I just finished a two month long journey to visit 14 different growing regions and meet with over 30 tea growers. The purpose of the trip was to find honesty in tea. I found a great deal of honesty, but we also found some pockets of dishonesty, which is no fault of the producer. During some of our experiences, I was appalled while hearing how the industry works, but I understood that the circumstances of the market have put these producers against a wall to increase their margins. If you want more conscientious tea, you have to demand it.
I first learned this from a meeting with the Indian Tea Board and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). I introduced the market that Tealet has addressed and with disbelief they responded by asking, “How many tons of CTC tea you would like to buy?” I told them I was not interested in CTC – only high quality teas with transparency. Then they went on to explain that the buyer demands CTC, but they are willing to make whatever the consumer wants. At many other farms we heard a similar story: they are making only what the buyer asks them for. Point of the story, if you really want high quality and sustainable tea, you MUST demand it. If you purchase low-priced commodity tea, you are not demanding it. High quality tea is typically made with great care and requires more resources, so prices are higher. Commodity tea is price-competitive and leads to high mechanization and low wages for labor.
Do you care deeply about the treatment of farm workers and livelihood of tea growers? Demanding high quality puts tea producers in a position where they need to develop a skilled workforce, which in turn brings more profits to the farm and a better situation for its workers. Demanding sustainability and low prices leads to a marketing band-aid like Fair Trade, you can read about what we have learned about Fair Trade certification here. If you are prepared to demand high quality tea, you need to be ready to pay the price. Demanding a low price will not get you closer to quality and truly sustainable tea.
This is education that needs to be spread to individual tea lovers and tea retailers. If you are a retailer interested in supporting high quality and ethical tea, but you feel that you are up against a wall to offer a low price to your consumers, you should provide this education. By showing videos and stories of the hard work and skill that goes into making a great cup of tea, your customers will be happy to pay the appropriate price. I’m excited to talk to you one on one about this if you email me at email@example.com. I will also be at the World Tea Expo with Tealet at Booth #436. Please stop by to introduce yourself and let me know what you think.
Image courtesy of the contributor.