• Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 23

    Hear the Headlines

    | Sri Lanka’s Clean Tea Ambitions
    | COVID’s Toll on Tea Garden Workers
    | Tea Day Auction Yields Record Prices
    | Nayuki’s Lucrative IPO

    Tea Price Report

    The worst of the pandemic’s second wave seems to be behind India as the number of cases have come down in many parts of the country, and lockdown restrictions are slowly being lifted. The focus now turns to production and prices across auction centres. Read more…


    Tea Biz this week travels to Boulder, Colo. where Maria Uspenski, founder of The Tea Spot explains the relationship of beneficial adaptogens and tea…

    …and then to Milwaukee, Wis., where Jeff Champeau, vice president of business development at Rishi Tea & Botanicals, explains that marketing seasonality is a great way to introduce craft-brewed tea into our lives.

    Maria Uspenski
    Maria Uspenski

    Adaptogens and Tea

    By Marilyn Zink | Herbal Collective Magazine

    Our guest this week is Maria Uspenski, a cancer survivor, and author of Cancer Hates Tea. In 2004 Maria founded The Tea Spot, a tea wholesaler and teaware design company in Boulder, Colo.  Read more…

    Maria Uspenski on Adaptogens and Tea
    Jeff Champeau, vice president of business development at Rishi Tea & Botanicals
    Jeff Champeau, vice president of business development at Rishi Tea & Botanicals

    Healthful Effervescence

    By Dan Bolton

    Tea is on a trajectory akin to small-batch, craft-brewed beer where carefully selected ingredients are individually prepared to showcase their best characteristics. Recipes emphasize balance, with efficacy and taste foremost. Excellence in blending and brewing preserves high concentrations of polyphenols and other beneficial plant compounds with minimum calories, nothing artificial, the convenience of cans and the fun of fizz. Read more…

    Jeff Champeau on sparkling craft-brewed teas
    Jayampathy Molligoda, Chairman SLTB
    Jayampathy Molligoda, Chairman Sri Lanka Tea Board

    Sri Lanka’s Clean Tea Ambitions

    By Dan Bolton

    The Sri Lankan government’s ban on chemical fertilizers including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium urea pellets, in favor of organic fertilizers is generating vigorous debate as the tea industry weighs methods for increasing yield.

    Jayampathy Molligoda, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, attributes the gradual decline in productivity in Sri Lanka’s tea gardens to continuous application of chemical fertilizer. In a 2,500-word article titled “Sustainable Solution to the Decline in Tea Production, Export Revenue and Livelihood” Molligoda advocates a “radical shift in our perceptions, our thinking, and our values.” He writes that the only viable solutions are those that are sustainable.

    His views are in sync with business leaders in Sri Lanka from many industry sectors, who are advocating a “green normal” in which companies collaborate to protect nature. One such coalition, known as Biodiversity Sri Lanka (BSL), is at the heart of building “truly sustainable economies and livelihoods.”

    Molligoda’s challenge is science as critics point to the myriad difficulties of switching from a compact, precisely applied plant food to a bulky and much more expensive alternate. Organic fertilizers are limited in their capacity to deliver nitrogen (12%) compared to chemical fertilizers (46%) and the price can be 50 times greater per kilo than synthetics that sell for less than $1 per kilo.

    Sri Lanka’s growers can produce enough fertilizer for 100,000 hectares and the nation’s 27 licensed domestic organic fertilizer manufacturers can provide enough fertilizer for 224,000 hectares. The country will have to import sufficient fertilizer essential for 500,000 hectares of paddy land and 600,000 hectares of other crops, including tea, according to a report in Economy Next.

    BSL is chaired by Dilmah Tea CEO Dilhan Fernando who writes that, “beyond the pandemic, we all face a threat that could literally suffocate, starve and extinguish humanity. The measures we must take now to assure our health, food security, and survival must be universal, science-based, innovative, and definite.”

    Biz Insight – The prize for Sri Lanka are teas that not only reflect the island nation’s extraordinary terroir but demonstrate in laboratory tests a level of purity no other tea producing country has achieved. In short, Sri Lanka will grow the cleanest teas in the world.

    COVID's Toll on India's Tea Gardens
    COVID’s Toll on India’s Tea Gardens

    COVID’s Toll on India’s Tea Gardens

    Last year the coronavirus pandemic plunged India’s economy into a recession for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. Tea production, tea exports, and tea retail all suffered, but rural workers were largely spared the high death counts experienced in the nation’s crowded cities.

    That is no longer the case as the COVID-19 second wave crests. The tea industry employs 3.5 million workers who reside in small homes and who rely on crowded vans for transport, resulting in much higher rates of infection than in 2020. Currently more than half of the 800 tea gardens in Assam and 300 of the registered gardens in West Bengal report active cases. Confirmation in a single tea estate of 20 or more cases results in the designation of containment zones. There are now 3,000 active cases among tea workers in Assam, but deaths of tea workers are rare at 102. Kerala reported 331 deaths of tea workers with 11 in Tamil Nadu. On June 15 West Bengal reported 4,371 active cases and 84 deaths.

    The rate of infection has dropped significantly since May, but vaccine hesitancy remains ‘rampant.’ Fewer than 100,000 tea workers in Assam have received their first shot with only 6,000 getting the required booster so far. Globally only 10% of the world’s population had been vaccinated as of June. Read more…

    Jorhat Tea Auction Centre
    Jorhat Tea Auction Centre

    Tea Day e-Marketplace Auction Yields Record Prices

    Selections of Indian tea harvested on May 21, International Tea Day, sold at record prices this week on a cloud-based digital marketplace launched at the height of the pandemic.

    The auction was conducted by mjunction, India’s largest B2B e-commerce platform.

    A whole leaf tea from Pabhojan Tea Estate sold for INRs 4000 (about $54 per kilo US) with a specialty green from Diroibam earning a winning bid of INRs 1000 (about $13.50 per kilo US). More than 93% of the teas on offer were sold.

    Pabhojan Tea Estate INRs4000 Record Price
    The Pabhojan Tea Estate orthodox above brought INRs 4000 ($54 per kilo)

    Additional tea estates with lots sold includ Lankashi, Aideobari, Muktabari, Rungliting, Narayanpur Panbarry, Durgapur, Tirual, and Kathonibari.

    Since June 2020 the marketplace’s 300 registered users have traded 1.3 million kilos of tea. Read more…

    Nayuki’s Lucrative IPO

    China’s fresh-fruit, bubble, and foam-cheese tea chain Nayuki debuted with a $656 million valuation this week on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Shares of the initial public offering traded at nearly $20 and were 190 times oversubscribed. Husband Zhao Lin and wife Peng Lin opened their first store in Shenzhen in 2014. Each is now a billionaire based on their holdings.

    The company operates 500 locations in China with 300 more planned in 2021 and 350 in 2022. International locations include Japan and the US. The IPO debuted before a planned IPO by cross-town rival Hey Tea, a larger venture with 450 Chinese locations that has also established a foothold in the US.

    Nayuki introduces a new flavored tea weekly
    Nayuki introduces a new flavored tea weekly

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  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 22

    Hear the Headlines

    | Cold Brew is Trending for Iced Tea Month
    | DAVIDsTEA in Canada Settles its Debts
    | Kenya Exports Surge but Auction Prices Remain Low
    | PLUS Smith Teamaker’s Ravi Kroesen explains the company’s new plant-based café concept and Amy Dubin-Nath talks about the future of whole leaf Indian teas.

    Tea Price Report

    As India’s second flush gets underway, the mood is glum as the industry continues to deal with many challenges. Local media reports on rising imports of tea into India and in Darjeeling, producers have expressed concern about zero-duty imports from Nepal. Read more…


    Tea Biz this week travels to Columbus, Ohio to visit with Amy Dubin-Nath, founder of Janam Tea and an ad hoc India tea ambassador to the US.…

    …and then to Portland, Ore. where Ravi Kroesen, head teamaker at Smith Teamaker, explains the many uses of tea at the company’s recently opened plant-based café.

    Amy Dubin-Nath
    Amy Dubin-Nath

    India’s Spectacular Specialty Teas

    Amy Dubin-Nath sees a bright future for specialty teas originating in India, “but I don’t think it is going to be a quick flip where people are only after high end teas.” Instead, the process will be gradual, following a path similar to wine. “Do I want to see the spectacular teas of India keep selling at a high price?” she asks, “Yes, definitely, as that elevates the perceived value, making it something precious. I believe that message should be spread throughout the world — including in India.” Read more…

    Ravi Kroesen, Head Teamaker Smith Teamaker
    Ravi Kroesen, Head Teamaker at Smith Teamaker, Portland, Ore.

    A Plant-Based Café where Tea Reigns Supreme

    By Jessica Natale Wollard

    The intent of the new café concept, says Smith Teamaker Ravi Kroesen, is to “develop foods that really reflect our ethos of plants, as well as utilizing tea as an ingredient.” The new Smith Teamaker café sources locally with a menu that includes snacks, lattes and iced concoctions with full meals that demonstrate how tea and food can live in harmony from leaf to cup to plate. Read more…

    Cold Brewed Tea
    Cold Brewed Tea

    Iced Tea Month: Cold Brewed Teas are Trending

    By Dan Bolton

    The challenge of correctly steeping a delicate green to avoid bitterness disappears when the tea is brewed overnight in the fridge. “I’m cutting calories and want something more flavorful than water,” begins one Reddit thread. “Can you explain to a total cold brew newbie how to get the most flavorful green tea without additives.” The responses were enthusiastic and numerous, evidence that the technique rivals more traditional fresh-brewed, flash-chilled black tea.

    Whether boiling tea to pour over ice, or making cold brew, the tea to water ratio is critical. Begin with about twice the normal weight of tea, 6-8 tablespoons for 1.5 quarts (or 8-12 grams per 950 milliliters). Stale tea requires more leaves, quality whole leaf requires fewer. Make sure your vessel is airtight as tea will pick up the scent of leftovers.

    Allied Market Research estimates RTD tea generated $30 billion in 2019 and will grow 5.5% annually to $39 billion in 2027. Health-conscious millennials are driving sales. Mintel reports that 25% of new tea innovations are RTD. In China where 78% of consumers are frequent drinkers of freshly brewed hot tea, RTD enjoys 49% penetration, which is greater than tea bags, according to Mintel.

    Biz Insight – Cold brew coffee experienced remarkable five-year growth in both bottled ready-to-drink and foodservice. North America is the largest cold brew market globally with 66% market share, followed by Europe (17%) and Asia (11%). In the US – 2015 toles of cold brew coffee are expected to increase ten-fold from $110 million to $945 million in 2025, according to Statista market research. Three-sixty market research estimates the market globally will reach $2.8 billion by 2026.

    DAVIDsTEA Settles Debts

    A Quebec Superior Court approved the Montreal-based tea company’s plan to settle $118.2 million in claims for $18 million payable in July. A US Bankruptcy Court this week approved a similar plan for resolving debts owed by DAVIDsTEA’s US subsidiary.

    The settlements are a final step toward exiting a year-long reorganization precipitated by the closure of all but 18 of the company’s more than 200 locations. The settlement will be divided with $15.3 million going to Canadian creditors and $3.1 million to US creditors, according to PwC, Canada. The company has sufficient cash on hand to meet settlement obligations.

    Under the direction of CEO Sarah Segal, DAVIDsTEA has adopted a “digital first” market strategy for sales to consumers. Its wholesale products are now found in 2500 grocery and pharmacy outlets. The company reported sales of $40.2 million in fourth quarter 2020. Revenue from the fast-growing online and wholesale segment has increased from $42 million in 2019 to $97.2 million in 2020. Greatly reduced brick and mortar revenue now accounts for only 12.9% of total sales. Revenue overall declined 38% in 2020 leading to $55.9 million in losses.

    Kenya surge
    Kenya tea exports surge during first three months of 2021

    Kenya Tea Exports Surge

    Despite upheaval at the factory level, Kenya exported much higher tea volumes this year. First quarter exports increased 18.9% compared to 2020, according to the national Tea Directorate. Volume topped 153 million kilos, up from 128 million during the same period in 2020.

    Smallholders that produce 65% of the country’s tea experienced variable weather conditions in 2021 creating an overall decline in production during the first three months of 2021. Growers, primarily in the far west, harvested 18 million fewer kilos since January compared to the same quarter in 2020. Auction prices are on the rise, reaching $1.84 per kilo last week but remain below the $2 per kilo threshold considered essential to cover production costs. Weekly prices so far averaged $2 only once in 2021. Tea prices averaged $1.80 per kilo in 2020, down from $2.05 per kilo in 2019.

    Biz Insight* – Kenya’s tea growers are benefiting from payment of 50% of the total due thanks to national reforms instituted this spring. Half the price for green leaves delivered within the month to Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) factories, is paid by the 20th of the following month. The balance is paid in the fall at the end of the financial year. KTDA’s factories are owned by smallholders and managed by KTDA.

    *Corrected 6.20.2021

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    Avoid the chaos of social media and start a conversation that matters. Subtext’s message-based platform lets you privately ask meaningful questions of the tea experts, academics and Tea Biz journalists reporting from the tea lands. You see their responses via SMS texts which are sent direct to your phone. Visit our website and subscribe to Subtext to instantly connect with the most connected people in tea.

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  • Q|A Ravi Kroesen

    “The perfect cup of tea is one shared with others.” This quote by legendary tea entrepreneur Steven Smith adorns oak paneling of Smith Teamaker’s new café in Portland, Oregon. It’s a café with a tea twist — the plant-based menu features dishes and snacks infused with the company’s premium tea.

    Listen to the interview:

    Teamaker Ravi Kroesen on Smith Teamaker’s new cafe concept.

    Portland's Smith Teamaker Cafe Photo by Andrew Vanasse
    Portland’s Steven Smith Teamaker Café. Photos by Andrew Vanasse.

    A Plant-based Food Café where Tea Reigns Supreme

    The intent of the new café concept, says Smith’s head teamaker Ravi Kroesen, is to “develop foods that reflect our ethos of plants, as well as utilizing tea as an ingredient.” Culinary Director Karl Holl developed the food menu, at the new café working with Kroesen to develop a menu that includes snacks, lattés, and iced concoctions with full meals that demonstrate how tea and food can live in harmony from leaf to cup to plate.

    Jessica Natale Woollard: Beets roasted in jasmine tea; quinoa cooked in Sencha; croissants filled with peppermint tea-infused chocolate. These all sound divine. What are these culinary delights?

    Ravi Kroesen: These are items we have started offering in our new plant-based café up on Northwest 23rd in Portland, Oregon. The concept is to further being a plant-based company, to further the concept in terms of developing foods that really reflect our ethos of plants, as well as utilizing tea as an ingredient.

    Jessica: What flavor combinations of tea and food delighted you the most?

    Ravi: I like the sheep’s cheese, sourced locally, used to make our white petal cheese. We blended in our white petal tea, a floral, slightly fruity white tea, and it creates this incredible new experience.

    Fat, as you may know, works in this process called enfleurage where it takes on aromas very easily. The fat and the cheese brings in all the flavors you find in drinking the tea, so they’re expressed very cleanly. We use that process in a couple different dishes. There’s one in a bowl that is a delight to eat.

    Interior Smith Teamaker Cafe
    Interior Smith Teamaker Café

    The sheep’s cheese comes from a local partner, Black Sheep Creamery. Karl Holl, our culinary director, was very specific in terms of working with local partners, so chocolate, salt, baked goods, those kinds of things, were specifically sought out to have local partners.

    Jessica: I imagine the process of developing the menu was filled with experimentation in your lab?

    Ravi: Karl spearheaded everything and worked with my team in the Tea Lab to fine tune a lot of the concepts. He already had some of the dishes worked out, but there were some that needed some fine tuning, and with our help — guiding and offering suggestions on how to best achieve the final outcome of a really wonderful dish — we worked together to create a wonderful menu. My team was integral, but certainly Karl is the genius in this whole process and the driver.

    Jessica: You just opened the café a few weeks ago, but can you share what menu item has been a popular choice so far? And what you think it is about that item that’s attracting customers?

    Ravi: We have a turmeric noodle bowl. Turmeric is such a recognizable ingredient; we’ve seen a rise in consumption in turmeric-based teas over the last five years. There is an understanding in the consumer consciousness on a broader scale now for turmeric being a beneficial and healthy ingredient. Leading with turmeric as part of the overall makeup of that noodle dish allows people to immediately get what they’re buying. The popularity of that dish shows that people who are coming to buy food at Smith, as well as drink teas, are health conscious as well as looking for new and exciting experiences.

    Jessica: What is your personal favorite item on this lovely menu? This is your chance to persuade us all to visit Portland!

    Ravi: I really do like the masala chai spiced cinnamon sugar bun. If you peel off the layers and eat them bit by bit, you’ll experience how well the masala chai is built into that baked good.

    I love to pair the morning bun with our black lavender latté, which is brewed using an espresso machine, or what we like to call a “teaspresso” machine. The machine’s high pressure combined with the heat creates a large amount of dissolved and suspended solids in the brew, which gives a much thicker, richer experience. That was the intention of espresso machines from the beginning, to create this quality of brew that you can’t quite get from brewing in other ways. We use a little bit of oat milk to top off the black lavender latté, and it is such a delight. It pairs so well with the masala chai morning button.

    This interview has been edited and condensed.

    Smith Teamaker Cafe
    Smith Teamaker Café

    Steven Smith Teamaker Café

    The café is located in Portland’s Northwest 23rd district, the same neighborhood where the company was founded in 2009 by the late teamaker Steven Smith.

    ? Jessica Natale Woollard

    Smith Teamaker Logo

    500 NW 23rd Avenue Portland, OR 97210
    (503) 206-7451

    Open 9am – 5pm daily

    Tasting Room
    (503) 719-8752
    (800) 624-9531


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