• Students Triumph in Tech Brew Challenge

    India’s Tocklai Tea Research Institute in Jorhat announced the winners of the 2024 Tech Brew Hackathon competition, held on International Tea Day. The winning students received 50,000 rupees for tackling their choice of five industry challenges. Teams from 20 universities participated, submitting projects addressing tea waste, marketing and promotion, and climate change. A panel of nine tea industry experts judged the projects.

    The top three teams are Team Orthodox, representing the Assam Science & Technology University with a novel non-chemical pest control solution; the second prize goes to Team Neuro Linga at the PSG Institute of Technology and Applied Research in Coimbatore for designing an integrated weather and crop health monitoring system. Team Doodle, also from PSG, proposed a network of sensors that monitor plant conditions for growers, signaling areas of concern. A resource website with a chatbot informed by a machine-learning AI model will assess their concerns and suggest remedies.

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    Pranjit Barman
    Pranjit Barman demonstrates the Spectro Smoke Drone

    Hackathon Focuses Youthful Attention on Pressing Problems.

    By Dan Bolton

    Tea Research Institute Secretary Joydeep Phukan said the “hackathon marks a significant milestone in bringing technological innovation to one of India’s most vital industries. I’m proud to announce the successful conclusion of the first-ever tea Tech Brew National Hackathon, a groundbreaking event aimed at addressing the challenges faced by the Indian Tea Industry.”

    Phukan said the event was organized “under the esteemed leadership of Chairperson Nayantara Palchoudhuri, Tocklai staff, and industry professionals who judged the competition.”

    Team Orthodox

    The winning students, Team Leader Pragyan Sen Deka, 23, and Pranjit Barman, 22, designed a drone-mounted hyperspectral imaging eye that roams tea gardens, searching for indications of pest infestations. Suspended below the drone is a smoke chamber that delivers natural fumigants that pests avoid.

    Pragyan Sen Deka
    Pragyan Sen Deka

    Fumigating crops with low-hanging smoke is an ancient, effective, and non-chemical method of driving pests away. Winning team leader Pragyan Sen Deka describes how a modern “Spectro Smoke” generator heats ferns and grass with electrically controlled nichrome wire, producing a downward-driven column of smoke that rises to the underside of leaves and drives away pests like the tea mosquito, one of several insects that reduces tea yields in India by an estimated 147 million kilos a year.

    “This innovation promises to transform how we approach pest control, ensuring healthier crops and a more sustainable future for tea plantations,” writes Phukan.

    Spectro Smoke Drone
    The Spectro Smoke Drone has 1000kv 10-inch propellers producing around 3500g peak thrust. Its max payload capacity is around 2kg. The drone is powered by a 4000mah lipo battery, which gives it a flight duration of 15-18 minutes with no payload. The transmitter is the 2.4GHz FS i6, with a range of 1.5 km.

    Team Neuro Linga (second place)

    The second prize goes to Team Neuro Linga at the PSG Institute of Technology and Applied Research in Coimbatore for designing an integrated weather and crop health monitoring system.

    “Their innovative solution impressively combines AI and IoT to tackle pest control and crop health. Using sensors, cameras, and smart technologies, they’ve developed a comprehensive system that not only repels pests but also monitors and predicts pest outbreaks, ensuring healthier crops and a more sustainable future for the tea industry,” writes Phukan.

    Team Doodle (third place)

    Their innovative solution features a specialized RAG (retrieval augmented generation) model for tea pest detection, designed to minimize computational resources while delivering precise, domain-specific results. Utilizing a Phi2 model with 2 million parameters and an image classification model (ResNet), Team Doodle leverages research papers, and articles scraped via Jina AI to ensure accuracy and relevance. Additionally, minimal hardware is used to collect environmental data such as temperature and moisture, helping to prevent pest outbreaks with accurate and timely detection.

    “Team Doodle’s approach represents a significant advancement in sustainable pest management for the tea industry. It combines cutting-edge AI with practical environmental monitoring,” writes Phukan.

    Problems to Solve

    Here is a list of problems students were asked to address:

    • Problem Statement 1: The tea industry faces significant challenges due to climate change, including water scarcity, temperature fluctuations, and soil degradation. Develop a technology-driven solution to help tea farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions, optimize water usage, and maintain soil health to ensure sustainable tea cultivation.
    • Problem Statement 2:  Tea crops are vulnerable to various pests and diseases, which can devastate tea crops within a short period. Develop a predictive model using data analytics and machine learning to forecast outbreaks of pests and diseases, enabling pre-emptive action to protect crops and reduce the reliance on chemical pesticides.
    • Problem Statement 3: With climate change and changing weather patterns, the incidence of pest management has increased, with certain pests such as the Tea Mosquito Bug, Looper Caterpillar, and Green Thrips causing havoc in tea plantations. Develop technologies based on airwaves, sound waves, or biocontrol to control the outbreak of the Tea Mosquito Bug, Looper Caterpillar, and Green Thrips to showcase how it works in tea plantations.
    • Problem Statement 4: The tea plant Camellia sinensis is a wonder plant. Tea leaves are harvested to make various types of tea. The tea plant also produces tea seeds and flowers. Tea is high in various properties, such as antioxidants and flavonoids. Propose methods and technologies to convert tea into diversified products using tea leaves and waste using innovative technology.
    • Problem Statement 5:  Tea is the second most consumed beverage after water globally. However, there is intense competition for tea as a beverage over other products. Some of the products sold as tea are not from the plant Camellia Sinensis. Develop technology-based solutions to promote tea amongst people from age 10 to 35 years, highlighting its many health benefits, which should be innovative and scalable to make tea the most sought-after drink. One may add non-technology-based suggestions to justify their technologies.

    Hackathon Judges

    • Ms N Palchoudhuri, Chairperson TRA
    • Mr Dan Bolton, Tea Journalist, Canada
    • Mr S K Saria, Chairman, NBC TRA
    • Mr Kailyanjeet Borah, Vice Chairman Agriculture Committee TRA
    • Mr Abhijeet Hazarika, Tsigma Consultancy
    • Mr Jai Kejriwal, Council Member TRA
    • Dr Anoop Barooah, former Director TRA
    • Dr A Babu, Director TRA
    • Joydeep Phukan, Secretary TRA

    Tea Research Association – Tocklai Institute

    To delve into the science and processes behind a good cuppa, visit the Tocklai Institute, the world’s largest and oldest tea research center (founded in 1911). The labs there research microorganisms that inhibit plant disease and promote growth. There is also a tea museum and model tea factory exhibiting the machines that turn leaves into teapot-ready tea.

    Tea Research Association Tocklai


    The establishment of the Scientific Department of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) in 1900 marked the beginning of a new era of tea research in India. This was consolidated with the creation of the Tocklai Experimental Station in 1911.

    The formation of the Tea Research Association (TRA) in 1964, with Tocklai at the center of all activities, further expanded the horizon of tea research to cover the entire Northeast India. Research on all aspects of tea cultivation and processing is carried out at the Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Jorhat, the world’s oldest and largest research station. Transfer of technology to its member estates is carried out through its advisory network covering 1,076 tea estates occupying 341,049 hectares (1,317 sq mi) of land spread over The South Bank, North Bank, Upper Assam, Cachar, Tripura, Dooars, Darjeeling and Terai. Tocklai has its regional R & D Centre at Nagrakata, West Bengal.

    The organization undertakes basic and applied research on tea cultivation and processing in northeast India. A large chunk of the research work is done at Tocklai, while area-specific research for Dooars is carried out at NBRRDC, Nagrakata. Research on the pharmacological properties of black tea is carried out in collaboration with Kolkata and other institutes across India. The technologies developed through R&D activities are disseminated to the member gardens through a wide network of advisory personnel who conduct regular hands-on demonstrations and workshops.

    Photos courtesy Team Orthodox | Tocklai Tea Research Center

    Tea Research Association

    113, Park Street, Kolkata-700016
    +91-033-22291815, 22293813
    [email protected] / [email protected]

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    India’s Tocklai Tea Research Institute in Jorhat announced the winners of the 2024 Tech Brew Hackathon competition, held on International Tea Day. The winning students received 50,000 rupees for tackling their choice of five industry challenges. Teams from 20 universities participated. | Episode 171 | 7 June 2024

  • #TeaPower: A Call to Collaborate

    Tea trade associations, research institutes, tea boards, tea brands, and the United Nations Intergovernmental Group on Tea (IGG/Tea) are organizing to collectively promote #TeaPower for International Tea Day, May 21. The online and event-based marketing program heralds the benefits of including tea in every high-energy fitness regimen, from organized sports and cycling to nature walks and solo ascents. Messaging targets youth, but the findings on dietary benefits and hydration are science-backed and essential to healthy living.

    Shabnam Weber is president of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada and co-chair of the United Nations IGG Working Group on Tea & Health, which developed the program. She discusses why #TeaPower is “the perfect pitch for younger generations looking to increase their performance and energy levels while staying healthy.”


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    Shabnam Weber, President Tea and Herbal Association of Canada
    Shabnam Weber, President of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada

    A Youth-Focused Health and Fitness Campaign to Boost Consumption

    By Dan Bolton

    Shabnam Weber worked for 18 years in tea retail as president and CEO of Toronto-based Tea Emporium. She is also an accomplished tea educator, establishing the Academy of Tea in 2016 and developing the THAC Tea Sommelier program curriculum. Shabnam graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honors degree in Political Science and a post-graduate diploma in Psychology. She was named president of Canada’s Tea and Herbal Association in 2018.

    In January, Shabnam traveled to Guwahati, Assam, as one of 44 country delegates at the recently concluded 25th Session of the United Nations FAO Intergovernmental Group on Tea (IGG Tea). During the past two years, as co-chair of the Working Group on Tea and Health, she tirelessly promoted the merits of a unified global campaign to make the benefits of drinking tea relevant to younger generations. She says that #TeaPower will generate a global buzz around tea and its role in improved fitness. “There is extensive evidence supporting tea benefits in sports and fitness performance and optimal hydration,” she explains. “These scientific findings provide the framework for a youth-focused campaign to encourage increased tea consumption.”

    We need to remember that our competition is not ourselves. That’s a message for everybody in this industry: we are not the competition; the competition is other beverages. The only way for us to break through that noise is to work together.

    Dan Bolton: I greatly admire your work as an ambassador and architect in tea marketing and an articulate tea health and wellness spokesperson. Thank you for taking the time to brief our readers on this initiative.

    Shabnam Weber: It’s always a pleasure chatting with you. And you know, I also have to say a big thank you for your work within the industry, which is important.

    Dan: Will you tell listeners how #TeaPower came about?

    Shabnam: Tea Power came out of this continued conversation that we were having at FAO IGG on Tea about our desire to have a global generic promotion.

    It’s a lofty endeavor and nice to say, but what do you focus on? How do you do it?

    We decided that the focus should be tea and health. So, a couple of years ago, a new working group was formed, the working group on tea and health. As a group, we got together and had several meetings discussing what kind of promotion we wanted to do and deciding who our target should be.

    Throwing a message out targeted at everybody is just too much and lacks focus – especially when you consider that the marketing and promotion world that we live in now is no longer print, television, and radio. It’s digital, and digital adopts and adapts. It’s a very, very noisy environment, which means that you have to be very targeted. So, the group decided that the focus should be on youth.

    “Digital adopts and adapts. It’s a very, very noisy environment, which means that you have to be very targeted. So, the group decided that the focus should be on youth.”

    – Shabnam Weber

    Once that was decided, it was very clear to us that we had to reposition the tea and health messaging the industry has focused on, such as cardiovascular health, bone health, and diabetes.

    These are all important and critical aspects of tea and its promotion. But they’re not what the youth are interested in because, thank goodness, they’re not concerned about cardiovascular health, diabetes, osteoporosis, etcetera, etcetera.

    So, we made a list of what interests them, and sport and fitness were high on that list, as was beauty, hydration, and mental health.

    We then needed to look at what scientific data met the requirements we had set for ourselves as a group, identifying the highest scientific standards that needed to be met.

    The scientific papers we found that met all the requirements we had set, were sport and fitness, hydration, and mental health.

    That’s a fast-forward version of what took us two years to put together.

    Dan: So, what’s the next step?

    Shabnam: What the working group is doing now is putting together the campaign, and that means putting together all the scientific evidence. Our regulators require scientific evidence if we’re going to make promotional claims. Then, we’re designing images, visual collateral, ideas, suggestions, hashtags, for everyone to share. This package will be available to all. I can’t stress enough the importance of hashtags and a unified message. We are in this very, very noisy world of social media and that is what will unite this campaign. The way that I’m going to promote tea power is going to be different than, let’s say, Sri Lanka might, or India might, or China might, or Kenya might because it needs to be focused on individual markets and what works in each of our respective markets.

    What connects the whole conversation are hashtags. If we all share the same hashtag, we’re all sending out the same message. I reminded the group when we met in India just a few weeks ago that we, as an industry, managed to trend number one on Twitter in 2021. And we managed to do that because we all agreed to use the hashtag tea on International Tea Day.

    That was at a time when Trump was president and dominating Twitter. The Syrian war was going on at the same time; yet we managed to break through that noise. And for a short time, we were trending number one on Twitter. It’s a really, really big deal for a food product without controversy to trend through the noise of social media.

    I’m often asked why that occurred only in 2021. Unfortunately, the following year’s International Tea Day fell on a weekend, so nobody was celebrating simultaneously. 2024 is the perfect opportunity to get that going again.

    Dan: So, we should all synchronize our social posts for T-Day, Tuesday, May 21.

    Shabnam: Yes

    Young people enjoying tea
    Young people enjoying tea enjoy life-long, scientifically proven health benefits.

    Dan: Young people benefit most from tea health and fitness education. Daily tea consumption delivers on the promise of health and longevity. They know that eating plant-based food is a lifetime habit. It should be the same for tea. Society teaches people to put aside a little money for retirement in their 20s and buy life insurance when premiums are low. The working group has devised a great start to explain the benefits of healthy hydration, but this work is ongoing – in fact, it’s never-ending. Who will update the research and maintain momentum?

    Shabnam: You’re absolutely right. To answer your question, one of the things that we did as a group was to agree on two key pillars within the IGG: sustainability and advocacy. Canada and Sri Lanka co-chair the advocacy group and the UK and Kenya co-chair sustainability.

    The advocacy group is going to carry this forward.

    Shabnam, will you rephrase the following graph?

    Sport and fitness is the first campaign we’re rolling out. The purpose of the Advocacy Pillar is to continue campaigns like this and find other messages that we can unite in within the industry.

    This is an opportunity to demonstrate the power of speaking with one voice. Our messaging might be slightly different, depending on markets, but to pick up on what you said earlier about youth and the power of lifelong habits, I think everyone needs to understand how important and critical this is to the industry.

    Trying to change people’s habits later in life is hard. Children form most of their habits by the age of nine. That’s crazy. We did a study, a questionnaire a couple of years ago, asking young people in Canada between the ages of 18 and 24 when they started their tea-drinking habits. And it was in their homes before the age of nine. A psychological study at Stanford University found that if you haven’t tried sushi by age 39, there is a 95% chance you never will. As we age, we are less open to “novelty.”

    See: The New Yorker, Open Season (1998)

    Dan: The point is that until you have experienced sushi, it’s just a plate of raw fish, right?

    Shabnam: Exactly.

    If you haven’t experienced something, you’re less likely to try new things the older you get.

    We really need to start learning and thinking about how we translate this for the consumer, “Joe Public.” They want to know, what does it mean for me? Translating it into something like sport and fitness and hydration and mental health, which are such big topics right now, is really important because we need to start living in the real world.

    If we want to grow this industry, we must start thinking about the real world and how it talks, behaves, and is influenced. Making that connection is what we’re planning to do – no, not planning to do. We’re going to do it, and we’re going to kick it off for this International Tea Day.

    That’s Tuesday, May 21

    Dan: German grocery stores sell decaffeinated baby tea. It’s given to two-year-olds and three-year-olds, and they love it. Tea tastes good, right? If you introduce children to something good for them, they will develop a taste for it.

    In the same way, it’s absolutely on point to explain the importance of hydration to young people. That’s a trending topic right now. Cure Hydration recently introduced Cure Kids, an electrolyte drink blending coconut water, pink Himalayan salt, and fruit juice powders.

    Manufacturers mixing synthetically produced vitamins and minerals into bottled water blended with powdered juice concentrate to “cure” kids is the craziness that distracts the world from the benefits of natural plant-based beverages. We could undoubtedly make tea more convenient and appealing. Will you share your thoughts on promoting tea as the healthiest of health beverages?

    Cure Kids Electrolyte Drink Mix
    Kids Electrolyte Drink Mix

    Shabnam: Talking about vitamin water, at the last North American tea conference, there was a presentation on the fastest-growing beverage trend, which is water that’s been fortified. And I have to bang my head against the wall when I hear things like that because we are the original fortified water, we are the original vitamin water.

    You know, I say this all the time: we have a product that comes out of the ground. It contains essential vitamins, it is full of minerals, it is full of stories, it is full of legends, and it is full of marketing opportunities; it’s got everything; we have to tell the story.

    So, how do we tell that story? How do we take that product and as I said earlier, make it relevant in the real world? Well, the real world, as you just said, wants convenience. So, you know, if we want sport and fitness and hydration, and you know you’re going out for your marathon or half, whatever it is that you’re doing for sport and fitness, you’ll want something that has no sugar. You want something natural, no artificial anything. So why aren’t we taking pure tea? Why can’t we take tea that has been infused with water and bottle it? That’s the end of the story. But then, rather than bottle it as an ordinary iced tea, let’s market it as an energy drink, without any of the negatives of an energy drink, because the energy is natural. We’re not talking about moderate caffeination, zero sugar, no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, et cetera, et cetera. We sometimes get pigeonholed by what we know and how we always do things, right? How do you get somebody to buy a bottle of iced tea for sport and fitness? Well, how about you change the label on it and don’t call it iced tea? Call it a sport and fitness enhancer, for example.

    Dan: That’s a creative solution. To me, it’s an opening for green. In the 1990s, green tea accounted for about 3% of tea imports in the US. Researchers published compelling evidence during that decade that green tea was good for you. Sales shot up, and green tea imports reached almost 20% of overall tea. They’ve fallen to around 14%. The single biggest complaint is that it fails to deliver on the promise of good health; what holds back green tea is the hassle of making it and the limited foods that can be paired. When you change the format to powder, matcha green tea has excellent culinary appeal, from salads to desserts, and is an energy boost in smoothies.
    Can we use sports celebrity endorsements to refresh the image of green tea?

    Shabnam: Wouldn’t it be amazing to have an NFL team that pours tea over the coach? Instead of the bucket of Gatorade. Honestly, the onus is on us to figure out how to not just re-market it, not by changing the name of tea but by restating its benefits. When I have this conversation with a handful of brands, I guarantee you that the answer will be, well, we’ve already done it; we’ve got iced tea, so you know, “let’s just push that out.”

    That’s not enough. I don’t think it’s enough. I think there needs to be marketing around it to make that connection that this is an iced tea, but it’s your sports and fitness drink.

    Dan: Consider a campaign around the marketing concept of “healthy hydration.” Hydration speaks to active athletes who ride bicycles, pump iron, and play football. Healthy hydration also rings a bell for neighborhood walkers, joggers, weekend baseball players, and yoga enthusiasts. You don’t have to put TEA in big letters on the label. Healthy Hydration can stand alone on the shelf, separate from Gatorade and Vitamin Water. In that category, green will stand out as seasonal and origin-specific with the taste and sweetness of the first flush.

    #TeaPower campaign by UN FAO IGG/Tea
    #TeaPower campaign report by UN FAO IGG/Tea

    Dan: How does the launch look at this point?

    Shabnam: Well, the beauty of this campaign is that it is whatever you want to make of it.

    I mean, at the end of the day, having everybody chip in for one global campaign wasn’t realistic, right?

    One of the important elements when we considered how we wanted to roll this out was that we also needed to live in the real world and say, okay, how is this realistically going to happen? That means putting together this package that we’ll be delivering to all the members of the IGG. Then, every member will roll it out however they want to.

    So, if, for example, somebody finds an athlete, as you’ve suggested, or a celebrity to endorse the campaign, then great.

    If you want to do something as a live event, then that would be great. If it’s going to be purely social media, that’s fine as long as we’re maintaining some of the elements in terms of the messaging, sport, fitness, hydration, and then the added hashtags. That’s what’s going to make the connection for us. So, I think, as I said, the beauty of it will be to see how everybody translates this and how it’s going to roll out on the one hand differently, but then, at the same time, unified for this year’s International Tea Day.

    Shabnam: We need to remember that our competition is not ourselves. That’s an essential message for everybody in this industry: we are not the competition; the competition is other beverages.

    The only way for us to break through that noise is to work together. When we have these conversations at the IGG, it’s really good for all of us to work together. And the power we have working together is greater than we sometimes understand.

    FAO IGG/Tea Working Group Report: Tea & Health (PDF)

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    Episode 158 | TeaPower is “the perfect pitch for younger generations looking to increase their performance and energy levels while staying healthy,” says Shabnam Weber, President of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada and co-chair of the United Nations IGG Working Group on Tea & Health that developed the program. | 9 March 2024

  • Keemun’s Hong Cha Revival

    A hundred and fifty years ago, tea exporters in China faced a dramatic shift in demand due to conflict on the high seas and fierce commercial competition. The emergence of India as Europe’s black tea supplier disrupted almost three centuries of Chinese dominance in the world’s most lucrative black tea market. China needed something new, a cream and sugar-friendly alternative to smoky old-fashioned Lapsang Souchong. That tea was Keemun (pronounced Chee-mun), a modern marvel rivaling Darjeeling at breakfast and the fragrant black Uva teas used in Ceylon breakfast blends.

    Invented in 1875, the aromatic “qi hong cha” or Keemun black tea, grown in Qimen County, quickly rose to prominence, explains senior tea master Lilian Xia, President of the Canada Tea Institute. She joins Tea Biz to recount the legacy of a Chinese market-savvy entrepreneur, Yu Ganchen, the pioneer of Qimen tea, who developed the processing method for Qimen black tea and expanded its sales overseas. 

    Lilian Xia on the revival of Keemun black tea
    Lilian Xia, president of the Canada Tea Institute
    Lilian Xia, president of the Canada Tea Institute

    Keemun, the Most Famous of China’s Black Teas Returns to Prominence

    By Dan Bolton

    Lilian Xia grew up in Shanghai, China, a region that has been the commercial hub of tea export for centuries. In China, tea artists are certified by local government officials who test their competency. Lilian is the first batch of senior tea masters and became the instructor at Shanghai Tea Institute and, simultaneously, the chief evaluator at the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Labor. She helped compile the textbook “Senior Tea Artist” and lectures widely. She and her staff in Canada offer seven-level courses for adults and teens. The organization, she says, “is committed to popularizing tea knowledge, using tea as a link to strengthen cultural exchange among all ethnic groups, all classes, and all ages.” The society hosts educational tea parties, tea-themed activities, and tastings, including a public introduction to Runsi Qihong (Keemun) sponsored by the Anhui Guorun Tea Co. Lilian and I met at the Toronto Tea Festival in January.

    Dan Bolton: Hongcha is experiencing a revival in China as millions line up daily for their milk tea. Keemun has a special place in the story of black tea as it is the first modern market-driven tea. Tea fragrance has always appealed to tea drinkers. Jasmine is one of the world’s oldest and most famous scented teas. European royalty and the upper classes preferred tea with milk and sugar, crumpets, and dainties, limiting sales of green tea and creating an opening that Keemun quickly filled. Will you share the history of this fascinating tea?

    Lilian Xia: Let’s first talk a little bit about the history of black tea. In the early Qing Dynasty, around 1650, the Dutch and English first brought Chinese tea to the West. Most of the tea was from the Wuyi Mountains, near the eastern coast of Fujian Province. Exports were mainly green tea or oolong tea.

    The tea, called bohea (an English pronunciation of Wuyi), is dried in wooden sheds, taking on a smoky flavor. Less well understood is that after pan-firing and rolling, the larger coarse leaves from the plant are pressed into wooden barrels and covered with cloth or bruised in cloth sacks to ferment before being fired a second time. During this step, the tea develops a unique “Keemun” aroma. The dark black leaves are then finished in bamboo trays suspended above smoking fire pits filled with hot coals from locally grown Pinus massoniana and slash pine. Adjusting the height of the tray influences the intensity of the aroma.

    The tea known as zhèng sh?n xi?o zh?ng became rapidly famous within China as well, driven by the immense profits from its export. The English pronounced it Lapsang Souchong after the Fuzhou dialect for lap (pine) sang (wood) souchong (meaning small sort).

    The tea had been traded for two hundred years by 1875 when Yu Ganchen was promoted to junior Mandarin (tax collector) in Fujian. He frequently dealt with tea exporters there and knew of the large quantities of black tea exported to the West.

    Unfortunately, he was dismissed as unfit by the emperor. On returning to his hometown of Chizhou in Qimen County, in Anhui Province, he saw a nice environment spanning thousands of hectares where he could get good quality Zhuye tea leaves, so he asked himself, ‘Why not make black tea?’ Yu Ganchen returned to Fujian to study tea-making.

    Qimen County, Anhui Province
    Fog-shrouded Qimen County in Anhui Province

    Using the hometown trees, Yu Ganchen invented a process for withering and pan-firing similar to that used in making Wuyi tea. He extended the withering and slowed oxidation to yield a more nuanced aroma, producing a better tea to sell to the West. Variations include Keemun Mao Feng, made from small leaves from the early harvest, and Keemun Hao Ya and Keemun Congou (broken leaf), which are more intense. Keemun Gongfu is preferred for use in tea ceremonies. Today, the best Keemun tea is made in Qimen County in Huangshan City, Anhui province, from leaves grown in Guichi, Shitai, Dongzhi, and Yixian.

    Ganchen understood the needs of the Western people who begin their day with tea. The key modalities were color; Keemun is a deep red amber and distinctive fragrance with layers of flavor. Nowadays, many black teas are made in China, but Keemun remains the most popular.

    Dan: The strong trade between China and the UK, dating to 1664, entered a rocky diplomatic period beginning in 1839 through 1842 as the first tea gardens were planted in Assam and Darjeeling and again in 1856 through 1960 when victory in the Second Opium War gave Western powers unfettered access to Chinese goods. Keemun marketers understood that winning competitions in the West and celebrity endorsements by royalty would appeal to Europeans and colonial tea drinkers in North America.

    Lilian: He was quite familiar with the tea growers, exporters, and Importers from Western Fujian Province in Fuzhou City, so he contacted them and sold them to Western buyers. He opened a store in Yaodu to sell tea in Fuzhou and began marketing Keemun black overseas, where Indian black teas and Sri Lanka black teas were prominent.

    A breakthrough occurred in 1915 in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (an early World’s Fair). Keemun, competing with the finest Indian black and Ceylon teas from Sri Lanka, won the gold medal and became the number one choice of many Westerners, including the British and Americans.

    The Queen and the royal family popularized Keemun in manuals describing the proper etiquette and preparation of afternoon tea. In London, it was known as the “queen of black tea” and is listed as one of the three most fragrant teas in the world. Keemun became quite famous in blends re-exported from London worldwide. The tea also won many national medals in China over the years.
    Download: Original Exposition Visitor’s Guide

    Pacific-Panama International Exposition
    Aerial view of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition fairgrounds in San Francisco, California
    Aerial view of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Fairgrounds in San Francisco, California

    Dan: The tea was so popular that Keemun became the main component in English breakfast blends. In 1879, more than 70% of the tea sold in London was from China. Darjeeling was an expensive luxury until the 1930s. People acquired a taste for Keemun during the years when Darjeeling was scarce. By 1900, China’s market share at the London tea auction had declined to 10%, but even then, the most popular Ceylon and Indian blends of Assam weren’t considered complete without at least 10-12% Keemun. Early mass-market blends, including Lipton and Twinings, featured African teas to give them color. Blenders added Assam tea for astringency. Why was Keemun so popular?

    Lilian: Keemun Tea was popular because of its characteristics, like its unique aroma — it’s very special. Even now, in China, we distinguish black tea as either Keemun or not. So, what is Keemun’s aroma? It combines a floral note, a fruity note, and a honey-sweet taste.

    Tea master inspects a woven bamboo tray of Keemun
    Keemun tea master inspects a woven bamboo tray of black tea

    Dan: The process that yields that aroma is very interesting.

    Lilian: Yes, it starts with withering, then rolling, then fermentation and drying, all the uniform processes of black tea. So, how do we get this unique Keemun aroma?

    There are two reasons. The first is definitely because of the tea tree breeds and where they are planted. The proper place is Qimen, a tea-growing region between the cool, fog-enshrouded Huangshan (Yellow) Mountains and the Yangtze River. The cultivar is called Zhu-ye-zhong. It is the same plant used to make Huangshan Maofeng, a grassy and vegetal full-leaf green tea plucked from old-growth trees.

    Other critical steps involve slow fermentation and attention to drying. There’s a high-temperature step to reduce the moisture; then, it goes through lower-temperature drying, always 80 to 90 degrees. That low-temperature drying process develops those aromas.

    We know that all those tea breeds produce aromatic compounds. Lower-temperature drying facilities develop those aroma compounds to bring out fruity and floral aromas.

    Sugar substances and amino acids undergo the Maillard reaction, generating substances with a honey aroma. Many substances with fruity and floral aromas, such as lactones, terpenes, and alcohols, are generated, contributing to the distinctive Keemun black tea aroma characterized by hints of flowers, fruits, and honey. This unique scent is called Keemun aroma.

    Making Keemun tea
    Making Keemun tea

    Dan: One of the reasons Keemun is so important to the traditional Assam and Sri Lanka blended breakfast teas is because they are fired at a very high temperature in a furnace, which drives off aromatic compounds. Keemun adds a distinctive and pleasant aroma as you pour the hot water. Keemun tea drinkers describe the scent of honey, apple, and orchid.

    Lilian: Yes, yes. Keemun is unique. Among all those Chinese varieties, more than one hundred black teas, Keemun remains the number one because of its unique aroma.

    “Keemun is unique. Among all those Chinese varieties, more than one hundred black teas, Keemun remains the number one because of its unique aroma”

    – Lilian Xia, President Canada Tea Institute

    Dan: Will you tell listeners about the Runsi Qihong (Keemun Tea) brand? I was very impressed tasting the tea at the Toronto Tea Festival, and so were many others at your crowded booth.

    Lilian: The tea is from what used to be a state-owned company and the biggest producer. It is called Anhui Guorun Tea Company Ltd. Mr. Yu Ganchen, who invented Keemun, owned the tea house that was the predecessor of the Guorun Tea Company. Runsi Qihong is their brand.

    Before 1949, tea was mainly handmade and primarily sold to tea houses. But afterward, around 1950, China’s modern tea factories increased production, increasing exports. From the 1990s to the early 2000s, Chinese tea factories experienced another important reform, moving from state-owned to limited liability companies. In 2003, with the restructuring of its joint stock, Guorun became the most prominent company specializing in Keemun black tea. It is also the only factory producing diplomatic gift teas for official guests such as the Prime Minister from Britain or Queen Elizabeth.

    Runsi Qihong has 12 EU-certified tea gardens and enjoys the title of national standard in China. So, as Keemun black tea is frequently chosen as a diplomatic gift, the highest grade is not premium; there is another grade called gift on top of the premium. Diplomats consistently choose Keemun black as the national gift.

    Dan: That’s a prestigious role. According to the China Tea Marketing Association, 7,300 metric tons of Keemun tea are produced annually on 12,600 hectares of land. The tea is primarily for export, generating 5.52 billion yuan (about $808.6 million in US dollars in 2022). Will you explain the role growers play in the process?

    Lilian: Guorun Co., Ltd. boasts significant productivity, employing highly mechanized tea garden management, plucking, and processing methods. However, producing the highest-grade teas involves meticulous handpicking and processing to ensure their unique, superior quality. For this, the company hires tea farmers skilled in the delicate task of tea picking, compensating them with labor fees. This blend of automation and traditional craftsmanship ensures the excellence of their tea.

    Dan: Thanks for explaining that. So, let’s talk briefly about the Canada Tea Institute and its mission.

    Lilian: We created the Canada Tea Institute in 2017 as a not-for-profit organization. We want to improve the tea culture and tea education. These days, we’re also trying to improve the economic development of tea. Most of our members are tea professionals and tea enthusiasts. We have our guiding principles. They are traditional spirits of tea masters, such as harmony, humility, genuineness, and equality. Those are the four guiding principles of our institute. So, we organize tea-related events and activities, such as tea master training programs and sometimes study trips. We have organized tea trips to some tea-producing areas in China, and hopefully, we can organize trips to other tea-growing countries, such as Japan.

    Canada Tea Institute

    During the past six years, CTI has organized over 100 tea-themed events involving more than 4,000 participants. By taking these steps, we’re working to diversify the Canadian tea market, making it more vibrant and dynamic.

    Dan: I was happy to see all the young people at your booth. Will you briefly discuss your impression of young people and your role in educating those interested in your teas?

    Lilian: I found many people of different ages interested in tea, and I was surprised that there are so many young people. I’ve noticed their enthusiasm for tea in the tea courses I’m giving young folks. They might not know all the ins and outs yet, but their interest is sky-high. They’re not just into the taste; they’re curious about blending their own, which is pretty much like creating something new, and they’re super keen on diving into the tea culture. It’s not just about, “Hey, this tea tastes good,” but more about, “What’s the story behind it? Why do we drink it this way?” They’re eager to explore different types of tea, how to brew them to get that perfect taste, and even which teawares best complement each tea. Honestly, it makes me really happy to see their passion for all aspects of tea, not just the flavor but the whole culture and creativity behind it.

    Usually, in China, we use a gaiwan, a covered cup for brewing green teas, flower teas, etc.  I also demonstrated Gaiwan brewing in class. Young students use those clear, translucent glasses because it lets them see the tea right inside; it piques their curiosity about the brewing process and its cultural significance.

    I think it’s very, very amazing that since ten years ago, or even seven years ago, tea lovers have been aging. I mean, they love tea because they can feel the beauty of calm and simplicity. They are like 40 years old or 50 years old.

    At that time, young people liked sweet drinks such as coffee and Coca-Cola, But now I see maybe it is because of the popularity of milk tea and bubble teas that many young people started to drink tea. Tea has become integrated into the daily lives of young people. From the bubble tea, they will pay attention to “This is green tea. This is black tea. This is oolong tea.” Then, they will seek more information about blended teas or different straight teas, I think it’s very good.

    Teaching young tea artists how to use a gaiwan
    Lilian Xia, center, teaches young tea artists a Song Dynasty tea ceremony at the institute’s Peach Blossom Tea Party near Niagara Falls. Students from left to right are Bella, Christine, Jasmine, and Yufeng.

    Photos courtesy Canada Tea Institute | Runsi Qihong Tea

    Canada Tea Institute
    7240 Woodbine Ave.
    Markham, ON L3R 1A4
    Phone +1 (647) 939-7311
    Email [email protected]

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      Invented in 1875, the aromatic “qi hong cha” or Keemun black tea, grown in Qimen County in China’s Anhui Province, quickly rose to prominence, explains senior tea master Lilian Xia, President of the Canada Tea Institute. She joins Tea Biz to recount the legacy of a Chinese market-savvy entrepreneur, Yu Ganchen, the pioneer of Qimen tea, who developed the processing method for Qimen black tea and expanded its sales overseas. | Episode 156 | 23 Feb 2024

    • Accelerating Sustainability

      The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA) was established to measure the massive quantity of precise data and the impact of harder-to-quantify, pragmatic ways of measuring sustainability, such as living income calculations, gender inclusion, and next-generation training.

      In 2005, sustainability pioneers at the United Nations identified the need to harmonize sustainability metrics with science-based credibility. Seven years later, COSA became a not-for-profit public research organization to complete that work.

      Daniele Giovannucci co-founded COSA to counter what he called “the fluff and ignorance masquerading as development and the colossal sums wasted by well-meaning funders.” He championed the “democratization of data,” devising standard metrics for the coffee industry in 2018.

      COSA, supported by discerning philanthropists from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the InterAmerican Development Bank, has standardized sustainability metrics for leading brands, global frameworks, cutting-edge technologies, and governments for two decades. Giovannucci retired in mid-2023, and Liam Brody was named his successor. Liam joins us on the Tea Biz Podcast to explain COSA’s role in intelligence-gathering and developing strategic tools that advance sustainable practices with “good business” underpinnings. He also shares his vision of how artificial intelligence will revolutionize and influence consumer behavior and perception of sustainable practices.

      Liam Brody, CEO Committee on Sustainability Assessments (COSA)
      COSA CEO Liam Brody
      Newly named Committee on Sustainability Assessment CEO Liam Brody

      Predictability is Around the Corner

      By Dan Bolton

      COSA Board Chairman Richard Rogers, in announcing the promotion of Liam Brody to CEO, described him as the right leader to unlock the exponential impact of the organization. Brody “is an accomplished and visionary leader” who can drive the transformative change needed to help tackle today’s sustainability challenges.”

      Liam was president of Sustainable Harvest, a trailblazing B Corporation and leading specialty coffee importer. As president, he doubled the company’s size, leading strategy and operations—overseeing sourcing, sales, finance, marketing, technology, talent, and impact. Liam spent nearly a decade with impact investing pioneer Root Capital, helping unlock $1 billion in finance for small and growing agricultural businesses around the globe. Earlier, Liam was director of sustainable coffee for Green Mountain Coffee (now Keurig Dr Pepper) and was a program manager, campaign director, and private sector adviser for the humanitarian organization Oxfam—where he played a crucial role in building the fair trade market.

      He earned a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education from Cornell and holds a Master of Education in Social Policy from Harvard.

      Dan Bolton: Congratulations on your appointment. It’s an outstanding choice on COSA’s part.

      Liam Brody: Thank you, Dan! That means a lot coming from you. You’re one of my heroes in the tea and coffee community. I’ve learned so much from reading and traveling with you over the years. It’s a pleasure to be part of this conversation.

      Dan: In just a sentence or two, will you tell readers what you will do now that you’ve got the reins in hand?

      Liam: First and foremost, we plan to scale our work exponentially to help make a dent in two of the most pressing issues facing our world and the global food system: climate change and inequity. Over the next ten years, COSA will impact 100 million farmers stewarding a billion hectares of land.

      Liam: But, to go forward, it might be helpful if we first look back. COSA started with a simple question: “What is sustainability, and how should it be measured?” As we began to answer those questions, we started advising tea, coffee, and chocolate professionals on how to use the best science and practice to actually measure. But that work only introduced more questions, like, “What do we do with all of this data once we’ve measured it and, most importantly, how do we make sense of it?”

      Today, COSA finds itself helping all actors in a value chain, from tea and coffee to cocoa, palm, and more, use data to advance impact, performance, and risk reduction. Together, our work is transforming the global food and agriculture system to work and better benefit all involved—from crop to cup. We are working to climate-proof our future. And to do so in a way that is economically advantageous to all involved. That used to be “pie in the sky.” Now, with all that data, new tools, AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, Earth Observation (geolocation and remoting sensing), predictive analytics, and more, it’s a reality knocking on our front door.

      “It used to be that no matter how smart the human was in this equation, we just couldn’t process all this data ourselves. There were just too many variables.”

      Liam Brody, CEO Committee on Sustainability Assessment

      It used to be that no matter how smart the human was in this equation, we just couldn’t process all this data ourselves. There were just too many variables. You know, old school when the world changed at a slower pace and harvest seasons and global production were more consistent—forget the new variables coming at us at much higher, seemingly unpredictable velocity.

      Today, new tools and approaches are changing the game from always being backward through the rear-view mirror to giving everyday tea professionals a new crystal ball that allows us to look around the corner and predict what’s coming. But, to harness this new power, we need good data and strong systems—and integrated tools designed for all players in the value chain. This allows us to play a granular game at scale—ultimately allowing us to invest in the right things at the right time to boost impact, performance, efficiency, deliverability, and more.

      We are leading a multi-year effort with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to use these new tools to lower the cost and time needed to collect data. No supply chain professional wants to spend all their time and money on measurement for the sake of measurement. We want to drive change. These new lean and agile approaches we are pioneering will help all of us spend the time and money saved on insights and investing in action. COSA is doing extensive published research to determine how to deploy technologies like WhatsApp, SMS, and satellite imaging to leapfrog outmoded approaches.

      The game is finally shifting to real-time. That allows us to get ahead of problems before it’s too late. And everybody wins. If a farmer learns early in the season that she is at risk of crop failure—it’s a terrible realization. But, the sooner she knows, the sooner she can act. And, the sooner she knows, the sooner a buyer knows. An enlightened buyer might decide to help make a critical investment, or offer a multi-year deal to bridge the crisis—or even partner with the local government or a humanitarian organization on stopgap measures. As a former buyer and financier, being unable to predict potential defaults or delivery delays far enough in advance could be catastrophic to our business—let alone the positive impacts so many of us in tea seek to make in the world.

      COSA mission
      COSA was founded to establish consistent indicators of sustainable practices

      Dan: Alan Lai and his team at ProfilePrint in Singapore and Dr. William Ristenpart, who heads the Coffee Center at the University of California, Davis, have developed cloud-based apps to identify raw and finished leaves, seeds, and grains. IDaaS is an authentication service that uses desktop sensors, scanners, and even cell phones to upload “digital profiles” and, in seconds, download detailed chemical and physical attributes of the sample that reveal and quantify defects, colors, shape, the presence of adulterants, and other characteristics closely correlated to organoleptic qualities assigned by trained tasters.

      Liam: Absolutely. Our ability to analyze where something went wrong in the process is key. Otherwise, too many people still assume what went wrong must have been at the start of the chain.

      But, if we can isolate variables, we better understand the problem and where it may have originated, not for blame, but for better performance and risk management. I love the idea of shortening those feedback loops so you can quickly identify issues and rapidly give feedback, and frankly, you can quickly course-correct before something goes sideways.

      Dan: You’re a 90-storefront grocer with 100,000 pounds of tea inside your warehouse. Place a sample into the ProfilePrint analyzer, and within five minutes, you learn that you’ve got four weeks to sell it before staling will force you to sell at a heavy discount.
      Liam: Integrate that data into a model that starts to overlay origin data. Origin data that tracks yield, productivity, cost of product, living income, and geopolitical and climate risk. The correlations can be a roadmap for business growth—because then you are getting into predictability, which is super cool.

      Dan: Oversupply of tea is widespread. It’s a cyclical problem that depresses prices over decades. Tea multinationals exerted control over supply because they owned plantations and factories and employed large workforces. Today’s markets are fragmented, and there will never be a one-size-fits-all tea. Sellers have unprecedented access to data, and those who monitor consumer preferences could order tea on demand. In specialty coffee, Starbucks and Nespresso set quality minimums, then vet (or train) growers to meet those standards, rewarding them with long-term contracts at premium prices – achieving balanced supply and demand for their markets.

      Liam: That’s the future, but we need to stop silo’ing sustainability as if it were a standalone thing only good for glossy reports and storytelling. Sustainability data is core to business planning and performance.

      If we’re collecting the right data at the right time, we can start to understand the correlations between sustainability investments and core business ROI. We can start to see how labor availability, diversity, water scarcity, and productivity fit together in real-time with pricing with market demand and consumer profile changes. When you have access to that data — and can be sure that it’s not what the computer scientists call dark data — data just sitting there on a shelf – but rather in the sophisticated digital system, then you can move quickly to provide insights for everyone in the industry, especially the farmers and growers holding up the foundation.

      COSA CEO Liam Brody
      COSA CEO Liam Brody

      Measure What Matters

      As you said at the beginning, we can all be part of starting to understand what investments to make and when to get that tea on demand, ultimately to the right market at the right price. And, when I say the right price—I mean for producers, too.

      But to play in that space, you must figure out what you’re measuring. You have to have places to put that data, and you have to have systems that work to analyze and visualize and allow the value chain to participate. We also need to start driving these evidence-based insights back to farmers so they can make real-time, informed decisions about their own lives.

      Right now, there’s not enough of that. In stark examples, we see that the companies that have been investing in data for years are now figuring out how to harness it and are leaping far beyond those that have ignored the need, assuming it was just another cost. New regulations are motivating a wave of new brands ready to take the plunge—but too many seem solely focused on compliance rather than the true power to unlock business performance. But don’t worry. You haven’t missed out if you have started or are trying to figure out where to start. That’s why organizations like COSA exist. We can be your guide. But to be clear, the window is closing fast, particularly as the world of sustainability rapidly shifts from voluntary standards to regulatory absolutes. We also know that consumer demand is increasingly predicated upon evidence. There’s excellent new McKinsey research backing that notion around brands making evidence-based claims. We also know climate change is changing everything from growing region suitability to yield curves, quality, and pest outbreaks. And we know what that will do, from forced migration to labor shortages and human rights impacts that follow.

      If we don’t have data at the center, we don’t get to manage through that level of change and crisis in tea, coffee, cocoa, beef, palm, and more.

      And to be clear, more regulation is soon coming to tea. We all know that it’s the next wave. Now it is the time to invest—not just for PR, although impact data and traceability lead to powerful authentic storytelling—for risk mitigation, resilience, and performance management.

      In addition, we should be doing collaboratively as a sector, not just competitively, so we can compete on the things that matter. Then, we can put our collective money into investments for the future, not just backward-looking compliance.

      COSA Timeline
      COSA Timeline

      Dan: Collecting rich data is essential to traceability, which is critical for credibility in marketing, right?

      Liam: I couldn’t agree more. That’s where the curtain has been pulled back. There’s no more hiding. And that’s exciting. These are investments that need to be made in our future because if we’re not making them now, knowing what we know about population shifts, knowing what we know about climate, knowing what we understand about the geo-political risks, and what consumers are demanding, then brands, farmers, and entire industries will falter.

      We must get around those corners. We must have scenarios that predict what’s coming. And if you’re not dealing with that or managing these issues using sound information systems or not learning in real-time, you’re missing out.

      It’s plain and simple. There’s a place to play for people who want to learn.

      That makes me so proud to be a part of an organization like COSA because we build bridges across governments, global brands, farmer organizations, and civil society to address that essential truth. We must know what we are solving for. How are we solving it? And how will we know if we’ve done it? The data speaks for itself. You can’t obscure it if you’re measuring the right things in the right way and embracing a commitment to continuous improvement–whether that’s financial performance for a value chain, social performance, environmental performance, or how those are all tied together. And so, for many of us, it is a new day, and I’m just so excited to be a part of it.

      Photos courtesy of the Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA)

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      Episode 155 | Liam Brody, the new Committee on Sustainability Assessment CEO, explains COSA’s role in intelligence-gathering and developing strategic tools that advance sustainable practices with “good business” underpinnings. He also shares his vision of how artificial intelligence will revolutionize and influence consumer behavior and perception of sustainable practices. | 16 Feb 2024

    • Observations on Oversupply

      Delegates from 44 countries (and 14 official observers) who attended The 25th Session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Intergovernmental Group on Tea (IGG Tea) on Jan. 31 expanded the organization’s mandate beyond trade aspects, ratifying initiatives addressing all three dimensions of sustainability – economic, social, and environmental. Joining us today is Peter Goggi, the IGG TEA delegate representing the US in his role as President of the Tea Association of the USA. Peter discusses #TeaPower, a new health and wellness campaign, FAO’s ongoing support of smallholders, and the economics of oversupply.

      FAO IGG TEA delegate Peter Goggi represents the US as President of the Tea Association of the USA
      Ian Gibbs, International Tea Committee with Peter Goggi at UN FAO IGG Tea
      Ian Gibbs, Chair International Tea Committee with Peter Goggi at UN FAO IGG Tea

      There is Too Much Tea in the World

      By Dan Bolton

      Peter Goggi began his career at Unilever, where he was the first American in the history of TJ Lipton to work as a tea taster. He retired after 32 years with Royal Estates Tea Co., where, as president, he was responsible for tea sourcing, blending, and quality assurance. His last assignment was as head of tea procurement, leading a team of supply managers and analysts who spent a billion dollars a year buying tea. His encore as president of the Tea Association of the USA, the Tea Council of the USA, and the Specialty Tea Institute marks a fourth decade of service to the industry. Peter is a champion of the health benefits of tea, a public speaker much in demand, and a spokesperson respected globally for his broad expertise. His annual State of the Tea Industry report is meticulously researched and rich with insights gleaned from a lifetime in tea. He attended the BATIC 2024 Bicentenary in Assam and then three days of IGG Tea beginning Jan. 31. For the past decade, Peter has been the US delegate to IGG, an influential body of cabinet ministers, tea board chairs, academics, tea association executives, and policymakers representing every tea-growing and major tea-consuming region globally.

      Dan Bolton: The much-delayed IGG Tea gathering in the world’s largest tea-producing region showcased India. Delegates also adopted several important policy decisions to help ease a challenging time in tea. Will you tell us about the event?

      Peter: The IGG is a fabulous opportunity for all interested parties on a governmental level to talk about the tea industry. It’s very important to express their views. They all have issues that they’re facing. The issues facing countries of origin are very, very different from those facing consuming countries. But ultimately, solutions that satisfy both need to be met.

      The overriding concern of everyone in this business is the lack of profit throughout the entire supply chain. Unless the growers make money, you’re not going to have tea.

      The challenge extends the entire length of the value chain. And it’s worse than it’s ever been. If you look at the price of tea over time, it hasn’t moved as fast as inflation. We’re paying the same amount for tea as in the 50s but without the margins essential to business.

      What many people don’t realize, particularly here in the US or the West in general, is that millions of people are vested in producing the tea. They’re growing the leaf. They’re plucking the leaf. They’re manufacturing the leaf, preparing it for shipment, and getting it out of their countries of origin that benefit from foreign exchange.

      We talk a lot about sustainability in the tea business. I look at it as a stool with three legs: environmental sustainability, social sustainability, which is the cultural weaving of importance to the local governments, local producers, local towns, and, importantly, there’s economic sustainability. Unless we have that, we are going to lose everything.

      Many of the discussions focused on the smallholder not only at IGG Tea this year but also during BATIC 2024, which was the Bicentennial Assam convention celebrating 200 years of tea growing in Assam. Smallholders produce about 60% of the tea in the world today — the green leaf anyway and they are vitally important to the whole supply chain.

      Everyone agrees that unless these smallholders get appropriate monies for the work that they do, then 10-15 years down the road, we’re all going to be struggling.

      FAO IGG Via Tea Board Of India
      Delegates attending the 25th Session of FAO IGG ON TEA in Guwahati, India

      Dan: Yet the crisis among smallholders is not universal. Smallholders in China have demonstrated resilience over centuries. They enjoy good margins, provide for their families, and are rewarded for investing in growing their businesses over time. Smallholders operating as rural entrepreneurs maintain diverse farmscapes, which would provide a solid foundation for sustainable production.

      Peter: China has done an absolutely fabulous job with its tea industry. If you’re in the tea business in China, you are wealthy. That model exists nowhere else in the world, unfortunately.

      China is, in and of itself, a producer and a consumer. The percentage of exports is extremely small in comparison to what they produce. And what they do produce is really enjoyed by the population. In China, they drink tea; they know tea. Tea is interwoven into every aspect of their culture. Whether it’s health, wellness, or social. It’s a great model. I wish everybody would copy that one — but that’s just not the case.

      What you’re seeing now is that smallholders are producing as best they can. But the world, quite frankly, is inundated with tea. The amount of tea produced over the last several years is greater than what’s been consumed. Tea doesn’t go away. It sits in a warehouse somewhere. So, we have too much tea. And this is what’s really dragging the price of tea down — except for the specialty segment.

      Artisanal teas have great leaf, great flavor, great stories behind them, and well-thought-out manufacturing processes. They’re making money, but the quantities are relatively small – we’re talking on a volume basis of 8% to 12% of the world’s tea, but it’s responsible for probably 25% to 30% of the profit.

      Dan: During the past 20 years, the volume of specialty tea has more than doubled. It is encouraging that demand is growing and that people prefer to drink healthful, better-tasting tea with its artisan story and third-party certifications. Drinking good tea is a reasonably priced personal choice with untold benefits. Teabags sell for pennies, and you get what you pay for, but spending a small sum of money, perhaps $3 per ounce, about 43 cents per serving, as a floor on which higher-quality tea, priced at $8 per ounce, is the tide to lift all boats.

      Peter: That’s the hope. We saw some very good indications of a positive future coming out of COVID because, qualitatively, Gen Z was really turning to tea during COVID. They were buying specialty tea — to take your point about stories and tea’s artisanal aspects — they love that stuff. And they’re very keen on knowing that the dollar that they spend for a product is going back to help the person who actually produces the product.

      So this is where knowledge of the value and supply chains are very important to this particular class demographic, and as they age, they will continue to drink tea.

      It’s a known fact that as the population ages, the incidence of tea consumption increases. So I’m hoping that the habits they’ve grown to embrace as university students will carry through for the rest of their lives, and they’ll pass that on to the next generation.

      That’s the good news. The bad news is that that habit was very true at home, not very true out-of-home, so they drank all their tea in their houses with their personal tea ceremonies, whether it’s a particular mug or whether it’s a particular teapot or how they did it or with their friends are watching their videos, loved it, consume more, and it was hot, which in the United States is important because we’re a tea drinking nation of iced tea, and they’re drinking more hot tea.

      That’s a potential change as we go forward. But regrettably, as they go out-of-home, their incidence of tea drink drinking does not match up with what they do at home. So, this will be the challenge: How do we get that tea experience out of home?

      Tea Power
      UN Tea & Health Working Group proposes #TeaPower marketing campaign.

      Dan: During the 25th FAO Session, delegates formally adopted a coordinated global marketing campaign to promote the power of tea. The hashtag #TeaPower targets youth, portraying tea as a healthy, plant-based, beneficially bio-active beverage with scientifically demonstrated advantages over rival drinks.

      Peter: We blazed the path of tea and health here in the United States. We made a conscious decision back in the 90s that anything we would say about tea and health had to be rooted in science. Beginning with the urging of Marty Kushner, we embarked on the Tea & Health path. Pollock Communications has been a tremendous partner in coordinating our symposiums and serving as a leader in our Social Media communications. As I said, all of our messaging is rooted in science, and we’ve been lucky to have two key individuals working with us: at the beginning was Dr. John Weisburger, and for the last several years, there has been Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg.

      We’ve held six international symposiums on the science of tea and health, and they’ve all generated interest. They’ve all generated tremendous knowledge about tea and have shown different areas in which tea positively impacts human health.

      So #TeaPower is a marketing effort born out of FAO that sits on a lot of the work we’ve done, not only here in the US but also picked up internationally. I believe everybody at the FAO IGG agrees that tea and health is one of the big levers to press to help drive consumption to help people pick up and take notice that “Oh!” tea is good for you.

      • #TeaPower #UnlockYourPotential #TeaTime
      • #Flavan3ols #SportAndFitnessBenefitsofTea
      • #YoungerGenerationsHealthAndPerformance
      FAO IGG Collaboration
      FAO IGG Collaboration

      And as you mentioned, there are a lot of bio-actives in tea. It’s plant-based, it’s natural, calorie-free. You have black, green, oolong, white, and dark teas that all come from the same bush; it is just a matter of how it’s processed. And when we use the word process, people need to understand that tea is very lightly processed. It’s not that we’re adding anything. It’s just we’re changing how we manipulate the leaf for the amount of time that we let it sit in a room to oxidize. The whole process is natural.

      This provides another great platform to discuss why it is healthy and how consuming as little as two or three cups of tea throughout the day can positively impact human health.

      So yeah, I’m excited.

      The FDA is very clear on what you can say about the health aspects of any food. The Holy Grail of tea continues to be what is known as a structure-function claim, which says: “If you drink tea, it’ll stop cancer, or if you drink tea, you’ll stop a heart attack. And that’s what we continue to seek. And more and more of the research indicates that we’re on the right path.

      That’s what we hope for in the tea business. That’s why we continue to encourage scientists to study tea, and we’ve seen progress in quite a few areas of human health.

      We just need some more studies to get us to the endpoint.

      International Tea Day 2024

      The Working Group on Tea & Health has the opportunity to use the established science to develop language around the topic of sport and fitness, targeting a younger generation as well as the importance of flavan-3-ols in healthy living. The language would include hashtags all organizations could use to amplify the messaging on various media platforms. International Tea Day, 21 May, would provide the perfect platform for the campaign, with all interested parties agreeing to harmonized messaging and campaign timings running up to and culminating on the day of observance.

      Dan: Is there a future for green tea in the US? Is that a style of tea that can expand?

      Peter: It’s a mixed story. Pre 1998, I worked for Unilever / Lipton in the US, and we were probably the largest green tea bag manufacturer and seller, but the total imports into the US were somewhere in the neighborhood of 3% of total tea.

      Then a study about tea drinkers in Japan was published in Reader’s Digest in 1998. That study talked about lowering the incidence of liver cancers, and the only thing they could attribute it to was a particular area in Japan. Shizuoka is the largest green tea growing area in Japan. People there consume much more green tea than the rest of Japan. They had a much lower incidence of that particular cancer, and when it came out in Reader’s Digest well, green tea sales exploded. I mean, you couldn’t find enough green tea to meet consumer demand. During the next few years, you saw a very steep curve. Green tea increased to about 20% of imports over the next four or five years and has been coming down ever since.

      So right now, green tea represents about 14% of tea imported into the US. I really think that, like anything else, you can tell someone that it is good for you until you’re blue in the face, but if it doesn’t taste good, they’re not going to consume it. And green tea just doesn’t fit the Western palate.

      Now a lot of caveats go along with that. Number one is that most people probably make their green tea incorrectly. They probably use the same amount of tea as black tea — you shouldn’t use as much. It would be best if you use about half. They’re probably steeping it in boiling water, which you shouldn’t do. Instead, you should bring the water to a boil and let it cool down to about 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Let it cool before steeping.

      Those two components alone make green tea much more consumable, much less astringent, and far sweeter than you would normally get if you produce it the other way.

      The other thing that people don’t understand about green tea is that there are two ways of fixing green tea or actually stopping the process of oxidation. The Chinese use pan firing on a very hot surface that the tea leaf passes over, destroying the Polyphenol oxidase, which is the ingredient that turns tea from green to black and oxidizes all the other constituent parts of the leaf. The Japanese use steam, and those two processes develop completely different flavor profiles. Japanese tea tends to be far more astringent with a bit more fishy taste, whereas Chinese tea tends to be sweeter and smoother.

      Those two processing elements alone drive a big flavor differential. But to your point, what can help make green tea more accepted? Clearly, we’re seeing the addition of botanicals mellowing out the tea. It’s important to keep enough of the “good stuff” (True Tea) to deliver human health aspects. That is really the way to go. Green tea blends have been well-received for years, but I think there is more interest in tea being blended with mint, or citrus fruits, or rose hips, etc. You’re getting a much more layered offering in terms of taste than you will with just green tea alone.

      It’s very interesting to see the innovation that’s going on right now in green tea and the use of botanicals and other components that help reach the consumer and create a better-tasting, more acceptable product.

      “The overriding concern of everyone in this business is the lack of profit throughout the entire supply chain.”

      – Peter Goggi

      Peter Goggi with Arun Singh, Founder Trustee at Tea Vision Trust
      Peter Goggi with Arun Singh, Founder Trustee at Tea Vision Trust

      Dan: Innovation isn’t an option when facing a diverse, aggressively promoted, competitive marketplace. You must innovate constantly because everybody with a beverage on the shelf is innovating, right?

      Peter: Yeah, I mean, this whole aspect of innovation, bringing new ways of thinking to produce a product, will help drive any industry, not just the tea industry.

      What you’ve been talking about, though, is generally limited to the country in which they’re doing it. I haven’t seen too much of that being exported simply because they haven’t had an opportunity to make as much.

      Peter: Yeah. I mean, this is what I was talking about before this particular project that you’re talking about. What do you have? You have economic sustainability; you have social sustainability. And you have ecological, which follows anyway because they’re probably diversifying their portfolio of crops that they’re growing because now they’re making more money from tea, they can maybe grow maize or something else that will help feed their family.

      You know, I mean, this is exactly what it is, and really, part of that model is copied from the KTDA (Kenya Tea Development Authority), which probably has the strictest plucking standards of any small holder that I can see and guess what, they always get the best prices, you know because they’re two leaves in a bud. And so, this, in my view, addresses several things. Number one is you get better quality. If you produce better quality, you get better prices, and everybody makes more money. But even more importantly, and that’s looking at the larger universe of tea, is that if you’re doing fine plucking, your yields go down, and if your yields go down, that means the balance between supply and demand will come more into play. And then the whole boat gets lifted, to use your metaphor, because a high tide lifts all boats, and that’s what we want.

      If we were in a much closer balance of supply and demand, it would be better, best for everyone. Everyone wins when you have a balance.

      Dan: At the heart of that balance is quality. Cultivate only lands that produce great tea. Then, limit what the factory will accept and process. Buds and a few leaves bring a better price at lower volumes. Leave the coarse leaves to reduce plant stress and minimize sorting costs. Harvest frequently to increase the concentration of tender fresh leaves. Hand pluck in steep terrain at altitude but use more selective optical “smart shears” elsewhere. Mechanization in the field and ahead of the sorting table lowers cost. Cultivate fewer hectares to deliver less to the withering trough. Invest in fermentation cabinets to achieve greater control and more distinctive tasting tea.

      Peter: All great ideas.

      This goes back to how they made tea in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and early 70s. It’s not rocket science, folks. Quality leaf means quality, which means you’re giving the highest potential to the factory to make good tea coming out. And if they treat that leaf well during their manufacturing process, you will have the best possible product. It’s just common sense.

      Dan: Why do you think so much effort, time, and money is being spent on producing a surplus?

      Peter: This is, you know, is one of the things that make you want to shoot yourself in the head. As a consumer nation, we’re saying listen, there’s only so much we can do to drive share of throat. You know, let’s face it, people can only consume X number of liters of liquid a day. That’s it.

      If, at origin, you decide to do just what we said to increase the quality of the pluck, make sure that you don’t chase markets when prices do go up and produce more tea to take advantage of that. Then everything falls into place as we can see in some of these demonstrated models. The challenge is that tea has been in a boom-bust cycle since I’ve been in business, and I got into the business in 1979.

      You can go back and look at historical records, and everything else to find that everybody freaks out whenever the price of tea starts going up. Producers turn on the tap and make more tea. One of the big problems with tea is that overnight, you can produce 20% more leaf just by picking more leaves further down the bush, or you forego pruning. Usually, 20% of your tea bushes are leafless and not producing. Growers stop pruning when prices go up that’s 20% more volume right there. Or you tell the pluckers to go a little bit further down the bush, and suddenly, you have all this lower-quality tea flowing into the market and depressing prices.

      Dan: A factory focused on quality over quantity will say, look, that’s a cheap way to increase volume, but the advantage is lost at auction when tea sells for so much less. A disciplined specialty grower will insist: Unless you give me the top three leaves, volume doesn’t matter.

      Peter: The factory can say that, but the dollar incentive too often overrides logic because there’s an opportunity to make a lot of money quickly.

      They have been under economic pressure for so long that an opportunity has come for them to make money to help fill the voids they’ve been accruing over the last several years. I’d take that opportunity. I mean, that’s just the laws of economics, and whether you like it or not, you feel for them.

      These are things that could be prevented. You mentioned Tanzania, their minister of agriculture came out a few months ago and said they are going to triple production to 90 million kilos by 2030. So, they’re planting new tea. Why? Why are they doing this? I mean, there’s no export demand and no domestic market that can consume all that tea in an effective, profitable way. We’re going to be in trouble for many, many years.

      Peter: Now, each country has its problems, and I don’t want to make snap judgments and say they’re wrong. They’re doing what they think is best for their people. And that’s what counts, but one can’t deny the laws of supply and demand, which is the most overarching issue we’re facing.

      There’s just too much tea in the world; if we can fix that, everything else will fall into place.

      FAO IGG Via Tea Board Of India
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      Episode 154 | Peter Goggi, the UN FAO IGG TEA delegate representing the US in his role as President of the Tea Association of the USA, discusses #TeaPower, a new health and wellness campaign, FAO’s ongoing support of smallholders, and the economics of oversupply. | Episode 154 | | 9 Feb 2024

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