• Unveiling the Origins of Assam Tea

    Assamica is one of five distinct tea populations
    Assamica is native to several Asian countries and was introduced in South America.

    Assamica is One of Five Distinct Genetic Tea Populations

    Kew Royal Botanic Gardens
    The Assamica specimen was collected in 1949 for Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.
    Assamica leaf
    Assamica leaf
    Camellia Sinensis Sinensis
    Camellia Sinensis Sinensis
    Sice-by-side comparison of Assamica and C. Sinensis Sinensis
    Side-by-side comparison
    Hear the Headlines | Seven-minute Tea News Recap | Episode 156

    News You Need to Know. Now.

  • Tourism Handbook Elevates Immersive Travel

    Tea tourism is more than an overnight stay in a quaint tea bungalow and a stroll in the garden. Meaningful interactions introduce visitors to local tea culture, unique tea processing techniques, and natural and historical surroundings.

    Tourists can explore the environment on ecotourism hikes along tea trails with spectacular vistas, spiritual tourism by visiting temples on pilgrimages and enjoy gastronomic tourism that reveals the delights of culinary tea while dining.

    The Routledge Handbook of Tea Tourism is a compendium that provides comprehensive and cutting-edge insights into global tea tourism. The book features contributions from scholars and experts in 19 countries.

    • Caption: Baradighi Tea Estate Bungalow in Dooars, India
    Kolukkamalai Tea Estate, Tamil Nadu
    Kolukkamalai Tea Estate

    Tourists Experience Exotic Lands and Local Tea Culture

    By Roopak Goswami

    Experts debate the importance and challenges of tea tourism in the 21st century as new opportunities emerge. UNESCO, for example, announced it would review the joint nomination by Turkey and Azerbaijan for “Culture of Çay (tea), a symbol of identity, hospitality and social interaction” for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

    The designation was approved on Dec. 1.

    “The UNESCO recognition will create awareness of the need to protect this heritage which is part of the resource for tea tourism,” says Dr. Lee Jolliffe, Visiting Professor, Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Joliffe is the lead editor of the Routledge Handbook of Tea Tourism, now available in hardback and a downloadable eBook.

    The book describes tea as “an agricultural product of exotic lands. Brewing the leaf into a beverage provides a connection to nature, the tea workers, and the tea landscapes of production areas. These are all experiences that are inherent in tea tourism, whether through preparing the beverage at home from souvenir tea purchased during travel, consuming it at a local café or in a tea course, or visiting with tea workers in the tea fields and factories where it was produced and experiencing local tea culture,” writes Jolliffe.

    The book provides the opportunity to bring together academics and practitioners. Tea tourism is important to the tea industry as a way to promote tea and knowledge about tea and supplement and diversify income at tea-producing locations.”

    – Dr. Lee Jolliffe

    The handbook digs deep into topics that include the roots of tea tourism in China, the relationship of wild tea to indigenous tourism in Vietnam, and the relationship of heritage railways to tea tourism and tea tourism in Africa. The book has examples of tea tourism from many countries, including India, Thailand, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Iran, Japan, and China. It also provides insights into the resilience of tea tourism, examining topics such as human-wildlife conflicts. 

    “The book provides the opportunity to bring together academics and practitioners. Tea tourism is important to the tea industry as a way to promote tea and knowledge about tea as well as to supplement and diversify income at tea-producing locations,” Jolliffe says.

    She indicates that tea tourism has ancient origins and is still important today. She said that virtual tea tourism emerged during the pandemic and continues in the post-COVID-19 period. Accommodating visitors from afar may ultimately increase domestic tourism at tea-producing locations.

    Professor M.S.M Aslam, Professor in Tourism Management at the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka and one of the Handbook’s editors has been doing research with Jolliffe for the past 15 years.

    He told Tea Biz “Two decades back, only a small percentage of tourists were interested in making short visits and enjoying tea gardens, but within the last two decades, tourist arrivals at tea plantations and tea destinations have increased drastically with numerous purposes for visits.”

    “Today tea tourism is an emerging global tourism segment, and it has been practiced not only in tea-producing countries but also in many other destinations or countries where you do not find popular tea plantations. Tea culture has long been a prominent attraction in Japan and China, but tea landscapes were introduced into the tourism industry in Sri Lanka and then Darjeeling tea plantations,” he said.

    “Now today, tea tourism comprises tea culture, tea process, tea lodging, tea trails, tea and ecotourism, tea and spiritual tourism, tea, and gastronomic tourism, etc.,” he said.

    Tea tourism is a huge global phenomenon with huge potential but there are also numerous challenges presented in different chapters in the handbook. “We believe the handbook is a reference book for all types of people who are interested in tea and tourism and it is also going to be a practical guide and catalogue for people who are interested in tea tourism,” he adds.

    Co-authors Evarisa M. Nengnong and Saurabh Kumar Dixit talk about Meghalaya state in India, where tea gardens have started the homestay concept as a diversification from tea production. The authors say homestays can improve local livelihoods, boost rural economies, and address socio-economic challenges in tea landscapes.

    Durrung tea estate in Assam, owned by Jalan Industries, has partnered with Postcard Hotels to make Assam’s first luxury tea resort. “The tea estate will give tours, and local customers are given a lot of importance in how experiences of guests will be curated,” a senior official at Jalan Industries said. 

    Assam assigns importance to tea tourism. Assam’s 2022 Tourism Policy calls for selecting 50 iconic gardens for developing tourist infrastructure in a public-private partnership project. Assam permits tea gardens to use 5% of their land to promote eco-friendly tea tourism, cultivation of crops, and services like wellness centers, schools, colleges, and others that could help improve their financial position. The West Bengal government allows tea gardens to use 15% of their land for tea tourism.


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  • Tea at the Top of the World

    The Guinness Book of World Records has certified a May 2021 tea break on Mt. Everest as the highest tea party in history.

    Climber Andrew Hughes, who organized the high-altitude tea break, writes that “tea already was interwoven into life on an Everest expedition. From the tea houses and lodges where we stayed along the trek to the countless hours spent with one another with a warm cup of tea in hand awaiting weather windows to climb onwards – tea is something that we shared so regularly that it is impossible to detach it from the overall Everest experience.”

    • Caption: Andrew Hughes hosts a tea party at 21,312 feet
    Sharing dainties at 21,000 feet
    Sharing dainties at 21,000 feet

    Tea Offers Climbers Many Practical Advantages

    By Roopak Goswami

    On May 5, 2021, 15 climbers joined Andrew Hughes at Everest Base Camp No. 2, to enjoy Nepali milk tea with ginger and dainties at an altitude of 6,496 meters (21,213 feet). The team carried both packet and loose leaf teas including peppermint to aid digestion and chamomile to aid sleep. Climbers witnessed first-hand the effect of low atmospheric pressure which speeds boiling. Achieving a roiling boil at sea level occurs at 100 degrees Celsius. Above 20,000 feet water boils at less than 80 degrees centigrade, about 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

    For Andrew Hughes, tea is woven throughout cultures and history. It is a drink both unique and universal, which he finds beautiful to celebrate.

    Hughes and his team* are proud to learn the Guinness Book of World Records officially recognized their Mt. Everest tea party as the highest in history at 6,496 meters. The names of participants are now listed as record holders for participating in Hughes’ Highest Party Team on Mount Everest Camp 2, Nepal, on May 5, 2021.

    Andrew has completed the Seven Summits (ascending the highest mountains on each continent) and six of the Seven Volcanic Summits (climbing the highest volcanoes on each continent). His next goal is the Explorers’ Grand Slam; a quest delayed until April 2023 after the 2022 climbing season was canceled due to the war in Ukraine – the Grand Slam is a feat fewer than 70 adventurers have ever achieved. 

    “It would be an honor to become an ambassador to promote tea if somebody gives me such a role,” he says.

    “Tea already was interwoven into life on an Everest expedition,” he said. “From the tea houses and lodges where we stayed along the trek, to the countless hours spent with one another with a warm cup of tea in hand awaiting weather windows to climb onwards — tea is something that we shared so regularly that it is impossible to detach it from the overall Everest experience,” he said.

    Recounting the experience, Hughes recalled that the tea party, “felt like a natural celebration to organize, allowing us to celebrate one another with gratitude for this opportunity to be together in this special place with so many special people from around the world.”

    He took three different packet teas on the adventure. “I chose packet for several reasons over loose-leaf, but the primary one is packability up the mountain and its durability to keep it wrapped up and dry from the elements. We do use loose leaf tea while at base camp as we have more means to make large quantities of tea,” he said.  

    “Often each day while at base camp, we consume over a dozen large containers of Nepali milk tea and ginger tea,” he says.

    For his tea party, Hughes served the following from the Republic of Tea:
    Get Heart Herb Tea for Cardio Health
    Organic Immunity SuperGreen Tea Bags
    Get Happy Herb Tea for Lifting your Spirits

    “I chose these to help us combat some of the ravages of high altitude,” he says.

    It is intriguing to boil water at a high altitude, he noted. The lower atmospheric pressure means that water boils at a much lower temperature [80 Celsius, about 175 degrees Fahrenheit], but contrary to the common belief that cooking is quicker, cooking food takes longer at altitude.  

    Hughes said there were a dozen international climbers, a handful of international guides, and a remarkable team of local high altitude mountain climbers and support staff from Nepal who made possible his dream of an Everest summit, including this record.

    “I organized two tea parties during the Everest season. The first was to celebrate and thank the incredible Everest Base Camp Nepalese team who make camp function and the outstanding Nepalese climbers on our team. The original goal was to have this be the record-setting tea party, but after a long search, it was impossible to find an altitude high enough at base camp to set a new mark,” he said.

    “We celebrated all the same at what was at that time the time the second-highest tea party. I then set about organizing the new record-setting tea party at Camp 2 on Everest at the end of our second rotation on the mountain,” he says.

    Andrew recommends that people who ascend high altitude peaks take along tea.

    “There are numerous practical reasons why incorporating tea into your kit to carry up the mountain with you is valuable. The first is that a warm drink uses less energy for your body and aids in hydration up high,” he says.  

    “Climbers brought with them a variety of teas, such as peppermint or ginger to aid in stomach issues that often occur at high altitude or chamomile to reduce stress and aid in trying to steal some sleep amidst the stormy nights. Black or green teas with caffeine can often help mitigate some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, like headaches,” he says.

    “Tea already was interwoven into life on an Everest expedition. From the tea houses and lodges where we stayed along the trek to the countless hours spent with one another with a warm cup of tea in hand awaiting weather windows to climb onwards.”

    – Andrew Hughes
    Dainties at Everest Base Camp No. 2

    *Guinness lists the following participants: Andrew Hughes, Ronan Murphy, Kristin Bennett, Garrett Madison, Sid Pattison, Robert Smith, Art Muir, Helen Cokie Berenyi, Krisli Melesk, Ben Veres, Kevin Walsh, Kristin Harila, Mark Pattison, Rick Irvine, James Walker.


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  • New Role for Tea Board

    The Tea Board of India last week proposed legislation that will minimize its regulatory role in favor of promotion and development. The proposed legislation, with Parliament’s approval, re-defines the board as a facilitator, a transition welcomed as “progressive” by industry leaders.

    In a formal 12-page public notice, the board “proposes to delete those archaic provisions [of The Tea Act, 1953] which have lost relevance in today’s context and introduce new objectives/ functions/ powers of the board so that the board can act as a facilitator for optimizing the development, promotion, and research in the tea industry and help in improving production, export, and quality of Indian tea.”

    The announcement invites public comments on the Tea Promotion and Development Act, 2022 through January 21.

    • Caption: The proposed Tea Promotion and Development Act of 2022 will impact the tea industry from the ground up.

    Tea smallholders plucking Assam garden
    Tea smallholders, defined in the tea act as those cultivating 10 hectares or less, plucking an Assam garden

    India Drafts Tea Act to Redirect Tea Board Mission

    By Roopak Goswami

    India Tea Board Chairman PK Bezboruah explains that “The old Act was based on facts which had become fallacies over the decades: that tea was a predominant export of India, that people needed planting permits to plant tea, that the government had accurate estimates of green leaf production in a specific block.”

    Successful enactment of the Tea Promotion and Development Act, 2022 will repeal The Tea Act of 1953.

    He cited “many steps that could be taken by the Tea Promotion and Development Board, including the revamping of auctions, removal of substandard teas from the system; setting a floor price and establishing quality standards for raw leaf, a ban on unethical manufacturing policies, ensuring compliance of Indian tea with international norms for MRLs [Maximum Residue Levels] and the identification of restrictive trade practices by some participants in the tea value chain.”

    The government has been mulling these changes for some time but the pandemic delayed implementation. Bezboruah said that as a regulator, the Tea Board has been perceived by some as an enforcer or adversary and has been accused in the media of indulging in unprofessional behavior from time to time. “The new Act will redefine and remove some of the bottlenecks that have stood in the way of the sector’s competitiveness,” he said.

    The draft spells out several objectives including “fair and remunerative prices for growers,” the promotion of tea exports, promoting the sale and consumption of tea through e-commerce platforms, promoting tea quality, promoting branding and product diversification, value addition and packaging. The board is specifically charged with supporting and encouraging small tea growers, an objective that includes implementing new technology. Oversight involves safeguarding the interests of tea plantation workers and raising awareness among the general public about the tea industry in India.

    Growers will no longer be required to obtain a permit to grow tea. Traders will no longer be required to obtain a license (only to register). The board will no longer have the power to unseat inept management and take over garden operations. The new act seeks to narrow not eliminate the board’s regulatory role at a time when aggressive regulation of existing provisions has become a priority.

    Ringtong Tea Estate owner of Sanjay Choudhury told the Telegraph that abandoning enforcement of the Tea (Distribution and Export) Control Order, 2005, could cause ‘‘irreparable loss’’ to the already struggling industry. The control order enabled the board in November to step up efforts to verify tea quality inspections in an effort to stem the influx of substandard teas. In December the board used a provision of the same control order to require that labels indicate country of origin and the presence in blends of tea not grown in India.

    Bezboruah said that “registration of new units and regular inspection of existing ones to check for quality breaches must go on, and we must quickly evolve evaluation techniques that do not depend on human assessment. The government must also place all tea manufacturing units on the negative list for a subsidy, as presently plantations are, to avoid entrepreneurs from setting up new units to avail of subsidy.”

    The central government’s vision is to see the board as a facilitator acting in the interest of industry stakeholders to restore the reputation of Indian tea as the best in the world. 

    Bidyananda Barkakoty adviser North Eastern Association says association members appreciate the intent of the government to include small tea growers.  

    “If tea board wants to be a real facilitator than a regulator then some of the proposed amendments need further amendments. We are not fully satisfied with the proposed amendments. We will submit our views in detail on January 20,” Barkakoty said. 

    Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty, president of the Confederation of IndianSmall Tea Growers Association said the industry has long supported revisions to the tea act. “One sincerely hopes that the new Tea Act will break the stagnancy of tea prices, boost domestic consumption in a larger way and enhance the export market,” he said.

    “It is good to see that in the present bill small tea growers has been well defined,” he added. A small grower is one whose estate is not more than 10 hectares. 

    Bezboruah recommends the operational head of the board be redesignated CEO to give adequate recognition to the post. A full-time CEO would be able to help the board professionally, he said. In the present structure, the Board is run by the Deputy Chairman. As currently structured, the deputy chairman responsible for operations is perceived by stakeholders as playing second fiddle to the chair, he said.

    Language in the draft emphasized the importance of achieving fair prices.

    Mrigendra Jalan adviser to Bharatiya Cha Parishad said, “The proposed Tea Act 2022 has unshackled the tea industry from the vice-like grip which did not allow new plantation areas and putting up tea manufacturing units.  Also with other amendments proposed it is expected that industry will get a supportive role from the Tea Board rather than the role of an inspector which the Tea Board has been playing in its present form.”

    “The question is whether the new Tea Act will help in ensuring that a large number of workers working in the unorganized sector get at least a minimum wage thereby narrowing the huge wage disparity that is existing today between the organized and unorganized sector,” said Jalan.

    Tea Promotion and Development Board Structure

    The chairperson of the Tea Board of India will be named by the central government. In the future, career administrators are less likely to hold the post following the success in naming Bezboruah who is the first tea planter to hold the post. The act creates a chief financial officer, a director of tea development and the position of chief executive. The board will number no more than 20. Two members of Parliament serve, one named by the Council of States and a second by the House of the People. In addition, ten members representing stakeholders, labor, research institutes and authorities hold seats along with representatives of the governments from states where tea is grown. Two members nominated by the central government represent ministries, often commerce or agriculture. Appointees, except political appointees, must have at least 15 years of experience “in matters relating to the tea industry, governance, law, development, economics, finance, management, public affairs or administration.”

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  • Grassroots Tea

    Equifarm tea is a new brand with deep roots. In 2017 New Delhi-based Grassroots Tea Corp. first shared its vision for transforming the livelihoods of 250,000 of India’s small tea growers (STGs) by processing and marketing well-made chemical-free teas. Subsistence growers with generations of experience understand how to cultivate tea but are held back by their inability to add value. Few advance beyond a time-bound role as raw leaf suppliers. Grassroots helps secure financing and then aggregates, repacks, wholesales, and retails authentic teas supplied by collectives. Tea Producer Companies then partner with the collectives to operate mini-factories that process 2,500 kilos of green leaf a day.

    Photo caption: From left, Sabin Narzary,  Sanibar Boro, Assaigra Boro, Thapsa Boro, Baburam Daimary, Pijush Goyary, Ajith Boro, Bijoy Boro, Kukhol Boro,  J. John, Minto Goswami,  and Sanjwrang Basumatary.

    Smallholders in Assam supply green leaf to locally owned mini-factories. Photos courtesy of J. John.

    Assam Smallholders Express Pride of Ownership

    By Roopak Goswami

    Tea grower Sabin Narzary, 32, is proud and brimming with confidence, as are 260 small tea farmers in the Udalguri and Biswanath districts of Assam.

    All are shareholders in a tea producer company, a new business model that enables subsistence growers to finance mini-factories and create local brands collectively. Their new equifarm tea is now on sale on Amazon. The Grassroots Tea Corporation (GTC) launched the product during a virtual meeting on Oct. 8.

    Two weeks later their teas debuted on Amazon.in priced from INRs 360 to 605 (US$4.85-$8.15 for 250 grams).

    Sabin Narzary

    In 2017 New Delhi-based Grassroots Tea Corp. first shared its vision for transforming the livelihoods of 250,000 small tea growers (STGs) by processing and marketing well-made chemical-free teas. Subsistence growers with generations of experience understand how to cultivate tea but are held back by their inability to add value. Few advance beyond a time-bound role as raw leaf suppliers.

    “I have not heard about growers becoming shareholders in the small tea grower sector,” says Narzary, a father of two who was raised in Khasiapather. Small tea growers now produce more than half of the millions of metric tons of green leaf grown in India. Producer-members of the Swmkhwr Valley Tea Producer Company contribute green leaf and are granted shares in the venture.

    Smallholders in 2020 produced 52% of India’s tea, primarily for production as black CTC (cut, tear, curl) but with a growing segment of specialty tea producers.

    The equifarm brand’s tea range includes Premium Orthodox Whole Leaf, Premium Orthodox packaged in stand-up pouches, and orthodox tea and green tea in teabags. Initially, it will be available online on major e-commerce portals like Amazon, Flipkart, and selected cloud kitchens.

    Shortly after it was founded, Grassroots Tea encouraged a group of 260 indigenous Bodo small tea farmers in Assam’s Udalguri and Biswanath districts to set up four manufacturing units to process green tea leaves sourced from their farms. Each unit required an investment of INRs 1.3 crores (about US$175,000) to purchase the property, structure, tea-making machinery, and other equipment. The four factories raised the required capital – as equity and as a term loan from Financial Services Limited (NABFIN), a subsidiary of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

    Ten years ago “We were not getting good prices as we used to sell our leaves individually [to bought leaf factories],” explains Narzary. One of the biggest problems and worries of small tea growers in Assam are getting low prices for the green leaf as they are dependent on bought leaf factories.

    Protests and demonstrations are ongoing. The Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association (CISTA) says that bought leaf factories pay an average of INRs 15-17 (US$0.20 – 0.23) per kilo for green leaf growers in Assam and West Bengal. Growers say the cost of producing green leaf has increased as much as INRs 19 (US$0.25) per kg due to shipping expense and a tightening supply of fertilizer and other inputs increasing the cost of production.

    He said the entry of Centre for Education and Communication (CEC) New Delhi and J. John changed all that, and the growers formed a society to get a higher price for the leaf they supply to the processing factories. The collective leaf trade fuelled the leadership and entrepreneurial aspirations of kindling their desire to move up the value chain. The societies brought their active members as shareholders to constitute producer companies.

    While taking advantage of a ‘Company’ registration, like raising capital and sharing profit, the Producer Company framework has the advantage that it runs based on cooperative principles. The shareholders are ‘active producers,’ which means only those who contribute to the supply of green tea leaves can participate. Each shareholder has one vote irrespective of the number of shares owned.

    “Our lives are now completely transformed as we are getting good prices for the green leaf and have learnt a lot about tea,” he says.

    Kukhol Boro says one of the most significant learning has been the advantage of being united. “Earlier we were selling our green leaf only by ourselves and did not get good prices, later when we became a society, we got better prices,” he says.

    “We had difficulties in getting compliances, but now, we can proudly say that we have a factory of our own where we manufacture tea all by ourselves, a dream that we have been chasing for the last eight to 10 years.

    Today after many ups and downs, we could make it happen,” he said.

    Equifarm tea

    “We have many more miles to go, but today is the beginning, today is the day of farmers, today is the day of GTC. Let the small tea growers of the world unite and be active part of the value chain,” Kukhol Boro said.

    “We could never imagine that one day the growers would be owning factories as members of societies,” added Kukhol Boro.

    Grassroots Tea has a packaging unit in Barpeta, Assam.

    “It is a market linked to the farmers’ movement in which farmers own and govern various stages of value accrual of an ethical product and obtain a reasonable share of the value accrued. It also establishes a direct connect between farmers and consumers by making available high quality ethical, ecologically sound and traceable natural tea,” said J. John, managing director of Grassroots Tea.

    GTC provides support at three distinct stages: empowering small tea growers (STGs) to cultivate chemical-free tea; assisting STGs in raising equity to set up Tea Producer Companies (under the Company Act, 1953) to build processing factories that manufacture high quality, certified orthodox tea; and when the tea is made Grassroots aggregates and markets the tea to conscious consumers under the joint ‘equifarm tea’ brand.

    Teas are natural, traceable, single-origin (subsumed within geographical indicators); made and owned by small tea farmers, ensuring a sustainable livelihood and an optimum share of the profits, he said.

    “Our long term vision is to transform socio-economic outcomes for 250,000 small tea growers at risk, in India. We want to ensure dignity and economic justice for all STGs by enabling fair compensation at multiple levels of value accrual throughout the value chain,” John says.

    India needs an alternate model for the tea-value chain as a core strategy to drive systemic change. In this model, subsistence tea farmers organize in collectives that own and actively participate in the value-creation and value-sharing processes, he explains.

    “As part of our long-term vision, we will facilitate the setting up of more STG owned tea producer companies (TPC) across India, directly impacting larger number of STG households and worker households,” he added. In time big brands and retailers will recognize and execute, the principle of fair compensation at value accruals.

    At the virtual launch event, Adina Pasula, Supply Chain leader, IKEA, Sweden, commented on the distress faced by small-time farmers across the world: “Social entrepreneurship like the equifarm tea is contributing in addressing their plight,” she said. Initiatives of this nature lead to systemic change and would have a collective impact across stakeholders at various levels, she said.

    NABARD General Manager Baiju Kurup praised the GTC model. He said that during the “last couple of years, NABARD’s major focus has been in the facilitation of the aggregation of farmers to a farmers’ producer company, or FPO, where better share of the price can be transferred to the producers so that they enjoy better price realization.”

    CISTA president Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty said, “in equifarm tea, we see the prominent footprint of the small tea growers in India.”

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