• Tea Sustainability Perspectives

    In October, Transworld, China’s first USDA-certified organic tea producer, and Firsd Tea, the US subsidiary of Zhejiang Tea Group, released the Chinese Tea Sustainability Report, a 12-page survey of perspectives and practices at Chinese tea farms and processing facilities. The report tracks closely with Firsd Tea’s annual Sustainability Perspectives survey. Operators who responded generally comply with emerging traceability standards and guidelines by third-party certifiers, including the Rainforest Alliance, FLOCERT (Fairtrade International), and Fair Trade USA. Respondents from the nine provinces surveyed collectively produce 15 million kilos of mainly green tea on 12,000 hectares of land.

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    Jason Walker, Marketing Director of Firsd Tea, discusses tea producer perspectives on sustainability.
    Jason Walker, Marketing Director Firsd Tea
    Jason Walker, Marketing Director Firsd Tea

    Sustainable Tea Plays a Critical Role in Alleviating Poverty

    By Dan Bolton

    Jason Walker, 46, one of the architects of the sustainability report*, is the marketing director at Firsd Tea in New Jersey. His expertise includes business development, market research, and tasting. In June 2019, He testified at the US Trade Representative Hearings on behalf of the US tea industry in opposition to increasing tariffs on Chinese tea. “I really enjoy marketing as a bridge for sharing what’s new and relevant,” he says. “My connections to China and my work with Firsd Tea provide a great opportunity for thought leadership to and from the Chinese tea industry.” 

    Dan: Jason, let’s begin with some background on China as a responsible agricultural producer.

    Jason Walker: In the past few years, China’s strategic plans have emphasized reducing pollution. More recently, they shifted towards food security. And they’ve said, ‘Let’s keep that green. Let’s keep that clean. But let’s alleviate rural poverty and bring in more food security as well.

    Dan: China has demonstrated a long-term commitment to alleviating rural poverty. Describe the role tea plays.

    Jason: When you take a more extensive view and look at what the UN says regarding global economic development and people emerging from poverty, much of that success can be attributed to what China has done within China. You’re talking about a lot of people that China by themselves; World Bank estimates range as high as 800 million — that China has helped get out of poverty.

    Tea has been a useful way to do that because the tea product is a leaf, it is a stable, sturdy plant, you’re not tilling it up and planting something new, you’ve got a good product, you can learn you can train people on how to grow it well. And they have a regular crop every year to give a steady income.

    It was a reason to develop a lot of rural areas. Because now you’ve invested in that leaf and the infrastructure, they need to be able to sell and produce that leaf.

    China set [sustainability] standards, especially domestically, for tea. About 85% of China’s tea stays in China. They said, ‘We have to protect our people and raise our standards internally as well.’

    Most respondents now have an improved outlook on progress made in sustainability in the last ten years. They also view present-day efforts more favorably and predict an increased improvement trajectory in the next ten years.

    Firsd Tea Sustainability Perspectives 2023

    Dan: Will you dig a little deeper into the specifics of the Chinese Sustainability report?

    Jason: Our Sustainability Perspectives is a global report that looks at professionals from tea, coffee, and cocoa and compares their different perspectives.

    What we saw was that a lot of people are still concerned about the environmental aspect of sustainability. They are worried that tea is more susceptible to climate change than other crops like coffee and cocoa. So that was a bigger concern.

    But when we asked: What are you prioritizing in terms of sourcing products to sell? They’re still prioritizing taste, price, and leaf characteristics. In some cases, organic comes to the top above things like sustainability. So there seems to be a mismatch in priority, and maybe the talking points behind it.

    In 2023, respondents still listed flavor (96%), leaf grade (91%), and origin/terroir (90%) as the top three characteristics that contributed to their decisions to stock particular tea types. Respondents in tea and related industries ranked “Sustainability” in the bottom three purchasing drivers, edged out by demand, consistency of supply, and price.

    Firsd Tea Sustainability Perspectives 2023

    Dan: How influential are the third-party certification partnerships that have been established? Transworld, for example, was China’s first USDA-certified organic tea producer.

    So you’ve got Rainforest Alliance, you’ve got Fairtrade. They are active in China, although China isn’t their most well-known market or area of influence because China already has fairly high standards set by the government. Many Chinese producers already comply with pretty high standards to operate within their country, which makes it a little bit easier for fair trade certification to some extent rainforest as well to say that they’re already in compliance.

    The end you must meet are EU standards for imports and US standards in terms of pesticide residue levels and, increasingly, overall traceability and more government requirements in places like the EU and the US in terms of protection of workers. Deforestation and other areas are becoming new laws in the pipeline.

    “Respondents in tea and related industries still believe Organic Certification is the most important standard to consumers (95% of respondents). Non-GMO has surpassed Fair Trade as the second-most important standard.”

    Firsd Tea Sustainability Perspectives 2023

    Plucking tea at one of China's Transworld Organic Tea gardens
    Plucking tea at one of China’s Transworld Organic Tea gardens

    Dan: In April 2018, Transworld and Zhejiang Tea Group donated 15 million green tea seedlings to villagers in 34 poverty-stricken areas across three provinces. Five years later, 1,800 households and more than 6,600 family members are thriving thanks to increased income from tea. Will you discuss the impact of the White Leaf Sustainability project?

    Jason: Some research institutes in China and local and regional government organizations said, ‘We have healthy farms in Zhejiang province that are prepared to donate millions of tea seedlings or cuttings and distribute those within rural, underdeveloped areas in Western and Central China. And they brought those into those villages, and they not only showed villagers how to cultivate those plants, but they also invested in the local processing facilities.

    They contracted in terms of committing to buy X number of kilos from those facilities. And marketed those teas as unique, valuable products that benefit these communities and build them up to be sustainable. As you said, it’s not just about the planet but also about the people.

    Dan: What motivates the Chinese ag industry to strive for sustainable production?

    Jason: They want their citizens to have a clean and healthy environment. They are looking for how they can ensure that our people are healthy, have good job opportunities, have growth, and feel that their products are safe. So that’s why they’re aiming even for zero growth in some pesticide applications. They have put more research into converting from the more conventional pesticides to biopesticides and non-traditional pest solutions, like light traps.

    They’re doing the research and development stage where light traps had different wavelengths. Some attract the male insect, and some attract the female insect to keep them from mating. So they’re looking to cut back on the conventional to bring in more novel solutions to be sustainable, clean, profitable, and growing.

    Insect lamps and sticky boards in Chinese tea gardens
    Photos courtesy Zhejiang Tea Group
    Insect lamp with sticky board
    Insect lamps and sticky boards help control pests in Chinese tea gardens.

    Dan: The report is an admirable effort to monitor tea sustainability globally, Jason. Let’s close the discussion with this open-ended question. What are pressing challenges, and what does the future hold?

    Jason: First off, what I see for the future is that I think we can reduce the traditional conventional pesticides, especially where those are heavily monitored. We are exploring how to move towards bio-pesticides that are plant-derived or more naturally derived solutions.

    How do we ensure the rest of the world is on board to recognize them as acceptable solutions and optimized practices worldwide? With that in mind, how do we protect people as their concerns about migration of people moving, how does that affect tea harvesters who are moving around to different harvest locations, and how will they be looking at the timing that affects the seasons and harvest times?

    So, this year, 2023, has been better so far than 2022.

    The Meteorological Society, from what I’ve heard, is discussing how to provide better projections and practical advice to the farmers — what to prepare for, how to adjust your pruning, how irrigation may be maybe improved in terms of rain retention ponds, drainage channels, or ditches that capture more moisture, those types of things.

    Generally, everybody in tea doesn’t want to rock the boat by saying changes in climate are affecting quality — yet. They feel we can still make the most out of what we’re doing.

    There are lots of issues to work on. There’s a great opportunity to touch on all those things if we, as we talked about in the studies, can all get on the same page in terms of communicating about these things, sharing our concerns, and working on shared solutions.

    “When it comes to specific climate change threats on tea production, most respondents said changing rain patterns (95% in 2022 vs. 100% in 2023), and extreme heat (91% in 2022 vs. 97% in 2023) are the biggest climate change risk factors with pest problems close in third (89% in 2022 vs. 96% in 2023). Paralleling worries about the effects of climate change on business operations, 95% (vs. 93 in 2022) of respondents said that tea is a very or somewhat sensitive industry to the effects of climate change, followed by coffee at 86% (vs. 82% in 2022).”

    Firsd Tea Sustainability Perspectives 2023

    Respondents were once again asked to rank how effectively countries with substantial domestic tea production implement sustainable practices. Japan remained No. 1 (96%), but remarkable differences surfaced in 2022. Though every country witnessed positive increases among survey-takers, Vietnam (+37%), Kenya (+33%), China (+26%), and Sri Lanka (+26%) saw outstanding improvements in 2023 from the 2022 study.

    Firsd Tea Sustainability Perspectives 2023

    Respondents Most Commonly Mentioned These 5 Themes

    • Consumer Demand – “All actors in the supply chain need buy-in. Consumers want [sustainability] but don’t want to pay for it. This forces producers to comply with standards without getting increased pricing.”
    • Quality of Life for Workers at Origin – “Paying a living income to the industry, especially smallholders, will help promote sustainability practices.”
    • Better Farming Education – “More education and training to farmers.”
    • Environmentally Responsible Practices – “Using more eco-friendly methods of farming and processing.”
    • Improve Regulatory Programs – “… sustainability certification programs must engage with the local laws, tea research bodies, and technological experts. By doing so, they can provide meaningful benefits to tea farmers and ensure their economic sustainability.


    Research done by Stanford University suggests that helping smallholders optimize their use of pesticides could be a big win in terms of reduced environmental impact. Globally and in China, the majority of tea is farmed by smallholders.

    *The Sustainability Perspectives report derives its findings from a three-month-long survey administered by Crothers Consulting to 100 voluntary respondents conducting business in tea and related industries(e.g., coffee, sugar cane, wine, and cocoa) on behalf of Firsd Tea. Survey responses were primarily generated by website posting and subscriber outreach by Firsd Tea and The Tea& Coffee Trade Journal, direct messaging on platforms like LinkedIn, and word-of-mouth networking. Industry-specific organizations, including the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada, promoted the survey by sharing it with virtual conference-goers.

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    Jason Walker, Marketing Director at Firsd Tea in New Jersey and one of the architects of the newly released Chinese Sustainability Perspectives report joins Tea Biz for an in-depth discussion of the results of this ongoing survey.

  • Kazi Yetu: Crafting Opportunity at Origin

    Tea Biz traveled to Tanzania in October to explore the tropical Usambara Mountains in the Tanga tea-growing region. I met with smallholder farmers, tea makers, traders, tea sellers, and the Tea Board of Tanzania members during my travels: The 14-family Lutindi cooperative invited me deep into the jungle to watch as they hand-rolled and wood-fired organic black tea that always sells out on “market day” in the local village.

    Kazi Yetu co-founder Tahira Nizari hosted the week-long trip. Nizari is a savvy business school graduate and humanitarian whose specialty tea brand advances the role of women in Tanzania’s tea industry. She retains value by locally processing, packaging, and blending tea with authentic spices, redistributing economic gain and opportunity for smallholders.

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    Kazi Yetu co-founder and CEO Tahira Nizari
    Tahira Nizari
    Tahira Nizari launched Kazi Yetu to benefit women in agriculture

    Value Addition at Origin Enhances the Lives of Tea Workers

    By Dan Bolton

    Kazi Yetu sources much of its tea from the Sakare farmer’s cooperative in the Usambara Mountains, a range in northeastern Tanzania that is 90 kilometers long and about half that wide. The Usambara Mountains are one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, with a virgin rainforest that rises to more than 7,500 feet (about 2,289 meters above the Indian Ocean). Organic-certified* teas are finished and transported to the port at Dar es Salaam, where 35 women blend, pack, and distribute tins and canisters. Teas are available globally in bulk, as a white label, and are sold directly to consumers online. The company is a registered B Corp that sources, processes, blends, and packs its teas entirely at origin using locally-grown inclusions in sustainable packaging. Kazi Yetu has a sales office in Germany and wholesale clients in the US, Africa, and the Middle East.

    Dan: Will you share with us the origin story of Kazi Yetu?

    Tahira: I started Kazi Yetu five years ago to create a sustainable and socially focused business. I wanted to support women in agriculture because women in Tanzania often lack jobs across the agriculture value chains. And I thought to myself, I can do this. I understand consumers around the world and what farmers need and can do.

    Kazi Yetu in Swahili means “our work.” And that’s really what we’re about. We never want to lose that vision about creating jobs for women.

    And so we started in 2018 in my dining room packing little tea bags at home, and then we got into my husband’s car [Hendrik Buermann is the co-founder]. Then, we drove across the country to farms, collected samples of teas of spices and herbs, and met with farmers.

    We came back and started blending our recipes. I’m a tea lover. So that was exciting. I love product development, playing with flavor profiles of different ingredients made here in Tanzania and grown here.

    And slowly, we started to expand. We created a really small factory, half of a house because I couldn’t pay for the whole house. And then, slowly, we moved to a larger warehouse. And now we’re in the factory that you have come to visit. We have 35 women employees and a solid team at the production and management levels.

    I’m excited that we’re working with over 2,500 smallholder farmers across Tanzania that produce tea, herbs, and spices. There’s tremendous potential here for tea, but it’s unrealized in many ways.

    Tea workers at weigh station
    Tea workers at the weigh station greeting visitors

    Dan: Many listeners have consumed Tanzania tea as a blend, unaware of its origin. In contrast, your teas are proudly Tanzanian, traceable, certified, and meet EU and US import standards.

    Tahira: Traceability is critical. The reason for that is manifold. We see consumers increasingly seeking to know their producers and the journey of their products from farm to table. We’re seeing a growing demand for that. But more important to us is to put a face and a name on our producers. And we believe that by doing that, we’re encouraging them to get more involved in quality and to be more connected with consumers. We can connect them with their consumers through a simple QR Code.

    Traceability is evolving — highlighting many different qualities and characteristics of the environmental and social sides. Consumers now ask what is the impact of tea production. What is the harvest period? What are the ecological conditions under which the tea herbs or spices were grown?

    Dan, Tahira cupping

    “We want to highlight that Africa’s agriculture can be wild, which we embrace.”

    Sakare factory manager Hekima Sanga, left

    We want to highlight that Africa’s agriculture can be wild, which we embrace. There are lots of wild and indigenous herbs and spices with variations between seasons and in terroir, with benefits of biodiversity. This variance is pleasingly unpredictable, and its traceability is illustrated through different batches. You could try a Ginger Mint Fusion, batch #73, and appreciate the balance of the green tea with the mint and learn about the farm and harvest season, and then you could try batch #96 with a balance and a stronger hint of rosemary and learn about the journey of that batch to your cup.

    Dan: We met with the Tea Board of Tanzania to discuss the challenges facing tea growers: low prices, high production costs, climate change, and a global glut of poor-quality tea. I left the meeting optimistic.

    Sakare workers, Tanzania tea farm
    Sakare tea workers, Tanzania tea farm. Photos by Dan Bolton

    Tahira: Tea is the fifth highest-earning crop in Tanzania. It’s a strategic export-oriented crop, and there’s also a lot of domestic consumption.

    Tea plays a pivotal role in the economy.

    There are more than 30,000 farmers involved in tea here. And so, you can imagine the magnitude of the volume, the opportunity for impact, and growth. The Tea Board of Tanzania regulates the tea sector, there is also the Tea Smallholder Development Agency, and then there’s a Tea Association of Tanzania.

    These bodies are very supportive of the growth of the tea sector. They’ve been supporting Kazi Yetu from day one.

    We were just a tiny business compared to the larger companies: You have Unilever here and many British-owned and Indian-owned tea companies.

    The board immediately understood our vision for specialty tea production and promotion. And they have been instrumental in helping us export our products and helping us influence policies that, you know, affect us and our farmers. So, I would say it’s a very positive and robust infrastructure here.

    I think there’s a lot of work to be done here to empower and support farmers and grow the reputation of Tanzania and its tea.

    Usumbara Mountains
    The Usambara Mountains in Tanga are one of six distinctive tea-growing regions supported by the Tanzania Smallholders Tea Development Agency. The other regions are Mbeya, Iringa, Mjombe, Kagera, and Mara.

    Dan: The mountains here are misty and cool, with a dense jungle canopy. The rootstock is healthy, well-drained, and sound. Across the country along the shores of Lake Victoria, the Bukoba soil is dry, and the land is flat. In the south, the Lupembe highlands are steep, with slopes of up to 50 degrees.

    I sampled several styles of Tanzanian tea, from hand-rolled village market tea to well-crafted oolong, specialty blends, and factory CTC for export. I find the teas fresh, distinctive and well-presented.

     Will you describe what makes Tanzanian tea so tasty?

    Tahira: That’s a fantastic question.

    So, Tanzania has very different environmental conditions than your usual tea-growing countries. We have more shaded, more cloudy areas of tea production. We also have sunshine in more dry, arid regions. It is humid, and it’s sunny.

    The clonal varieties that thrive here are a mix of different cultivars from China and India. Hybrids have been researched and developed to succeed in these kinds of climates.

    I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse than other tea-producing countries, but Tanzania is different, and it’s an exciting distinction. 

    Tanzania tea has a brilliant color; it brings a nice bright color to the cup. It’s excellent for blending, so that’s what Kazi Yetu does: we blend it with herbs and spices. We also have our pure teas, our Kilimanjaro green tea, or Kilimanjaro black tea. We love getting consumers to taste cinnamon bark shavings from Zanzibar (known as Spice Island) or hibiscus iced tea lemonade. Other herbs and spices include ginger, peppermint star anise, lemongrass, and Moringa. There are lots of lovely ingredients to blend in with the Tanzanian teas.

    Kazi Yetu Blending and Packaging Facility

    Kazi Yetu’s Production Management Team

    • Ashley Speyer, COO
    • Emmy Manyelezi, Head of Projects
    • Joseph Kaluwa, Supply Chain Coordinator
    • Kalili Kafuku, Sales Manager Tanzania
    • Katharina Eichinger, Sales & Communications Europe
    • Lugano Jengela, Grants/Finance Manager
    • Saada Mlewa, Finance Officer
    • Stadia Kipangula, Production Supervisor
    Kazi Yetu line
    Kazi Yetu’s full range of sustainable products.
    • *Kilimo Hai certified (East African Organic Products Standard). Kilimo Hai is a peer-reviewed certification administered by the Tanzanian Organic Agriculture Movement. The company’s packing facility is seeking EU organic certification and hopes to extend that certification to all 18 of its suppliers.

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    In Tanzania, Kazi Yetu packages and distributes organic-certified specialty tea from high-potential cooperatives, redistributing economic gain to the farm level that empowers entrepreneurial smallholders eager to improve their livelihood. Share this story with your friends in tea.

  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 49

    Hear the Headlines

    | Omicron Cancels Restaurant Reservations
    | Sri Lanka Barters $5 Million of Tea Monthly to Settle Iran Oil Debt
    | Foodservice Tea Still Recuperating, a TEAIN22 Forecast

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap

    Caption: Two years of COVID reset tea consumption at restaurants and cafés, initially reinforcing traditional expectations of comfort and warmth but evolving to permanently disrupt delivery, takeaway, menu choices, and celebratory occasions with tea.

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    This week Tea Biz travels to the Republic of Ireland to visit Teacraft founder and research scientist Nigel Melican who explains the necessity of mechanical tea harvesting and describes an innovation in two-man harvesters that features a rotating head that simulates a “selective” pluck without shearing leaves.

  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 48

    Hear the Headlines

    | TEAIN22: Bulk and Specialty Tea Prices Diverge
    | France Will Pay €1 Million to GI Certify Ceylon Tea
    | Sotheby’s Inaugural Tea & Teaware Auctions Total HDK8 Million

    PLUS Frugal Innovation, Part 2

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap

    Caption: A few of the 24 rare Puerh cakes and aged teas that were auctioned at Sotheby’s first tea auction. Photo replicated from Sotheby’s auction website.

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    This week Tea Biz travels to Asheville, North Carolina to meet teaware potter and ceramist Mary Cotterman who discusses the artisan spirit and state of mind of those embracing native clay and how COVID-19 lockdowns focused her attention like a monk… 

    …and then to Assam, India to hear Part 2 of the series Frugal Innovation. In this segment, Aravinda Anantharaman explores the application of Frugal Innovation in the tea garden and factories.  Shekib Ahmed of Koliabur Tea Estate explains that “Objective data changes the conversation in the factory from vague concepts to thresholds and parameters. It makes operations scientific so that we can improve.”

    Mary Cotterman turning a teapot lid at her studio in Asheville, North Carolina

    Aritisan Teaware Born from Native Mud

    By Dan Bolton

    Mary Cotterman was 12 when she learned to throw clay on a potter’s wheel. In the decades since, that wheel has never stopped spinning for this accomplished teaware artisan.  She describes the foundation of her work as functionality, “because for me, no matter how it looks, if I’m making a piece of teaware it needs to be a precise tool for pouring tea, so a lot of my design I take from traditional Chinese vessels, but I have learned small techniques and vernacular from all over.” Read more…

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    Mary Cotterman on crafting teaware in the US and the state of mind of artisans embracing native clay.
    “Technology has become much more affordable today than what it was 5-10 years ago because processing power has made it affordable. Devices are more affordable. Technology has become simpler,” says Shekib Ahmed.

    Embracing Simple Technology with Scalable Impact

    By Aravinda Anantharaman

    Frugal innovations utilize simple technology to address some of the most vexing challenges facing the tea industry. It’s an umbrella term for innovations that do not require much capital, carry a low financial risk, and can be done safely with high reliability. Abhijeet Hazarika, former head of process innovation at Tata Global Beverages, describes several innovations that have moved from the drawing board to become successful pilots at partner estates. explores the application of frugal innovations in the tea garden. Shekib Ahmed of Koliabur Tea Estate in Assam talks about experimenting with frugal innovations in the field, but it’s in the factory, he says, where these simple technologies show the biggest impact. Read more…

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    Frugal Innovation

    In Part 1, Aravinda Anantharaman explores the application of Frugal Innovation in buying and selling tea with Abhijeet Hazarika, former head of process innovation at Tata Global Beverages. Listen to Part 1 in Episode 47 of the Tea Biz Podcast


    TEAIN22: Bulk and Specialty Tea Prices Diverge

    By Dan Bolton

    The combined annual growth rate (CAGR) predicted for tea in 2022 suggests consumer preference for health enhancements and premium taste will widen the profitability gap separating bulk CTC (cut, tear, curl) from whole leaf and specialty grades.

    The fortunes of the tea industry are cyclical with better prices ahead.

    Demand in recent decades has been resilient, including during the Great Recession – some would say relentless. During the five years ending 2019, demand grew at around 4.5% per year. The pandemic slowed that pace but consumption in 2022 will top 6.5 billion kilos, enough to make three billion cups a day. Until recently growers managed to quench that thirst.

    What disrupted that equilibrium in 2020 is that tea output declined for the first time in 20 years. The resulting scarcity in domestic markets including India and China boosted prices. ICRA, a division of Moody’s Financial Ratings, in October 2020 predicted correctly that the bulk tea segment would report the highest operating profits in recent history. 

    In 2021 the situation reversed as more tea became available and prices declined. 

    Compounding the supply-demand equilibrium is the fact that consumer behavior rapidly changed consumption habits as office drinkers vanished, foodservice sales plummeted, and health and well-being became a daily concern. 

    Better tasting teas triumphed

    Once content with commodity offerings at the office and in restaurants, the pandemic accelerated growth in the residential segment. Sales of botanicals and blends in grocery and online spiked. In Germany for example, per capita consumption of teas and botanicals increased by an average of two liters to 70 liters per person per year.

    Market research firm Techanvio writes that “consumption of tea for residential use is significantly growing as consumers are continuously seeking changes in their lifestyles and food habits and experimenting with cuisines & beverages. Moreover, the rising at-home consumption of tea is expected to grow at a steady rate owing to increasing urbanization and the changing eating habits of consumers across the world.”

    Technavio predicts recent growth rates of 3% to 4.5% per year will accelerate to 6%+ (or greater) for the specialty tea market through 2026. The segment will add $5.5 billion in sales from 2021-2026, according to Techanvio.

    In contrast, bulk tea is predicted to have a challenging year, according to ICRA and The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM). In a joint report titled Tea Industry at the Cross Road, ASSOCHAM predicts that declining prices and increasing energy and labor costs will be a drag on financial performance.  

    ICRA Vice President of Corporate Sector Ratings, Kaushik Das says, “Players who are focused on producing quality teas are likely to witness a much lower decline this year as average auction prices of teas manufactured from own garden leaves of the top 50 estates of Assam and Dooars have witnessed a decline of only 8.5% against 25% for the overall auction average during the first half of the fiscal year 2022.” 

    In North India prices during the first half of the fiscal year declined 23% year-over-year, a drop of 60 rupees per kilo on average compared to 2020. Declines are even more severe in the bought leaf segment, dominated by smallholders. Averages in that segment fell 77 rupees per kilo, down 33% year-over-year. In Kenya, auction prices dropped 8% to $2.18 per kilo in the 12 months ending July 1.

    Globally tea production has now returned to pre-pandemic totals, increasing 13% during the first six months of 2021 as growers in India and Sri Lanka adjusted to the pandemic. Output in 2021 is expected to top 15% in Sri Lanka and India has so far produced 100 million more kilos of tea than during the same period last year. Output declined by 10% in Kenya but exports grew 19% helping keep demand and supply in balance.

    Biz Insight – The Economist Intelligence Unit first reported tea deficits in 2019 and 2020 and now forecasts demand will exceed supply in 2022 and 2023 by 427,000 metric tons. Warehouses are filled with tea so a shortfall of a few hundred thousand metric tons will not lead to shortages in the grocery aisle, but when combined with the cumulative harm from climate change and with food inflation at record levels, disrupting the long-standing equilibrium will certainly firm up prices that had fallen well below the long-term average of US$2.85 per kilo.

    TEAIN22 is one of a dozen New Year Tea Biz forecasts

    Tea remains unearthed from ancient tombs in Zoucheng, Jining City, Shandong Province, China. /CMG

    Sotheby’s Inaugural Tea Sale

    Legendary auction house Sotheby’s concluded its first rare tea and teaware auctions in Hong Kong this week. Sales totaled HDK$4 million for the teas. Reserve prices approached $1 million Hong Kong dollars for Puerh, some aged for more than a century. Teaware as old as 1000 years was featured in a parallel auction titled Echoes of Fragrance: Tea Culture from the Tang to the Qing Dynasties. Sales of teaware totaled HDK$4.3 million (about $552,000 in US dollars)

    The online catalog included a 1900 Chen Yun Hao puer cake and a 1950 Jia Ji Blue Label Tea that sold for HKD562,500 ($72,000). Bids for a 1937 basket of Sun Yi Shun (aged Liu An) opened at HKD $240,000 and sold for HDK300,000 ($38,000). A bid of $500,000 Hong Kong dollars is equivalent to about $65,000 US dollars and while that threshold was met for only the rarest of teas, all but two of the 24 lots were sold. Several of the more recent teas including a 1985 Snow Label sold for $112,500 Hong Kong dollars (about $14,000 US).

    The companion teaware auction featured 63 lots including a Jian black-glazed bowl dating back eight hundred years to the Song Dynasty and a rare iron-red crane cup dated to the reign of Emperor Jiajing in the 1500s. Temmoku patterns include a “hare’s fur” (that sold for HDK189,000) and a “partridge feather” (that sold for HDK403,200). Also purchased were celadon cups and stands, Yixing teapots, and a carved Tixi lacquered tea bowl that sold for HDK529,200 (about $70,000 in US dollars). During the Tang Dynasty, beginning about 1,400 years ago, tea was boiled and served as a soup with condiments. Examples from that period include conical tea bowls, unique utensils, tea caddies, trays. Winning bids ranged from HDK 25,000 to HDK50,000 (about $6,000 US)

      ? By Dan Bolton

    Yi Chang Hao (Jing Pin-Song Font) 1999 – HKD40000
    Blue Label Tea Cake (Jia Ji) 1950s
    Sun Yi Shun Aged Liu An
    (Five tickets) 1937 – HKD300,000

    France Will Pay €1 Million to GI Certify Ceylon Teas

    The French Development Agency (AFD) and CIRAD (the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development) announced a $1 million Euro grant to qualify Ceylon tea as a protected Geographical Indication (GI).

    The four-year grant finances technical assistance to enable the Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB) to protect its national brand from counterfeiters while assisting the Ceylon tea value chain “to become more productive, inclusive and sustainable,” reads the AFD press release.

    Eric Lavertu, Ambassador of France to Sri Lanka, said that “France has been a pioneer in the establishment of Geographical Indications to create added value to its quality products and to preserve the reputation of French gastronomy over the world. I am confident that the solid experience of CIRAD in partnership with the… [tea board] will allow a broad endorsement of the Geographic Indication by all stakeholders, based on high-level product quality, together with sound environmental and social standards.” 

    Currently, Ceylon tea does not have protection to uphold and authenticate its quality, resulting in counterfeit sales in various consumer countries.

    Biz InsightSri Lanka is Heading for a Fall | Fertilizer banned earlier in the year is now available but the cost has risen from SLRs1500 rupees a kilo to SLRs6600 rupees, about $33 US dollars per kilo and rising. A ban on the herbicide Glyphosate that was eased in November was reversed in December. Output recovered in 2021 but that recovery is highly unlikely to continue due to ongoing economic problems with widespread protests by farmers over the cost of food and unions pressing for a big wage increase. Sri Lanka, where tea is hand plucked, has the highest cost of production in the world, averaging SLRs 269 ($1.33) per kilo.

    – Dan Bolton

    • Read more… indicates the article continues. Learn more… links to reliable outside sources.

    India Tea Price Watch | Sale 49

    Kolkata Sale 49 saw good demand for all teas. The Middle East was active for orthodox tea. Sales of Darjeeling and Dust relied on local buyers. Hindustan Unilever was active in Dust. Prices dropped marginally when compared with Sale 48; Darjeeling saw the biggest price drop of INRs 50. However, there were fewer out-lots of Darjeeling this week, compared to Sale 48. In Guwahati, the market opened to good demand with major blenders active for both CTC leaf and dust. Read more…

    India Tea Price Watch | Aravinda Anantharaman

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  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 47

    Hear the Headlines

    | Economic Forecasters Predict Higher Tea Prices in 2022
    | As Holiday Orders Ease, a Delivery Crisis Looms
    | Germans Tea Drinkers Set a Consumption Record

    PLUS Frugal Innovation, Part 1

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap

    Caption: Scanning tea fields at different wavelengths to assess plant conditions. Using cameras to monitor crop conditions, in order to identify threats from disease and pests at an early stage, enables a more targeted (and effective) use of pesticides, lifting productivity and profits.

    Listen on your favorite player


    Tea Biz this week travels to Assam, India to explore “Frugal Innovations” that utilize simple technology to address some of the most vexing challenges facing the tea industry. In Part 1 of the series, Aravinda Anantharaman talks with Abhijeet Hazarika @TeaSigma, an IT analyst and former head of process innovation at Tata Global Beverages, and with growers Saurav Berlia and Shekib Ahmed on cost-efficient experiments and pilots that demonstrate why tea producers should embrace simple technologies with scalable impact.

    Monitoring quality with inexpensive cameras and laptops, a centrifuge, and microwave ovens.

    Bringing Technology into the Tea Value Chain

    By Aravinda Anantharaman

    There are few entry barriers to tea. It does not demand heavy infrastructure. But a complaint shared by smallholders selling raw leaf to large-scale tea producers operating multiple factories is that for the past decade, farmgate prices are not commensurate with costs. Now the economics of the tea trade is gradually shifting from oversupply to scarcity. At the same time, some quiet work underway in India is yielding encouraging results that lower the cost of tea production, improve quality, and ease a shortage of labor. The most powerful driver for change is revenue. Prices globally, on average, increased by $0.21 cents per kilo during 2021, according to Trading Economics. Abhijeet Hazarika, IT analyst @TeaSigma and former head of process innovation at Tata Global Beverages, observed that “Tea is not a very high profit yielding commodity and will not be so in the foreseeable future until some tech breakthrough happens.” The frugal innovations described in this series, combined with higher prices may herald that breakthrough. Read more…

    Listen to the interview (Part 1)
    Abhijeet Hazarika on promising new Frugal Innovations

    Frugal Innovation

    In Part 2, Aravinda Anantharaman explores the application of Frugal Innovation in the tea garden and factories.  Shekib Ahmed of Koliabur Tea Estate explains that “Objective data changes the conversation in the factory from vague concepts to thresholds and parameters. It makes operations scientific so that we can improve.” Listen to Episode 48 of the Tea Biz Podcast


    Higher Tea Prices Forecast for 2022

    By Dan Bolton

    Globally tea export prices are edging upward, driven by combined spikes in transportation and logistics, more costly fuel and petroleum-derived fertilizer, and increased labor expense.

    Regionally the trend is mixed. Exports through September are down 10% by volume but up in value in India, which produces 20% of the world’s tea. India reports falling domestic prices following a pandemic year that boosted prices through the first half of 2021. In November, auction prices for CTC in Kolkata fell to an average of $2.78 (INRs209) per kilo, down from $2.97 during the same period in 2020. 

    In contrast, last week Kenya auctioned tea at a five-year high of $2.40 (KSH271) per kilo, according to the East African Tea Traders Association (EATTA). Production there is also down 10% overall.

    Declines in production are an early sign that the economics of the tea trade is gradually shifting from oversupply to scarcity. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) predicts output globally will increase slightly to 6.279 million metric tons (6.3 billion kilos) while consumption rises to 6.538 million metric tons, creating a deficit of 260,000 metric tons. That deficit will increase to 363,000 metric tons in 2022.  

    There remains a glut of low-grade tea, but demand for inferior tea is slack. 

    Globally, tea prices, led by China, have increased by $0.21 per kilo since the beginning of 2021, up 7.32% according to Trading Economics. The analytics firm, using macro models and analyst expectations, based on benchmark CFDs, predicts tea will trade at $3.30 per kilo in 2022. A contract for difference (CFD) is an agreement between a buyer and seller stipulating that the buyer will pay the seller the difference between the current value of an asset and its value at contract time (if the difference is negative, then the seller pays instead). Trading Economics forecasts tea prices could reach an average of $4.10 per kilo by year-end. 

    If that comes to pass it will be only the second time tea has crossed the $4 per kilo threshold in the past decade. More likely is that rising prices will trigger increases in production. A study by the Indonesian Board of Trade using United Nations FAO data calculated the impact of increased production on prices.

    “If there is an overreaction to recent high prices which, for example, would result in a 5% increase in production, the results can be quite different…. the clearing price would be 17% less than the baseline price at $2.54 per kg,” writes Iwan Cahyo Suryadi, Chairperson, Board of Commissioners Indonesia Board of Trade

    “If the reaction to the current high prices is even stronger, resulting in a 10% increase in production over the baseline increase, then prices could be 38% lower,” according to Suryadi.

    EIU estimates a price increase that is close to the long-term average, “we expect concerns about supply and a gradual recovery in demand in some markets (particularly in Europe and North America) to provide some support to prices in the remainder of 2021. We estimate that prices will average $2.69 per kilo in full-year 2021, representing a 0.5% decline from 2020. We are forecasting an 8.7% increase in average prices in 2022, to $2.92 per kilo.”

    Analysis by Iwan Cahyo Suryadi Data from Price Monitoring and Analysis Tool, FAO

    Biz Insight – The long-term average price of commodity tea at auction is $2.85 per kilo. Quality tea is more likely to be sold direct and at significantly higher prices. Sales of tea exported by all countries totaled $7.1 billion in 2020, down 4.3% by value since 2016. Year-over-year the value worldwide of tea exports declined an average of 8.6% from 2019 to 2020, according to the website World’s Top Exports. China (dominant in green tea) accounts for 29% of global sales of tea exports by value followed by Kenya with a 16% market share (dominant in black tea), Sri Lanka 10%, and India 9.7% both have about a 10% share.

    Tea remains unearthed from ancient tombs in Zoucheng, Jining City, Shandong Province, China. /CMG

    Germany Reports Record Tea Consumption

    The German Tea & Herbal Tea Association (Teeverband), based in Hamburg, reports that consumption of tea grew by two liters per capita in 2020 to a record of 70 liters per capita. East Frisians averaged an astonishing 300 liters per capita during the stay-at-home year. These totals include the consumption of black, green, herbals, and fruit teas. The report’s authors write that declines in out-of-home consumption, “triggered by the pandemic-induced closure of hotels, restaurants and canteens, were offset by increased demand in food stores, chemists and specialist shops.”

    Hamburg is a global hub for the tea trade, importing 41 million kilos and shipping 22 million kilos of teas to 108 countries. India is Germany’s most important tea trading partner, sending 6.7 million kilos so far this year, China and Sri Lanka follow. The tea association’s managing director Maximilian Wittig said that organic certified black teas now account for a 12.9% share of the market. Organic herbal teas increased their market share to 13.5% a 2.5% gain compared to 2019.

    Black tea is favored by 73% of Germans with 90% steeped in tea bags. Germans buy 57% of their tea in grocery and department stores and 12.4% at tea shops with the biggest increase in channel purchases online at 8.2%.

    Download the 20-page Teeverband report on the Tea Biz blog.

    As Holiday Orders Ease, a Delivery Crisis Looms

    Logistics experts in November who predicted everything that could possibly go wrong ? were right.

    Jason Walker at Firsd Tea, the US office of the world’s largest green tea exporter, writes that “the burden of moving holiday retail goods has shifted from the ships to the warehouses and trucks. Major players and industry experts still do not anticipate any significant, overall easing of rates and more reliable delivery speed until at least Q1 of 2022.”

    Until then buyers are advised to place their orders months in advance, be willing to pay exorbitant rates ($10,000 for a 20-foot trans-pacific container), and order tea in much larger quantities than in past years to ensure sufficient inventory. Wholesalers report waiting 62 days for shipments to arrive from China. Bloomberg writes that ports serving Southern California by November had offloaded a record 17 million 20-foot equivalent units and then loaded 3.3 million empty containers for the return trip. Los Angeles has 2 billion square feet of warehouse space that is now renting at a 30% premium. An additional 20 million square feet is under construction. 

    Deliveries that took truckers two days in 2019 now take up to 10 days before arriving in Chicago as congestion at ports and warehouses and a shortage of drivers combine to more than double delivery times. Walker cites a shortage of warehouse workers and the added expense of overtime as the ports, as requested by President Biden now operate 24/7. On-time arrival is virtually impossible unless delivered by air freight, in which case it’s unaffordable.

    When will it end? Ship jams are now visible at ports in Japan, Taiwan, and Mexico. November marks a turning point. But experts predict the transport crisis will remain through spring and once again ? they’re probably right.

    – Dan Bolton

    • Read more… indicates the article continues. Learn more… links to reliable outside sources.

    India Tea Price Watch | Sale 48

    Responding to the tea producers’ concerns over rising imports against declining exports, the Tea Board of India passed an order on November 11, by which tea importers are mandated to mention the origin of the tea on the sale invoices. Importers cannot blend imported tea with GI-protected Indian tea (Darjeeling, Kangra, Assam (orthodox), Nilgiris (orthodox)) and pass it off as Indian-origin tea.  Producers of Darjeeling tea have been asked not to procure green leaf from outside the GI area. This is expected to act as a clampdown on cheap imports into India from Nepal and Vietnam, and allow Indian exports to keep their quality, markets, and prices. Read more…

    India Tea Price Watch | Aravinda Anantharaman

    Upcoming Events

    January 2021
    Tea and Beyond! | GTI 7th Annual Colloquium | January 13 | UC Davis | Day-Long Virtual | Tea and Beyond: Bridging Science and Culture, Time and Space, exploring differences between tea and herbal infusions around the world and in terms of medicine and health, ceremony, traditions, sustainability, marketing, and more. Program | Register FREE (Zoom)

    Share this episode with your friends in tea.

    Listen to Tea Biz on Apple Podcasts

    Subscribe and receive Tea Biz weekly in your inbox.

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