Shantha Chhetri, a former parliamentarian from Kurseong, has written to the offices of the Prime Minister of India and the Commerce Minister, raising concerns about Tata Consumer Products’ consumer packs. She said the company blends its tea with those from Nepal, which is unsafe for consumption and does not meet safety standards. She has urged the food safety regulator, FSSAI, and the Tea Board to test their tea for MRL levels of banned pesticides. The company responded that they do not import directly from Nepal. And that any Nepalese tea in blends is sourced from Indian traders. Tata explained that their teas are rigorously tested within the company and are deemed safe. In 2021, Tata Tea and Darjeeling were at loggerheads when the Tea Board prohibited blending imported teas with GI-protected Darjeeling, Assam, Kangra, and Nilgiri teas. A year later, this ban was lifted. The Telegraph
Indian Government Requires 100% of Dust to be Sold at Auction
The amendment of the Tea (Marketing) Control Order, 2003, will come into force from 1st April 2024. One of the directives is that 50% compulsory sale of tea and 100% sale of dust grades must be sold through public auctions starting 1st April. This order is targeted at estates in North India, including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal. Dust grades account for 25% of Assam and West Bengal tea production. Retail prices for CTC dust are currently Rs 160 to Rs 190 per kilogram (IndiaMART). The move is thought to support greater compliance of tea towards boosting exports. The mandate does not apply to many small-volume mini-tea factories. Industry stakeholders are divided in their opinion on this new move.
Atul Asthana, MD, Goodricke Group Resigns
Atul Asthana, Managing Director and CEO of The Goodricke Group Ltd., has resigned after 39 years with the company. The Goodricke Group includes 18 storied gardens, including Thurbo, Badamtam, Barnesbeg, Nonaipara, and Hope across Darjeeling, Assam, and the Dooars. Asthana led the company to years of profitability, retaining its position as a top producer in the tea market. Asthana also actively supports the tea industry and is currently Chairman of the Indian Tea Association. The decision to resign, he has said, was for personal reasons.
Assamica is One of Five Distinct Genetic Tea Populations
By Roopak Goswami
A study published in the Journal of Plant Beverage Research reveals new Camellia sinensis assamica varietal traits. Researchers from India and China have worked on this study using 150 SNP markers and population genetics tools to conclude that Assam tea is unique. Researchers identified five distinct genetic populations independently domesticated from a western cluster of wild tea trees rather than introduced from a single origin. The varietal grown in Assam differs from the eastern cluster grown in Yunnan. This new understanding presents new possibilities for cultivating new hybrids bred from Assam tea.
While there is a reasonable consensus regarding China type (var. sinensis) and Assam type (var. assamica), the classification of Assam tea needs to be clarified. Scientists associated with the study say it is essential to understand further the genetic diversity and population structure in c. assamica for efficient conservation and use of Assam tea germplasm in crop improvement programs. The objectives were to understand the genetic diversity and population structure in the Assam tea germplasm from India and China and to assess the efficacy of the current classification system for tea.
The present study used 150 Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) markers to analyze a representative set of Assam tea sampled from Assam, India, and from four ancient tea gardens in China. SNP markers are the most efficient molecular markers, helping scientists locate genes associated with essential characters. A total of 252 teas sourced from Assam, India, and China were used in the investigation.
Scientists from China, the USA, and India employing cutting-edge techniques and population genetics tools have shown at least five distinct var. assamica populations in their primary gene pool. These include:
1. India var. assamica, which is distributed in Assam, India, 2. Cambod type from Indochina, but the exact origin and distribution are not yet identified, 3. China var. assamica from Southwest Yunnan (leaves from Jingmai and Mangshi), 4. Jingping, Honghe district, Yunnan and 5. Malipo, Wenshan district, Yunnan.
Assam growers contribute around 12% of the world’s tea annually and are known for the large quantities of second flush leaf harvested in May-June. Made tea is characterized by its boldness and robustness and is topped with classic malt and woody astringency flavors. It is valued for its rich taste and bright liquors and is considered one of the world’s choicest teas. Because of its high caffeine content, Assam tea is marketed as a breakfast tea.
The study says that despite the joint adoption of the two botanical varieties (C.s. var. sinensis and C. s. var. assamica) by the tea research community, the genetic basis for the current classification system for Assam tea germplasm has yet to be comprehensively clarified. Several studies based on molecular markers have provided contradictory results.
In general, tea in India Assam is known for its high polyphenol content, broad leaf, and adaptability to hot and humid climates. In contrast, the Chinese small-leaf variety is well known for its hardy adaptability to many environments, high theanine content, and small leaves.
“The main finding is that Assam tea is unique and has separate centers of origin. Although the Assam tea available in Yunnan in China has a bigger leaf size, it is different from the Assam tea available here in Assam,” writes Dr. Devajit Borthakur, a study co-author. Borthakur is a tea breeder and was the principal investigator at Tocklai when he did research in the USA.
“The specialty of Assam tea lies in its unique genetic architecture,” says Borthakur, who holds a doctorate from Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China.
“A thorough understanding of the genetic architecture of the popular Assam clones, including 154 garden series clones and at the same time, their blending compatibility need to be worked out to exploit the uniqueness of Assam Tea. TV-23, the most popular tea clone, does not reflect the true Assam character as the clone is a hybrid between the Assam and Cambod types, he says.
“The diversity among the Assam type tea in different tea growing countries is yet to be exploited. In tea, 80% heterosis (the superior performance of a hybrid progeny over the parents) is reported. Thus, there is a huge potential to improve tea’s yield, quality, and tolerance capacity if the breeding program includes the diverse tea germplasm available in different tea-growing countries. “Mutual exchange of germplasm between Yunnan in China and Assam in India and inclusion of this germplasm in tea breeding program may open up new possibilities,” he said.
“In conservation of genetic diversity, the important issue is that there should not be any duplication. Otherwise, the population size will be too big, and expenses and time will be well spent on maintaining the duplicated germplasm. To avoid duplication, it is essential to understand the exact genetic architecture of the germplasm. The panel of 150 molecular markers developed in our investigation is sufficient to avoid duplication in germplasm conservation of tea,” Borthakur said.
There is no doubt that China is the first center of domestication for tea, which can be traced back more than 2000 years ago. However, the hypothesis was that new studies, including the present one, did not support domesticated tea dispersed from China to India and Southeast Asia. Local people in Northeast India and Southeast Asia also domesticated tea using their indigenous wild tea populations.
“Our result confirmed that the wild trees found in Assam are indigenous to Assam and ruled out the possibility that they were introduced from Southeast Asia or China,” researchers say.
The study showed that research is still needed on the wild teas in Assam, the neighboring Northeast Indian states, and the countries extending south of China. “The distribution of genetic diversity in the Assam tea germplasm must be systematically collected and analyzed. The panel of 150 SNP markers developed in this investigation will help accomplish the task efficiently,” Borthakur said.
Shipping company executives see no sign of improvement for vessels transiting the Red Sea, leading UK retailers and tea companies to take steps to minimize shortages.
As shipping costs surge, suppliers in Kenya and India face a more daunting challenge. Rates from Asia to Europe are up nearly five-fold, rising to $5,000 per 20-foot container. During the height of the pandemic, the expense of shipping containers of tea long distances exceeded the value of bulk tea within.
Three months into the crisis triggered by the war between Israel and Hamas terrorists, Yemen’s Houthi rebels continue their drone and missile attacks in both the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
Executives of the largest shipping companies told Bloomberg TV that threat levels continue to escalate. The disruptions could last an entire year.
Maersk Chief Executive Officer Vincent Clerc told Bloomberg TV, “The amount and range of weapons being used for these attacks are expanding, and there is no clear line of sight to when and how the international community will be able to mobilize itself and guarantee safe passage.”
Half of the tea consumed in England is shipped from Kenya and India via the Suez Canal. This week, executives at Yorkshire Tea and Tetley Tea reassured the public they had implemented measures to minimize any disruption of the blending and manufacturing due to shipping delays.
A spokesperson for Tetley told the BBC “At the moment it’s much tighter than we would like it to be but we’re pretty confident we can maintain supply levels. Our priority is to maintain our consistent high levels of service, based on ordered and forecasted demand. We believe we can continue to deliver this, but acknowledge that this is a critical period which requires our constant attention.’
Spokesman Tom Holder of the British Retail Consortium, representing 200 retailers, reports temporary disruptions in the scheduled arrival of some black tea, but delays thus far amount to no more than a “blip.” Companies are adjusting orders and inventory to account for 10 to 14 additional days at sea. Sainsbury’s website assured customers of adequate supply but expressed concern should shipping firms experience lengthy delays.
According to Reuters, more ships are re-routing via the Cape of Good Hope than transiting the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aden.
BIZ INSIGHT – Britons drink about 100 million cups of tea daily, according to Sharon Hall, chief executive of the UK Tea and Infusions Association. The UK is the world’s fifth largest tea importer. Tea imports from outside the EU amounted to 104 million kilos in 2021. UK blenders export about 9.5 million kilos of tea valued at two million British pounds ($2.5 million in US dollars) annually, mainly to the European Union.
As State Governments announce their budget for the upcoming financial year, the tea industry has been waiting for news on its impact. So far, the Tamil Nadu government has announced an incentive of Rs 2 per kilo to members of the state-owned INDCO cooperative in the Nilgiris. This benefits about 27,000 small tea farmers attached to the INDCO factories. In Assam, 130,000 houses were to be constructed as per last year’s budget. This year, 10% of the houses are earmarked for tea garden workers. Additionally, funds will be earmarked towards payments of electricity bills in arrears in the tea communities. In West Bengal, the finance minister said 2,500 acres of unused land in tea gardens had been recovered and land rights granted to 23,000 workers in the Dooars. The housing scheme here continued to be in focus, as land rights and funds for house construction were included. Five tourism projects on four tea estates in the region have also been approved.
Iran Turns to Sri Lanka for Tea
The Hindu Businessline reportedthat a barter agreement between Iran and Sri Lanka will mean India will continue to lose in this market. In 2023, India’s tea shipment to Iran decreased from 54.45 mn kilos (2019) to 6 million (2023). Iran and Sri Lanka have entered a barter to settle the latter’s oil debt of $250 million for fuel purchases made in 2012. According to the agreement, Sri Lanka will supply tea worth $5 million monthly for 48 months, ending in September 2027.
Study on Assam Tea
A study published in the Journal of Plant Beverage Research reveals new Camellia sinensis assamica varietal traits. Researchers from India and China who have worked on this study using 150 SNP markers and population genetics tools to conclude that Assam tea is unique. Researchers identified five distinct genetic populations independently domesticated from a western cluster of wild tea trees rather than introduced from a single origin. The varietal grown in Assam differs from the eastern cluster grown in Yunnan. This new understanding presents new possibilities for cultivating new hybrids bred from Assam tea.
Kaziranga World Heritage Park is one of the last unmodified natural areas in the north-eastern region of India. Covering 42,996 ha it is the single largest undisturbed and representative area in the Brahmaputra Valley floodplain.
Assam’s Kaziranga Park Offers Tea Tourism Option
Kaziranga National Park in Assam is set to offer visitors an immersive tea experience to guests. The Park saw 326,000 visitors in 2023 and is a popular destination in the northeast, especially as home to the largest one-horned rhinoceros population. The park is surrounded by tea gardens and communities and has been steadily adding more activities, such as safaris and cycling, to its offerings. With this new addition, they could well give tea a much-needed boost.
Save Small Tea Growers Forum Seeks Minimum Floor Price
In the Nilgiris, the Save Small Tea Growers forum representing 65,000 small grower families has asked for the minimum price of green leaf to be set to Rs 35/ kilo. Current prices hover at Rs 15/ kilo, with the cost of production at about Rs 25. Until the price is fixed, the forum has asked the government to create a corpus to ensure the farmers are paid a fair price.
North Bengal Tea Worker Allegedly Dies of Starvation
Down to Earth magazine reported that 58-year-old Dhani Oroan, who worked at Madhu Tea Garden, Alipurdar, passed away on 2nd February 2024. A fact-finding team visited his home the next day. As per their report, Oroan’s wife, whom they met, showed signs of extreme starvation. Neighbors confirmed that Dhani also had been malnourished. The report offers details of Oroan’s wife’s height, weight, and BMI, which are well below normal. Madhu Tea Garden was closed for seven years and reopened in December 2023. In this period, the Oroans had no access to supplies via the Public Distribution System because their papers needed to be digitized, and various government documents needed to be linked in the backend. The couple depended on neighbors for a meal a day. Oroan died of a seizure. He could not avail medical help as the garden hospital was not functional, and no one around could afford to transport him to the nearest hospital.