• A Living Wage Roadmap

    A sustainable future in tea depends on a shared responsibility among stakeholders to assure living wages (for workers) and a living income for smallholders. Last fall IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, introduced the Living Income Roadmap, an extension of the Roadmap on Living Wages, launched in 2019. These online platforms provide companies and brands with the resources they need to understand the gap between a living wage and what workers earn. The platform’s wage matrix helps identify gaps and guide businesses to develop strategies to make continuous progress in closing the gap. Case studies show that companies that pay a living wage achieve greater productivity, less turnover, and a competitive marketing advantage by improving the wages and ultimately the quality of life for workers.

    • Caption: Judith Fraats, senior program manager at IDH in Amsterdam
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    Judith Fraats, senior program manager at IDH

    IDH Roadmap on Living Wages

    Achieving Living Wages is a Shared Responsibility

    By Dan Bolton

    A living wage is the calculated wage needed for a basic but decent standard of living. Minimum wages are just that, a floor below which wages cannot fall. A living wage provides workers enough income to cover housing and groceries, healthcare, education and transportation, with a cushion for the unexpected.

    The IDH Roadmap on Living Wages helps workers secure living wages in supply chains globally. Achieving living wages is a shared responsibility across the entire supply chain. The program encourages stakeholders to align to strengthen their resolve. Case studies demonstrate that closing living-wage gaps is achievable without price escalation when best practices are employed. IDH has discovered that transparency and sustainable practices, beginning at the farm and extending to every link in the supply chain, adds value that is rewarded by consumers.

    IDH, the sustainable trade initiative

    Dan Bolton: Why is achieving a living wage for tea workers at origin a priority?

    Judith Fraats: Inequality is a big trend that we’re facing globally at the moment. Moving towards living wages enables structural change to break the cycle of poverty. But it also helps us to move towards a more inclusive society and reduce some of these inequalities.

    Let’s not forget that an adequate standard of living is a fundamental human right.

    Second, we see a growing amount of consumers, mostly in developed countries, that are asking these questions of their retailers and the brands that they consume: Can you prove to us that the workers and the farmers who have been engaged in making this product that they are able to earn a decent living?

    Do they earn enough with what you’re paying them?

    IDH Malawi Tea 2020

    Dan: In tea, labor issues and wages attract consumer scrutiny and debate. Will your share IDH’s experience in the tea sector?

    Judith: I think some of the listeners are familiar with the program that we’ve run on living wages in Malawi called Malawi Tea 2020 a supply chain-wide commitment on living wages.

    The objective was to ensure that the Malawian tea industry remained competitive while working towards a living wage for its workers and living income for smallholders. 

    The predominant focus of this program was on living wages. That program had a wide set of partners — we convened 36 organizations with living wage at its core but also looking at holistically a number of other areas which needed to be incorporated in order to address living wages.

    One of the things at the center of this, is that we can’t work on wages if there is no tea industry in the future in Malawi, right? The 9,000 smallholders enrolled in the Farmer Field Schools (FFS) led to a yield increase of nearly 22% the first year and of 41% in the season after graduating. FFS farmers also had a higher percentage of green leaf rated as ‘good’ (73%) compared to non-FFS farmers (56%) in the year after graduation.

    Competitiveness is a really important aspect, looking at how can we enhance productivity and quality, but also looking at how can we further improve social dialogue. One of the things that we managed to achieve was the development of the first collective bargaining agreement, for example.

    Over a five-year period, we’ve been able to reduce the living wage gap, from two-thirds to one-third. Which means that there is still a gap, but we’ve come quite a long way. As IDH, we’re here to continue working with the tea industry to help them on their journey in living wages, and to make progress to close living wage gaps together.

    Dan: Will you explain the difference between a living wage and a living income?

    Judith: The term “living income” is coming up more and more because when we talk about smallholders, we are actually not talking about a living wage. That’s when we start talking about living income. The concept is similar. Both focus on achieving a decent standard of living for households. However, living wages applies to a hired worker setting, whilst living income focuses on a self-employed farmer, for example.

    IDH Roadmap on Living Wages

    Dan: IDH introduced “The Roadmap on Living Wages” to help companies secure living wages along the entire length of their supply chain. Will you explain the roadmap to listeners?

    Judith: The roadmap has been built on best practices that we’ve gained throughout the years working not only within the tea sector, but also flowers, apparel, and fruit and vegetables, for example.

    It consists of five steps. The first is to identify what is the living wage benchmark for the region that you’re sourcing from.  We have a benchmark tool available on the IDH website where you’re able to identify which benchmarks are available for your sourcing regions. Once you know the benchmark, you obviously would like to know whether there is a difference between the actual wages that are being paid by the suppliers within your supply chain.

    To help companies in that process, we have developed the Salary Matrix, which is a self-assessment tool for producers to calculate current remuneration including wages, bonuses, cash, and in-kind benefits. This is then compared against the living wage benchmark. The tool helps you to understand the size of the gap, if there’s a gap at all. It also helps you monitor progress over the years and support work with, for example, certification programs that are continuously improving their living wage requirements.

    In step three we recommend you find a trustworthy way of verifying those calculations as a principle of self-assessment. One of our goals at IDH is that these gaps are verified by audits through certification schemes. We are not there yet completely. But it’s a process that’s very much ongoing.

    IDH Roadmap on Living Wages

    “IDH is committed to taking action and working together to have as a minimum a living wage for everyone in the workplace. We encourage more companies to get started. IDH is ready, we have the roadmap and are keen to support you in your living wage journey.”

    – Judith Fraats

    I think the most tricky step is actually closing the gap. Once the size of the gap is clear, you need creative and innovative approaches to remove these barriers to make progress towards closing this gap, which we believe is a shared responsibility and should be done in close connection with local stakeholders.

    The fifth step is sector-specific, and also context-dependent but you can learn so much across from all these different experiences, by sharing insights, learnings, best practices, what has worked well, what hasn’t. This is really key to further advance the living wage journey 

    Those are the five steps of the roadmap in a nutshell. Last fall we developed the Living Income Roadmap, which mirrors those five steps. They’re the same, although the actual process and implementation are obviously tailored to the smallholder setting.

    Dan: What’s the bottom-line benefit to brands and tea companies and how do they sign up?

    Judith: We hope that the roadmap provides guidance to companies that want to make progress towards closing the living wage gaps, and also helps to bring alignment within the more academic world on living wages. We’ve built this roadmap to help companies make progress. It is based on best practices with input from the private sector, but also civil society, other NGOs and sustainability and expert organizations. Together they really brought this roadmap to its fruition.

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  • BRU Debuts at CES

    Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, BRU is a single-cup specialty tea maker that won several awards for innovation. Swiss engineer and CEO Bogdan Krinitchko partnered with Filip Carlberg to establish the Zurich-based company, which manufactures the BRU Maker One, an IoT (internet of things) powered device that syncs with its own personalized BRU app, allowing users to save their preferred settings such as their brew time, temperature and the water quantity for each cup. The single-cup tea maker uses whole leaf tea, not capsules, with push-button convenience. The tea maker was recently awarded a US patent and is undergoing final certification. Production begins this spring.

    • Caption: Filip Carlberg, left, and Bogdan Krinitchko with BRU Maker One, a capsule-free, single-cup specialty tea maker designed to sequentially steep loose leaf tea multiple times with push-button ease.
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    Swiss engineer and green tea lover Bogdan Krinitchko on BRU’s debut at CES, Las Vegas.

    BRU break away
    BRU breakaway diagram

    BRU Maker One

    • IoT interactive. The BRU app allows users to control temperature, water volume and steep time. It can be programmed to steep the same tea in sequential steps (stacked steeps), and to make teas that reveal their full flavor at ambient temperatures (ambient tea). Use the smartphone app to set alarms, start the tea maker remotely and store brewing profiles for your favorite teas.
    • No capsules. Unlike capsule machines BRU permits extra long steep settings to properly extract botanicals in sachets.
    • Efficient and economical. BRU saves BTUs because unlike kettles it heats the exact amount of water needed for each cup. Surveys show kettle users boil twice the amount of water they use.
    • Convenient, quick, and clean. BRU delivers temperature-controlled hot water on demand, either filtered or tap water. BRU self-rinses with a programmed cleaning routine—push-button brewing with easy cleanup.

    Conveniently Unlocking the Value in Loose Leaf Tea

    By Dan Bolton

    High-grown teas that mature slowly in nutrient-dense soil are more flavorful and complex. It takes a series of infusions to unfurl the leaf, capture volatile aromatics and awaken the tea, coaxing into the liquor healthful plant sugars and phytonutrients. Unlike oxidized, shredded leaves, whole leaf and broken leaf teas deliver greater intensity in later infusions, not upfront. While it is more difficult and a bit messy, tea connoisseurs recognize that it is well worth the effort to prepare fine tea by quickly steeping small volumes in vessels packed with larger quantities of the leaf.

    BRU Maker One automates the process by utilizing a small glass brewing chamber and stainless steel leaf strainer. The chamber can be rinsed, filled, and re-filled in sequence. Temperature, volume, and steep times can be programmed for each steep. Steeps can be enjoyed individually or the entire infusion “stacked” in your cup or mug. By keeping temperatures low and steep times short BRU extracts nuanced flavor in green teas without bitterness.

    BRU Maker One is a single-cup tea maker designed to extract the full goodness of tea and the best value with consistency, precision, and convenience.

    Dan Bolton: You recently returned to Switzerland after presenting BRU to the 40,000 tech fans who attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Will you tell us about that experience?

    Bogdan Krinitchko: As a small startup, it was a great experience. We were super thankful that we were supported by SwissTech, which is the Technology Innovation Council of Switzerland (Innosuisse). We were one of 15 startups. I think two had physical hardware to demonstrate at the show. Overall, it was just a great experience and also brought us a little bit of media attention.

    Dan: This is the first time that the public has been able to taste tea brewed on the BRU Maker One. How was the new tea maker received at CES?

    Bogdan: It was pretty interesting feedback. In the beginning, people who had never heard about us came to our booth and asked, “Is this a coffee machine?” I said, no, this is a tea machine that makes the perfect cup at the push of a button without any capsules. When I showed how the machine operates, how easy it is to use, I think everybody liked it.

    We won a 2022 CES Editor’s Choice Award from USA TODAY’s consumer product reviews along with coverage in Reviewed and Gadget. Another award that we won from ENVENTYS Partners (a product launch company. It’s called the NICE Awards (New Innovations in Consumer Electronics) and BBC mentioned us as well so we received great PR attention in the UK.

    The product is real, you can touch it, it’s not just an idea anymore.

    – Bogdan Krinitchko

    Dan: I know that the more than 4,300 tea lovers who backed your Kickstarter project in November 2019 and the 5,500 who contributed via the Indiegogo campaign are looking forward to tasting their first cup of BRU maker tea. Will you update listeners on the final stages of manufacturing and when the tea makers will ship?

    Bogdan: We will soon post our monthly update with a deep overview of the machine. Presenting at the show was great timing for us. We even met a few backers at CES. The timing was good because a few months earlier we could not have brought along that machine.

    Right after the Chinese New Year’s, we will continue with the certification. Certification takes a couple of weeks. We want to make sure the product is safe and durable.

    We are being really careful not to promise an exact ship date since we don’t want to disappoint the almost 10,000 people waiting for our product. We expect to begin shipping in the first half of 2022.

    What we can say is the product is real, you can touch it, it’s not just an idea anymore. The injection molds, everything is done. Right now we are working on the whole fulfillment side. This is for us actually a real big handicap, because when we did the calculations back in 2018, we had estimated the shipping cost at around $2 to $3 per machine. Right now, we are facing $10, to $12 to $15 cost per machine. Also, the machine was improved, we added some features and functions that increased cost. Those are currently the challenges that we are solving but we are confident that every backer will get the machine and will be happy.

    BRU is exhibiting at the Inspired Home Show, March 5-7, Chicago (Booth SH1)

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  • Reinvigorating India’s Tea Sector

    India Chief Correspondent Aravinda Anantharaman reviews a momentous year for the tea sector in a country that produces 20% of the world’s tea. India’s tea drinkers are projected to consume 1.3 million metric tons of tea in 2022. Consumption outside the home (except in tea lounges and airports) has returned to pre-COVID levels and at 840 grams per capita, remains well below most countries, suggesting much room for growth. Her report is the sixth in the series of TEAIN22 year-end reviews and forecasts.

  • New Protocols to Evaluate Specialty Tea

    The International Specialty Tea Association (ISTA) announced that it has developed evaluation protocols and assembled a panel of tasters who share a common lexicon and have calibrated their sensory expertise to consistently judge tea quality, based on the skill of tea makers that is evident in the cup.

    • Caption: ISTA spokesperson Andrew McNeill on completing the first phase of tea evaluation protocols.
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    International Specialty Tea Association spokesman Andrew McNeill with Seven Cups Fine Chinese Teas

    International Specialty Tea Association founder Austin Hodge with tasters at evaluation stations in the ProSense Consumer Research Center

    ISTA Evaluations Based on the Tea Maker’s Skill

    By Dan Bolton

    During the past 14 months, ISTA worked closely with the Tucson-based ProSense Consumer Research Center to establish new protocols useful in evaluating a wide variety of specialty teas. Now that the protocols and panel are in place, the first full-panel descriptive analysis will be of black tea due to its commercial importance and high variability.

    The Association writes that “Producers of black tea, new and old, are seeking a sustainable market for high-value, high-skill specialty products and need a system that recognizes and rewards tea makers for that effort.”

    Dan Bolton: Will you tell our listeners about the organization?

    Andrew McNeill: ISTA was founded as an education and research organization, a nonprofit. Over the last few years, our main project has been to develop evaluation standards, a framework for the evaluation of specialty tea, to give some shape to the premium tea products that producers are making tea and, increasingly, what consumers are buying.

    Internationally, there aren’t a lot of standards that govern the quality and unlike other beverages, coffee, namely, where there are specific thresholds for what you could call a specialty coffee, there isn’t really a threshold or a uniform way of defining a specialty tea.  

    There are lots of different systems of evaluating teas of different origins, different qualities. But there isn’t really a lot of unification and agreement on how to evaluate your tea and what aspects you should be looking for.  

    Our project is trying to develop a system that can do just that.

    Dan: The first challenge then was for ISTA to determine the common characteristics of well-made tea. To do so you enlisted Dr. Rena Shifren an academic with 30 years of experience in sensory evaluation and owner of ProSense Consumer Research Center.

    Andrew: Over the past 14 months, Dr. Shifren, and her panel of tasters with ISTA have trained, calibrated, and experimented piloting a system for evaluating tea based on the skill of its tasters. The goal of this descriptive analysis panel included inventing the evaluation protocol, developing a shared lexicon that’s anchored in aroma and flavor references, and drafting a style guide.

    It’s of course a challenging feat to pull off; something that can recognize commonalities of quality across the broad range of styles and preferences and regions that make up the tea industry globally.

    What we’ve done for this project is train a panel to identify the sensory attributes of tea. Specifically what we focused on is identifying what are the commonalities of well-made tea. The goal here is to look at the skill of the tea maker. We want to find how that is reflected universally.

    Dan Bolton: Soon after the panel began its work, COVID-19 infections reached new highs.

    Andrew: Because participants in the project are from all over the country, all over the globe, it’s totally been conducted remotely which has been quite a challenge.

    We’ve had some fits and starts getting things in place, but it’s also been a really important proving ground. The goal of this system is to have calibration in remote settings so tea that’s evaluated for certain qualities at origin can be evaluated in the same way at its destination, and even by its end-user.

    If we’ve created a system that can serve all these different points in the supply chain, then we’re doing something right.

    ProSense Tea Evaluation Lab
    ProSense Tea Evaluation Lab

    “What’s integral for us at this point, is feedback from tea producers, people who are operating at origin, who are advancing the specialty tea industry, who are putting out a premium tea product, or at least aspiring to that.”

    – Andrew McNeill

    Dan: How does one go about becoming certified as a taster who understands the standards and can apply them?

    Andrew: We are still in the R&D phase here but we know ultimately that anybody who wants to train and calibrate with the system can do so. We’ve hit a milestone here but we’re still in the building phase. Next, we’ve got to really stress test it, if you will. So far we’ve looked at very established styles of what is generally recognized as premium tea or specialty tea. But we want to apply this to styles that maybe are newer, or maybe are emerging as a premium product, whereas before there weren’t. And so these challenges, we have to pick those up first.

    Also, we have to make sure we’re building a useful system. What’s integral for us at this point, is feedback from tea producers, people who are operating at origin, who are advancing the specialty tea industry, who are putting out a premium product, or at least it’s aspiring to that.

    We want to know if having this uniform method of evaluation, describing and informing purchases, or providing feedback from different points of the supply chain is useful to them.

    It’s not just testing it with different teas, but with different points in the supply chain. So a lot of work remains to assure that we’ve got as useful and as functional a system as we possibly can.

    The goal is to have something that isn’t sequestered away in one company or one segment of the industry but that is openly teachable, openly learnable, and can be adopted by tea producers, tea professionals, even consumers, the world over.

    Dan: That’s a great mission that you’ve described. This brings to mind a few technical questions. Right now you are evaluating hot tea, not cold brewed tea or variations in the brewing technique, like iced tea, right?

    Andrew: Right. Our evaluation protocol builds on a framework of what’s already been created, existing standards, and what’s already working. We are bringing that to the surface.

    To answer your question directly we’re looking at hot tea. You will find our protocols pretty similar to what’s already established by ISO (International Standards Organization) with some changes in the way that the actual sensory analysis is done along with a formal ballot and procedure for scoring. This is done with hot tea at a pretty strong extraction. Traditional tea evaluation has, on the professional level, seeks to tease out the flaws, push the tea to its edge. That is why the hot extraction we are working with is fairly concentrated.

    Dan: Assessing tea quality using protocols universally accepted by tea buyers and sellers should make it much easier to value transactions.

    Andrew: Yeah, I mean, those producers will get a better price for their tea and that risk of trying to premiumize your line, and improve quality by experiment is going to be rewarded so you’re gonna be recognized.

    That’s the hope.

    We’re doing our best to stand on the shoulders of giants.  We’re paying attention to existing systems of quality evaluation at origin. We’re not trying to redefine how people are judging the quality of their tea as the tea producer, we’re not trying to prescribe what tea is, really, we’re trying to take what’s already there, on a very sophisticated and well-understood level, and just bring that to the surface, bring it into common language, to where it’s understood across the supply chain.

    Once that happens, you solve that issue of asymmetry and information between the buyer and seller at origin and destination. And with that, you can get better quality and a better price for producers. That’s our goal.

    Cupping Set

    Donations of $50 or more will be awarded an official ISTA tea cupping set (while supplies last).

    For delivery outside of the United States, a minimum contribution of $70 is kindly requested to cover additional shipping costs.

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    ProSense Tea Evaluation Lab

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