Need to Know (Dec. 2, 2013)

What tea professionals need to start the week.

The India Tea Board may get a new chairmana Canadian study in the Journal of Toxicology revealed many teas contain sufficient concentrations of lead for physicians to recommend pregnant women “severely limit” their use…  black tea production is up by 8.5% globally… tea prices at the Mombasa auction center slide to a five-year low… the North American Tea Championship names 13 first-place single-serve winners… some specialty tea growers with the help of Tealet are exploring bitcoin to avoid heavy banking fees… Ippodo, a 300-year-old Kyoto retail venture opens in New York City… iconic Typhoo Tea reportedly hired British marketers to question why Sainsbury’s grocery chain stop stocking its teas… an unusual false advertising lawsuit was filed alleging Hain Celestial for allegedly misleading consumers into believing its herbal tisanes were healthful… a Tokyo museum will unveil this week a display of 600-year-old tea bowls inspired by Sen Rikyu.

* Lead Concentrations in Tea Unhealthy for Pregnant Women
* India May Soon Replace Tea Board Chairman M.G.V.K. Bhanu
* Global Black Tea Production is up 8.5 percent
* Tealet uses bitcoin to Help Growers Bypass Commerce Fees
* Single-serve Tea Champions Announced

Health News

Expectant and nursing mothers should “severely limit” their consumption of many teas according to a study by the University of Alberta. Even very small amounts are harmful. Consumption risks disrupting the neurological development of fetuses, whose brains are particularly susceptible to foreign substances, according to a report in the National Post of Canada.

The research study, published in the Journal of Toxicology, tested tea in tea bags, noting that the greatest concentration of heavy metals was in tea from China.

“We were quite surprised,” said Dr. Gerry Schwalfenberg, the Edmonton physician who co-authored the research. “If you drink three or four cups a day, which a lot of people do, you’re getting too much [lead] for baby,” he told the newspaper. In expectant mothers, heightened levels of lead in the blood have been linked to hypertension, spontaneous abortion, low birth weight and neurological problems, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Lead levels in the teas exceeded .5 micrograms per liter, the limit deemed safe for pregnant and nursing women. Dr. Schwalfenberg said most non-pregnant adults need not worry. Source: National Post

Retail News

Argo Tea, Madura Tea Estate and Newby Teas won top honors in black tea categories in the North American Tea Championship‘s single-serve competition while Newby Teas and Madura Tea Estate, Harney & Sons Fine Teas and Teapigs were recognized for their green teas. Numi was named best in Pu-erh and Waterfall Teas and Silk Road Teas were awarded top prize for their oolongs. Teapigs and the Stash Tea Company entries were judged best among herbals. Entries include packaged tea in teabags, sachets, bottles and cans. Most teas were scored in the 70s with a high score of 81 of 100 points. Judges described teas scoring 80-89 as “Very Good: A tea with superior characteristics.” Click for a list of all winners. Learn more:

Nourishtea founder Avi Markus is partnering with Zast Foods. Toronto-based QOL Programs Inc., owned by Markus, will introduce the line in key U.S. markets. “I’m thrilled to be back involved with this exceptional brand, and I am confident that it will do extremely well in the U.S.,” said Markus. The tea set in the natural grocery channel “is ready for a contemporary and quite frankly, exciting loose leaf brand, with an honest value proposition,” he said. AJ Letizio Sales and Marketing is assisting the launch. Nourishtea is part of the Buyer’s Best Friend wholesale network Learn more:

Typhoo Tea collaborated with Intelligent Marketing Solutions (IMS) to pay field workers to pose as disgruntled customers and pressure British grocer Sainsbury’s to return Typhoo tea to the shelf. An email, leaked to The Sunday Times, instructed IMS staff “to contact Sainsbury’s by the following methods [email, Facebook, etc.] to ask why they no longer stock Typhoo tea in a specific store (the stores will be listed) and to ask if the product can be restocked.” The memo went on to say, “You will be provided with a Sainsbury’s store for each call, but this may not be a store near you. However, because this is an online assignment, this will have no bearing on you conducting this assignment successfully.” Staff was offered $2.50 per phone call and for contacts made via social media and $4 per letter. The campaign was postponed once the scheme was made public. Source: The Sunday Times

The Food Navigator reports that Hain Celestial has been targeted in a first-if-its-kind putative class action lawsuit alleging that it falsely advertised Celestial Seasoning teas as 100% natural when they in fact contain “potentially dangerous” levels of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, carcinogens, and/or developmental toxins. In the complaint, filed in the central district of California on Nov. 6, plaintiff Tatiana Von Slomski alleges that 10 Celestial Seasoning teas “contain contaminants in levels violating federal standards included in 40 CFR § 180, and some contain contaminants included in the current Proposition 65 list [including Propachlor and Propargite], for which no safe harbor limits have been established.” A spokesperson for Hain Celestial told Food Navigator-USA that the firm was “confident that the facts will demonstrate that the lawsuit… is without merit.” Source: The Food Navigator

LOGO_IppodoTea_Kyoto-NYCIppodo Tea, a 300-year-old Kyoto-based green tea merchant, has opened its first New York City shop at 125 East 39th St. It is co-located with the restaurant Kajitsu. Teas are served with cuisine by Chef Ryota Ueshima, reports Lauren Mowery in The Village Voice.

“The restaurant honors a centuries-old cuisine that was developed by Zen Buddhist monks to precede their tea ceremony, a spiritual experience and exercise in quiet refinement,” writes Mowery.

Tea Forte Noir Collection
Tea Forte Noir Collection

Tea Forté has introduced a new line of pan-roasted black teas with flavors like Black Cherry, Blood Orange, Peach Brulée and Chocolate Rose to appeal to coffee drinkers. The Noir line is new for the holidays. Packaging is typical of what is required to market gift tea. Format include a foil pack with 15 single steeps ($12) a small tin ($5.50), a medium tin ($12) an 80-gram canister ($15) and everyday boxes selling for $15 and $24. Source: Tea Forté
See: Holiday Gift Trends


M.G.V.K. Bhanu
M.G.V.K. Bhanu

M.G.V.K Bhanu, chairman of the Tea Board of India may find his five-year term cut short at the insistence of Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. Bhanu, a career government officer in the Indian Administrative Service since 1985, declined to comment, telling the The Hindu Business Line that he had not received “any official order.” The news has led to widespread speculation among the tea community as to who might replace Bhanu. The federal appointment may occur as soon as January. Source: The Hindu Business Line

Global Tea Digest’s Publisher Rajesh Gupta analyzed global black tea production and reports an increase of 8.5% during the first 10 months of 2013, reaching 1,649 million kilos. The tally is 129 million kilos greater than the same period last year. The biggest increase is in Kenya where small growers produced 62.3 million kilos. The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) anticipates total yield of 415 mkgs in 2013 up from 369 mkgs last year. India reports a 54 million kilo increase and Sri Lanka 8.3 million more kilos. Bangladesh and Malawi also reported gains. Only Uganda reported lower production by 1.1 million kilos. The totals do not include black tea production in China which is rapidly growing.

Prices at the Mombasa Tea Auction continue to erode according to the East Africa Tea Trade Association, which operates the auction. “The decline in auction prices has eroded farmers’ earnings considerably. The whole industry is facing serious cash flow problems,” the EATTA’s Chairman Lerionka Tiampati told The Standard. Tea is trading at $2.14 per kilo in Mombasa with some lots selling well below the cost of production. Prices also fell at the India Coonoor tea auction where tea is bringing INRs 77 ($1.23) a kg, down 20-cents a kilo compared to last year. Sources: The Hindu Business Line and The Standard.

The India Tea Board withdrew the permanent export licenses of 150 traders for inactivity and canceled 88 temporary trading licenses for failure to submit monthly reports. Exporters are first issued a three-year temporary license. A license holder exporting 100,000 kilos or more annually for three successive years qualifies for a permanent license that does not require renewal. Failure to export tea during a three-year period results in cancellation. Tea production rose to 156.70 million kg in September up by 13% compared to the previous year. Total production grew to 1,135 million kg in 2012-13 but most of the tea is consumed domestically. Source: The Hindu


Nue tea bowl | Mitsui Memorial Museum
Nue tea bowl (Raku) | Mitsui Memorial Museum

A Tokyo museum unveils this week a display of 16th Century tea bowls (Raku) inspired by Sen Rikyu and tile master Chojiro. The hand molded bowls of red or black clay are among Japan’s most valuable and revered tea-ceremony vessels. The exhibition contains more than 100 works donated by the Kishu Tokugawa and Mitsui families. The exhibit runs Dec. 4-Jan 25. Source: Mitsui Memorial Museum


Tealet, an online marketplace for tea, is working with several small growers to make payments using bitcoin, a digital currency.

Elyse Petersen, CEO, told The Hindu “Just as we bypass the middle-man and vendors through Tealet, bitcoin will let us bypass banks and online payment systems such as PayPal. Heavy transaction fees hamper business according to Petersen who charges 7 percent for foreign exchange fees, transfer fees and processing. Transaction fees on PayPal, for instance, run as high as 10 percent.  Source: The Hindu Learn more:

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Editor | Publisher | Podcaster | Consultant | Journalist Dan is the founder of Tea Journey Magazine, the Tea Biz Podcast and Blog, and a contributing editor at STiR coffee and tea. He is the former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine, former editor and publisher of World Tea News, and former editor-in-chief at Specialty Coffee Retailer, then headquartered in San Francisco. Dan has traveled the tea lands, speaking on retail beverage trends in Canada and the United States and at conferences in Europe, China, India, Australia, the Middle East, South America, and Africa.