teasetWe two – India and China – have a strange relation when it comes to tea. We have nothing in common except that tea came to India from China and was established by the British on a slavery model to outsmart China on its profitability.

Things have changed with the passing of time since 1828 when it was first commercially produced in India but little has changed as far as the model is concerned, and the burn is being felt by the tea garden workers. Now there is another sufferer – the small grower. Uncontrolled conversion of other crops to an easy and clean cash crop – tea – boosted the production an additional 25% with little emphasis on quality.

productAnd just as it always happens when we have created the problem in the first place, now we are suffocating with uneconomic low-quality teas flooding the world market and undercutting is adding to our plethora of problems.

The key to all of these problems is recognising the leaf, manufacturing it accordingly and then selling it according to demand. For this we have to have modern machinery, proper research, and the application of brainpower in untraditional ways. Austin Hodge of Seven Cups, Prof. Su of Zhejiang Agricultural University, Elyse Peterson of Tealet and Jason McDonald of US Forum of Tea Growers, during their recent visits to India, stressed the need of these points and the recent Canadian Tea Association delegation was more interested in specialty teas then anything else.

We have to read the writing on the wall lest we hear more questions and read more articles everywhere of the unrest and closures. “When new evolves, old dies” is the way of nature and we must bury the past, which is easier said than done.

The Tea Board of India has recognised the situation and is going all out to help from all the possible corners, and Nigel Menican’s appointment for tea research is a part of this. But this must be grasped by the producers – be it small or big. Tea stakeholders’ recent meetings by the Commerce Minister in Siliguri and Gauhati were the wake-up calls for the industry. Producers need to wake up too.photoop01
Photos provided by the author.