCC are exempt from all taxes including income tax, for a period of 50 years.

Testing tea for trace elements

Measuring Elements in Tea

Minerals are essential to the heath of tea plants and for tea drinkers to experience the full range of tea flavor, but too much of even the best of things in life can create problems.

Researchers Dr. Ying Guo, Dr. Seungjin Lee, and Dr. Tae Lee at Georgia Gwinnett College are currently engaged in testing five commonly available tea brands using a handheld Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) unit manufactured by SciAps. The Z-300 analyzer detects very low concentrations of mineral and potentially harmful heavy elements.

The team, whose lab work is temporarily suspended during the pandemic, detected all of the following minerals and alkali metals (Cs, K, Li, Na) in five popular tea brands. The three most common minerals were carbon, calcium, and magnesium in all five samples. Several heavy metals were also present in all five samples including Cd and Cr which are toxic in very low concentrations.

“(Before the shutdown), we obtained the spectra of tea samples and were able to qualitatively determine the elements present,” Guo says. The next step will be to calibrate and complete the quantitative analysis, she says.

ElementDaily Intake Thresholds
Al (Aluminum)0.10–0.12 mg Al/kg/day for adult
C (Carbon)None
Ca (Calcium)1300 mg/day [harmful > 1500 mg/day]
Cd (Cadmium)FAO/WHO rules limit Cd to 0.2 mg/kg
Cr (Chromium)120 µg/day [harmful > 200 µg/dan
K (Potassium)4700 mg/day [harm depends on weight]*
Li (Lithium)Lithium toxicity level is 1.5 mEq/L
Mg (Magnesium)320-420 mg/day (varies with age)
Na (Sodium)Less than 2300 mg/day
P (Phosphorus)1000 mg/day [harmful > 250 mg]
Si (Silicon)Elemental silicon is an inert material
Source: US FDA and National Institute of Health

Researchers pelletized tea grains from each brand and measured the intensities of emission spectra at different wavelengths to determine the presence of elements of interest in the samples. Results were validated by inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy.

Analyzer manufacturer SciAps notes that “minerals play an important role in maintaining the human body. For example, Ca helps with the functions of muscle contraction, enzyme activity, healthy bones and teeth, blood clotting, transmission of nerve impulses, and regulating heartbeat. K can help reduce risks for certain diseases such as stroke, kidney stones, and hypertension. Even though those are beneficial elements to the human body, there is still a suggested daily intake limit.”

Dr. Ying Guo

The article states that “additionally, tea may be contaminated by heavy metals, “either as a result of uptake from soil or from atmospheric dispersion due to vehicular or human activities,” according to Guo. This is what led them to investigate the levels of both the beneficial minerals

(e.g., potassium and calcium) and unwanted contaminant elements (e.g., cadmium and chromium) present in different tea brands. Heavy metals can be highly toxic even at a very low concentration. LIBS was able to detect the presence of these metals in all five samples.

The following table lists the quantities of each element by relative abundance for each tea brand.

Table courtesy Dr. Ying Guo, Georgia Gwinnett College

The research has not been published, but once reviewed, “By comparing with recommended daily intake limits and reference dose, we’ll be able to provide insights on daily consumption limits of tea in order to avoid too much intake of toxic elements,” says Guo.

[Editor’s Note: Tea Biz will follow up once the research is published]

Reversal Forces New Lockdowns

After flattening the COVID curve in April and May it began sloping upward in June in the U.S. while Europe continued to suppress spread of the coronavirus. July has since become the worst month on record for COVID spread with 1.9 million new infections and 1,000 deaths per day, bringing the U.S. total to 4.5 million who have tested positive. The virus is now present in populations young and old in every state with infections rising in more than half the U.S. states. Globally there are more than 18 million cases with deaths approaching 700,000. About 6% of those who have tested positive perished. On a hopeful note, 94% (11 million) have recovered. The U.S. continues to lead country totals but Brazil (2.7 million) and India (1.8 million) are hot spots. The UK, Spain, Peru and Chile experienced death rates greater than 500 per 1 million population. More than 250,000 have died with a high of 6,900 per day in April that dipped for about a month before moving seven-day average of 5,600 globally in July.


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Retail Impact of COVID-19 is Devastating for Tea and Coffee Shops in China and Italy

Survey finds 75% of Chinese tea and coffee shops closed at the height of the coronavirus epidemic.

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.

London’s Fortnum & Mason Markets Children’s Herbals

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 for Rampaging 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.

Coronavirus Presents Logistical Challenges for China's Tea Harvest

Coronavirus Presents Logistical Challenges for China's Tea Harvest

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.

Retail Impact

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.

Here is a sample of the impact in China’s tea producing regions as of February 25: Henan, 1,271 cases, 19 deaths; Guangdong 1,347 cases, 7 deaths; Hainan 168 cases, 5 deaths; Anhui 989 cases and 6 deaths; Zhejiang reported 1,205 cases with 1 death; Jiangxi 934 cases, 1 death, Fujian reported 294 cases with 1 death, Guangxi has 252 cases with 2 deaths, Yunnan reported 174 cases with 2 deaths. (Image credit: Johns Hopkins University)

Johns Hopkins is tracking cases globally.

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

Sources: Bloomberg Newsweek, China State Council of Information Office, Xinhua, Tea Weekly

Tea Growing Regions in China

China’s Four Tea Growing Regions

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.

Jiangnan

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.

Jiangbei

Tea grown north of the Yangtze (Jiangbei) spans Henan, Shandong and northern Anhui. Jiangbei is China’s smallest tea growing region.

Huanan

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.

Xinan

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.