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Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 27

Tea Industry News for the week ending July 23 - New Criteria Proposed for Differentiating Specialty Tea | Walmart Tea is now 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified Sustainable | Kenya Sets KTDA Tea Auction Price Minimums | PLUS David Veal explains how the European Speciality Tea Association arrived at a new definition of specialty tea and why it will prove helpful and Aravinda Anantharaman takes us on a virtual tour of a northern India tea café with heart.

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Hear the Headlines

| New Criteria Proposed for Differentiating Specialty Tea
| Walmart Tea is now 100% Certified by Rainforest Alliance
| Kenya Sets KTDA Tea Auction Price Minimums

Seven-minute Tea News Recap
Tea Price Report
India Tea Price Watch | July 17

Assam’s new state government continues to woo the tea industry with new schemes, the latest is that workers on tea gardens will be included in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which will benefit them in winter when the gardens are not producing tea.  Read more…

Features

Tea Biz this week travels to London for a chat with David Veal, Executive Director of the European Speciality Tea Association. Veal describes the association’s new perspective and new definition of what makes specialty tea special.

… and then to northern India where Aravinda Anantharaman visits a tea café with heart.

David Veal, executive director, European Speciality Tea Association

Differentiating Specialty Tea

By Dan Bolton

A rigid definition of what makes tea special has eluded the industry. Professionals understand excellence in specific styles. After 45 years of competitions there is consensus on the qualities that make an outstanding Dong Ding oolong as judged by the Lugu Tea Farmers’ Association in Taiwan. In France, the AVPA has demonstrated skill in determining the gastronomic qualities in tea that please the local palate. The International Specialty Tea Association posts a set of universal standards such as pluck and leaf quality. Consumers mainly differentiate by price.

The European Speciality Tea Association recently announced a definition that is more aspirational than dogmatic. ESTA Executive Director David Veal explains how the association adopted this approach and why it will prove helpful. 

Read more…

David Veal on what makes specialty tea special.
Staff at the La Gravitea café L to R, in the front, Suraj Thakur, Chandra Prabha, Nandita. In the middle, Monika Mahato, Amit Kumar Singh, Amit Lahari. Back row, Shakuntala Hansda, Nikit Sharma and Navin Kumar

For the Love of Tea

By Aravinda Anantharaman

La Gravitea café is a remarkable tea café with hundreds of selections of fine teas inspired by the travels of founder Avinash Dugar but aside from specialty teas, what make La Gravitea special is that the young staff are hard-working graduates of the local school for the hearing-impaired. Learn more…

Aravinda Anantharaman takes a virtual tour of the La Gravitea cafe

A New Definition of Specialty Tea

By Dan Bolton

The European Speciality Tea Association this week presented a comprehensive new definition of specialty tea. The 450-word definition seeks to “encapsulate the spirit of speciality tea” writes ESTA president Nigel Melican. The essence is that those involved in producing specialty tea “aspire to attain excellence from bush to cup” says Melican. Four aspects cited in the definition seek to differentiate speciality tea from commodity.

These include transparency that makes know the supplier, location, production dates, and processing method; Physical characteristics such as size, shape, and appearance of the wet and dry leaf; sensory properties including color, clarity, flavor, aroma and mouthfeel; and the mitigation of environmental impacts including support for biodegradable packaging.

The definition describes specialty teas as “hand-made.”

The effort involved stakeholders at every level, but the messaging is directed to consumers.

“We believe that the consumer needs to be inspired from the moment they enjoy the aroma, liquor, and taste of the tea and celebrate in the plant’s personality, the origin of the tea, the care that has been taken in the processing and brewing of it; this being a speciality moment,” reads the association announcement.

See the definition and supporting documents at www.specialityteaeurope.com

Biz Insight – Forty years ago consumers in the US and Europe tossed aside 25-cent cups of stale, anonymous, percolated, and warmed-over drip brew in favor of carefully selected, roasted, and barista-prepared single-origin coffee and specialty blends.  The additional billions spent on $4 espresso drinks and premium beans revitalized the industry.

Will the same be true for specialty tea? David Veal, executive director of the European Speciality Tea Association, discusses the reasoning behind the new definition in this interview.

David Veal on what makes specialty tea special.
Walmart Tea now 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified Sustainable

Walmart Tea is Certified by Rainforest Alliance

By Dan Bolton

Walmart announced this week that all its Great Value Brand black and green teas will be 100% certified sustainable by the Rainforest Alliance.

“This is good news not just for Walmart, but also for farmers, and the future of tea,” writes Silvia Azrai [AZ RAY] Kawas, Walmart vp of Private Brands Food. She explained that Rainforest Alliance helps ensure that three pillars of sustainability are met: social, environmental and economic.

“Our Great Value Brand black and green teas will remain affordable, high-quality drinks, with an added bonus: Each box you buy makes a measurable impact on the life of a smallholder farmer,” according to the company.

Biz Insight – In 2007 when Unilever, the world’s largest tea supplier, committed to Rainforest Certification at Kericho, Kenya it signaled to commodity suppliers that to remain competitive they needed to invest in environmentally-friendly cultivation at origin. A consumer-driven embrace of sustainable processing, packaging, and waste reduction soon unfolded, making the entire supply chain more efficient. In 2016 Walmart committed to sustainably source 20 commodities by 2025 including tea. Now Walmart, the world’s largest tea retailer, has extended that commitment to the terminus of the supply chain.

Kenya Sets Tea Auction Price Minimums

The Kenyan government withdrew tea valued at 1 billion Kenyan shillings (about $9 million in US dollars) at the Mombasa Auction because prices failed to meet a controversial $2.43 per kilo minimum reserve price. 

“We made a drastic but necessary decision with regard to sale of teas at the Mombasa tea auction,” Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya told the local press.

He said the government has plenty of storage capacity and will continue withdrawing tea if prices do not meet the minimum rate.

The decision angered traders who simply purchased tea on offer from other African countries leaving 8 million kilos of Kenyan tea idled in local warehouses. A spokesman for the East African Tea Traders Association said that when sellers set prices for themselves, instead of relying on free market fluctuations, there is “no guarantee that buyers will follow that lead.” Production far outstrips demand and as such, prices have taken a hit. This is not an auction problem,” said EATTA’s managing director Edward Mudibo.

Secretary Munya said the government is determined raise the price at auction. “We believe we can sustain the situation as we have enough reserves,” he told Citizen TV.

Biz Insight – It is unclear in this face-off whether tea traders or the Kenyan government will be the first to blink. Nine tea producing countries sell their tea at the Mombasa auction and independent producers are free to ignore the Kenya Tea Development Agency reserve price, but none can rival output of 620,000 smallholders supplying KTDA’s 54 factories.

Traders must also weigh the fact that tea exports are down from India, a bidding rival. The Sri Lanka auction at Colombo has sufficient volume of tea but prices, at an average $3.97 per kilo for low-grown tea, are significantly higher than the recent 5- and 10-year lows seen in Mombasa. Tea prices at the Mombasa auction have averaged $1.80 per kilo so far this year, dipping to $1.65 per kilo, significantly below the estimated $2 per kilo cost of production.

– Dan Bolton

Upcoming Events

August 2021
Beijing International Tea Expo, Beijing China
August 27-30, 2021 | Beijing Exposition Center


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Tea News and Biz Insights – January 14, 2022 Tea Biz

HEAR THE HEADLINES – Draft Tea Act Redefines India’s Tea Board Mission | A Global Tea Harvest Review, a TEAIN22 Forecast | BOH Malaysia Named Tea Brand of the Year| NEWSMAKER – Jason McDonald, tea farmer and founder/CEO of The Great Mississippi Tea Company| GUEST – Kyle Whittington, founder Tea Book Club| FEATURES – This week, Tea Biz travels to the state of Mississippi, where tea farmer and founder/CEO Jason McDonald of The Great Mississippi Tea Company discusses the economics of mechanical harvesting following a two-year trial of selective harvesting equipment. Then to London, where Tea Book Club founder Kyle Whittington offers a modern take on the century-old classic The Book of Tea, published in 1906 by Okakura Kakuzō with an introduction rich in detail and context by Bruce Richardson. The Economics of Small Scale Mechanization –Inspired by The Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina, Jason McDonald decided to plant a tea garden amid the timber on his 289-acre farm in Lincoln County, Mississippi, where a combination of high heat, humidity, acidic soil, and ample rainfall is ideally suited to tea. In 2012 McDonald planted a test plot, making his first tea in 2015. In 2018 the tea garden produced sufficient quantities to begin selling to the public. McDonald has since diligently researched all aspects of the industry, enlisting horticultural, sustainability, manufacturing, and machine professionals to develop harvesting and automated tea processing equipment at scale. During the past two years, the farm conducted field trials with a selective mechanical harvester to produce 250 to 350 kilos of made tea annually. McDonald shares cost savings, a boost in yield, and leaves suitable for making specialty and mid-grade teas with readers.The Book of Tea, a review by Kyle Whittington –For a book that is well over a century old, The Book of Tea remains a classic and a book that is well worth re-reading from time to time. There are so many editions out there, variously with introductions by tea aficionados, scholars, and masters of the last hundred plus years. Some editions are particularly aesthetically pleasing to add to the tea bookshelf. However, the edition I always recommend is the one with the introduction by Bruce Richardson. Bruce’s exceptionally well-researched introduction into the life and times of Okakura is fascinating and helps to contextualize The Book of Tea. Additionally, the fantastic photos and illustrations help bring both the book and Okakura’s period of history to life.
  1. Tea News and Biz Insights – January 14, 2022
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  3. Tea News and Biz Insights – December 31, 2021
  4. Tea News and Biz Insights – December 17, 2021
  5. Tea News and Biz Insights – December 10, 2021

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