• Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 42

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    | A New Theory on How Green Tea Promotes Longevity
    | The Bubble Tea Business is Frothing Globally
    | Assam Smallholder Collective Debuts Equifarm Tea Brand

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap


    This week Tea Biz travels to Miami, Florida to the offices of SAMA Tea where CEO Michael Parisi uses artificial intelligence to create new functional blends. SAMA’s CLAIRE platform is programmed to discover whitespace for new tea products, provide marketing insights based on consumer behavior. It even lists trending ingredients to consider in formulating the company’s new line of adaptogenic teas…

    Then we Zoom called two of the winners of the AVPA’s 4th Teas of the World Contest, starting in Crete, Greece where Jessica Natale Woollard spoke to the family-owners of Tofillo Farms, gold medal winners in the botanicals category.

    Then to Miaoli, Taiwan where Dan congratulates five-medal winner Rick Chang at the Xuejian plantation where he produces authentic bug-bitten Oriental Beauty oolong.

    Jay and Radhi Devlukia-Shetty co-founders SAMA Tea
    Jay and Radhi Devlukia-Shetty co-founders SAMA Tea

    Delicious by Design

    By Dan Bolton

    SAMA is an adaptogenic tea brand made delicious by design, according to SAMA CEO Michael Parisi, co-founder of 100.co, an artificial intelligence-powered brand creation platform used to parse millions of retail data signals such as product reviews and consumer beverage trends. Applying insights gleaned from this vast reservoir led to the recent launch of four purpose-driven tea blends inspired by Ayurveda and crafted to help balance the mind, body, and heart. The teas are sold in samplers or by subscription. Parisi spoke with Tea Biz from SAMA’s company headquarters in Miami, via Zoom.

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    SAMA CEO Michael Parisi uses artificial intelligence to create new functional blends.
    Malotira "Mountain Tea" from Tofillo, Crete
    Malotira “Mountain Tea” from Tofillo, Crete

    Native Malotira Tea from Crete Wins Gold

    By Jessica Natale Woollard

    High in the White Mountains on the island of Crete grows malotira, an ancient herb with small yellow flowers used to make Cretan Mountain Tea. Rodo Vasilaki and her husband and business partner Nikos Psyllakis grow the herb on 30-acres of family-run farms that are dotted across the island. Their Malotira Tea, known locally as tsai tou vounou and by the Latin name Sideritis syriaca, won gourmet gold at the 4th AVPA Teas of The World contest. Another one of their teas, Pink Healer, featuring Cretan sage and pink rockrose, earned a “gourmet” distinction. Read more…

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    Xue Jian Oolong Tea farm in Miaoli, Taiwan
    Xue Jian Oolong Tea farm in Miaoli, Taiwan

    Taiwan High Mountain Oolongs Earn Multiple Gold Medals

    By Dan Bolton

    Miaoli is a city of 89,000 nestled in the mountains of western Taiwan. The region is home to the Hakka, an indigenous tribe employed in the cultivation of tea since the early 1900s. Gardens in the area are famous for producing Oriental Beauty, an oolong that depends on the bite of the tea leafhopper to develop its honey fragrance and honeysuckle taste. Rick Chang is director at Xue Jian, a tea plantation situated at 4,500 feet altitude that produces oolong and black tea. The company first competed in the AVPA contest 2018, winning a gold medal that year and at least once every year since. Read more…

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    Rick Chang Xue Jian Oolong Tea


    A New Theory on How Green Tea Promotes Longevity

    By Dan Bolton

    Researchers at ETH Zürich have discovered that green tea catechins are not passive antioxidants but pro-oxidants that act to strengthen cells against attack by free radicals, leading to longer life and greater fitness.

    Initially, the presence of green tea catechins increases oxidative stress for a short while which has the subsequent effect of strengthening the defensive capabilities of the cells and the organism, according to study leader Dr. Michael Ristow, professor for Energy Metabolism at the University’s Department of Health Sciences and Technology.

    “Catechins, aren’t in fact antioxidants, but rather pro-oxidants that improve the organism’s ability to defend itself, similar to a vaccination,” said Ristow. “Green tea activates genes that produce certain enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CTL) that deactivate free radicals in nematodes, the test organisms chosen for the study,” he explained. 

    The findings from the study translate well to humans, said Ristow. “The basic biochemical processes by which organisms neutralize oxygen free radicals are conserved in the evolution history and are present in everything from unicellular yeast to humans,” he said.

    His findings appear in the October issue of the peer-reviewed journal Aging.

    Learn more…

    • Tian J, Geiss C, Zarse K, Madreiter- Sokolowski CT, Ristow M: Green tea catechins EGCG and ECG enhance the fitness and lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans by complex I inhibition. Aging, 2021 Oct 4;13. doi: 10.18632/aging.203597call_made
    From left, Sabin Narzary,  Sanibar Boro, Assaigra Boro, Thapsa Boro, Baburam Daimary, Pijush Goyary, Ajith Boro, Bijoy Boro, Kukhol Boro,  J. John, Minto Goswami,  and Sanjwrang Basumatary.

    Assam Smallholder Collective Launches National Tea Brand

    By Roopak Goswami

    Subsistence growers with generations of experience understand how to cultivate tea but are held back by their inability to process, package, and ship larger quantities. Few ever advance beyond the constraining role of supplying profit-driven bought leaf factories. 

    Grassroots Tea in New Delhi aggregates, repacks, wholesales, and retails authentic teas supplied by collectives and helps smallholders secure financing to establish Tea Producer Companies. TPCs then partner with the collectives to operate mini-factories that each process 2,500 kilos of green leaf to make 500 kilos of tea a day. Smallholders become producer stakeholders and ag entrepreneurs. Last week Grassroots debuted the equifarm brand on Amazon India. Equifarm teas range in price from $4.85 to $8.15 (INRs 605) for 250 grams. Unlike most smallholders — who receive perhaps a tenth of the retail price — growers supplying equifarm tea receive a far greater percentage of what consumers pay. This is because Grassroots Tea and lenders enable stakeholders to earn significantly more money by adding value close to origin. Read more…

    Philipping-based Jollibee buys controlling shares of Milkshop, Taiwan.
    Philippine-based Jollibee buys a controlling share of Milkshop, Taiwan.

    The Bubble Tea Business is Frothing Globally

    Manila-based Jollibee Foods Corp. this week acquired a majority stake, paying $12.8 million for one of Taiwan’s largest bubble tea companies, the latest of many investments fueling the global expansion of the multi-billion segment.

    The 250-location Milkshop International, founded in 2008, operates 231 units in Taiwan and the remainder in Singapore, Hong Kong, Melbourne, and Vancouver, Canada. Milkshop grew revenue by 12% compared to 2019 generating $75 million in sales in 2020.

    Jollibee, which operates 5,853 outlets in 34 countries, announced that the investment “gives JFC the opportunity to participate in this fast-growing beverage category.” Milkshop drinks are offered in three Jollibee locations.

    Kung Fu Tea, founded in 2010 in Queens, New York operates 250 locations in the US. Gong Cha operates 1,400 stores including 36 North American locations. In September ChaTime, Taiwan’s largest bubble tea brand with 1,200 locations in 50 countries, announced a major expansion in the US.

    The global market, valued at $2.2 billion in 2019, is rebounding from an acute shortage of tapioca pearls that followed lockdowns in 2020. Fans worldwide adopted a self-imposed “one boba” per day limit during a period when Taiwan halted the water-intensive manufacturing of pearls to conserve water during a two-year drought. Taiwan manufacturers 90% of the world’s favorite boba-sized black tapioca pearls.

    Technavio estimates the global market will grow at a compound annual rate of 6.5%, adding $942 billion in sales by 2025. Fortune Business Insights predicts $3.9 billion in sales by 2027. Market leaders include Kung Fu Tea, Gong Cha, Chatime, ShareTea, and Coco Fresh.

    Biz Insight –  There are now 20,000 bubble tea outlets in the US and the drinks are sold at another 30,000 restaurants including Sonic and Dunkin. Jollibee operates 69 US stores. The US market for bubble was estimated at $240 million in 2020 and displaying every indication of continued growth. For example, San Francisco-based Boba Guys now manufacture their tapioca pearls in the US. 

     Dan Bolton

    In Memoriam

    Peter G.W. Keen
    Prof. Peter G. W. Keen, a brilliant educator, and author with a passion for tea passed Oct. 26. Keen was born in Singapore, educated at Oxford, and taught at Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. He published more than 30 scholarly books during his 79 years, including three books on tea along with many hundreds of magazine and online articles about his beloved brew. A celebration of life is planned for spring 2022.
    Click to read his obituary.

    • Read more… links indicate the article continues. Learn more… links to additional information from reliable outside sources.
    Tea Price Report
    Oct 30 – Sale 43

    India Tea Price Watch | Sale 43

    In North India, Kolkata saw good demand for all tea types. Among buyers, the Middle East was active for orthodox tea while HUL and TCPL were active for CTC and dust. In Darjeeling, more broken and fannings found takers this week. Guwahati also saw good demand with major blenders active for both leaf and dust. Siliguri also saw good demand for tea, as it did the previous week. In the south, Coonoor saw good demand for CTC leaf with nearly 96% on offer sold. Cochin and Coimbatore saw better uptake for dust. Of the 692 kilos of green tea on offer at Coonoor, only 173 kilos sold at INRs 200 per kilo. Read more…

    Aravinda Anantharaman

    Upcoming Events

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  • Grassroots Tea

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

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

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

    Assam Smallholders Express Pride of Ownership

    By Roopak Goswami

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

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

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

    Sabin Narzary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Equifarm tea

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

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

    Grassroots Tea has a packaging unit in Barpeta, Assam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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