• Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 26

    Hear the Headlines

    | Darjeeling Experiences a Severe Downturn
    | Researchers Discover Expanded Role for Microbes in Tea Making
    | Oxfam India Defines Living Wage for Assam Tea Workers

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap
    Tea Price Report

    This week, the focus is on declining tea exports from India, which is a cause of concern to the industry. The tea associations have issued a press release that the industry is bracing for a decline of 30-40 million kilos this year, compared to 2020. Read more…


    Tea Biz this week travels to South Africa to discuss with Carmién Tea founder Mientjie Mouton the beneficial aspects of the European Union’s decision to register rooibos as the first African food product to receive protected designation of origin.

    … and then to Scotland where Dananjaya Silva discusses with nine local tea growers how the short summers and cold winters of a far northern terroir contribute to the unique flavor of Scottish tea.

    Carmién Tea founder Mientjie Mouton
    Carmién Tea founder Mientjie Mouton walks a field of rooibos

    Rooibos Revived

    By Dan Bolton

    Carmién Rooibos Tea founder Mientjie Mouton explains the significance of the European Union’s decision to award Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) to rooibos, a registration that attests to the authenticity and commercially guards traditional processing methods to protect suppliers in the region where unique products are grown. Read more…

    Carmién Rooibos Tea founder Mientjie Mouton
    Catherine Drummond-Herdman at her Megginch Castle tea garden.

    Scottish Tea

    By Dananjaya Silva | PMD Silva

    Scots have a long history of growing Camelia sinensis in faraway lands ? from the jungles of Assam to the hills of Ceylon. A group of Scottish ladies have decided to follow in their ancestor’s footsteps by banding together as the Tea Gardens of Scotland. I’m Dananjaya Silva from PMD David Silva & Sons, and today I sit down with Kate Elliot, Catherine Drummond-Herdman, Pinkie Methven, and Veronica Murray-Poore to talk about tea grown from seed on micro tea plantations in Perthshire, Fife, and Angus Scotland. Learn more…

    Tea growers in Scotland discuss their tea gardens and aspirations for Scottish tea
    Darjeeling’s tea planters are experiencing difficult times.

    Darjeeling Experiences a Severe Downturn

    By Dan Bolton

    The West Bengal tea community that surrounds Darjeeling is experiencing difficult times. Only 45 of the 87 tea gardens within the protected geographical origin are routinely auctioning tea. Production has declined from 16 million kilos 15 years ago to fewer than 7 million kilos in 2021.

    Tourists are few. As COVID-19 infections decline elsewhere, the pandemic persists in the foothills of the Himalayas forcing travel restrictions. There were 1,500 active cases last week, with 88 new infections on July 8, a number greater than Kolkata recorded that same day.

    In June, the Telegraph India reported that more than 10% of Darjeeling’s tea gardens were up for sale but saw no buyers. Absenteeism, political turmoil, and climate change are often cited as reasons, but the main concern is the declining volume in production.

    Rajah Banerjee, the heir to Makaibari Tea Estate, describes the situation with clarity and insight. “Darjeeling now faces a large-scale decline,” he writes.  “Commercially, Darjeeling tea has been weathering a waning export market, explained by outdated management practices and exploitative middle-men. But there is a far more powerful factor at work now — the region’s ecology was already facing deforestation, making the seismically sensitive area vulnerable to topsoil loss and land-slides. Pushing the tea gardens closer to the edge now, climate change is bearing down on tea yields, impacting the livelihoods of thousands in the industry.

    “As emissions rise, intensifying global warming, changes in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers are causing temperature rises in Darjeeling — this has led to insect proliferation which damage the crop. Alongside, a lack of precipitation during dryer winters and unseasonal inundations during plucking seasons have drastically changed our harvesting window, reducing an eight-month harvest period to just six. Uniquely, Darjeeling is the world’s only region that produces teas in four seasonal ‘flushes’ or harvests. While each has its distinctive flavor, color and aroma, the four flushes share one common thread — the regularity of the seasons themselves. Currently though, between prolonged droughts and unusual rain, tea growers are facing erratic and shrinking yields,” he writes.

    Tea Board data shows that in 2020, Darjeeling’s production stood at 6.7 million kilos. This year, the second flush which makes up 20% of the annual production is seeing a reported decline of 200,000 to 300,000 kilos. April-May 2021 production stood at 1.22 million kilos (Source: Tea Board of India

    Biz Insight – News of gardens being sold has been recurring from this region. In 2020, the Singbulli and Nursing Tea Estates were sold. Okayti in June is the latest estate to be acquired. The 1600-acre high-altitude estate operates a factory that dates to 1888. The new owners are local and offer a hopeful vision of Darjeeling whose first concern is serving the domestic market. The estate was sold to Chai Chun, a unit of Siliguri-based Evergreen Group, a firm that operates Chai Rasa cafes and boutiques. Founder Rajeev Baid envisions a world-class tea academy to draw students of tea culture and tourists to an estate that produces organic tea using orthodox process as well as cut, tear, curl packet tea. The company processes 15 million kilos of tea across a broad range of 165 varieties supplying premium and bulk tea in quantities that benefit from scale.

    Expanded role of microbes in tea making

    Researchers Discover Expanded Role for Microbes in Tea Making

    By Dan Bolton

    The oxidation of tea leaves during orthodox processing is essential but not exclusively responsible for the flavor in tea.

    The finding that bacterial and fungal communities also drive tea processing suggests the microbiome of the leaves can be manipulated to create greater quantities of tasty compounds due to fermentation.

    A team of researchers at Anhui Agricultural University in China cleverly demonstrated that black teas, withered, rolled, and oxidized before drying are less flavorful when sterilized. Their paper, Black Tea Quality is Highly Affected during Processing by its Leaf Surface Microbiome, which was published in the June issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, shows that microbial fermentation, present in non-sterilized control samples, produced tea with lots of catechins and L-theanine, an amino acid specific to tea. Tea made from the oxidized but sterile leaves was less flavorful and lacking in many of the complex compounds that tasters identify in premium teas.

    The experiment showed that caffeine and theanine were found in the same quantities in green tea with or without leaf surface sterilization. “However, the sterilization process dramatically decreased the content of total catechins and theanine in black tea, indicating that microbes on the surface of tea leaf may be involved in maintaining the formation of these important metabolites during black tea processing,” according to Prof. Ali Inayat Mallano.

    Oxfam India Defines Living Wage for Assam Tea Workers

    Oxfam India, a confederation of 20 independent charitable organizations, released a study last week that determined the minimum living wage for tea workers in Assam is INRs 887 rupees (about $12 per day). Workers make far less per day and are working fewer days due to COVID-19 restrictions. Only 39% of workers can be considered as permanent, the remaining 61% contract their services with fewer benefits. The study calculated a minimum of INRs 285 per day for food for a family of four and INRs 599 for non-food expenditures.

    Biz Insight – The study of 5,000 tea workers in seven districts was conducted in October through December 2020. Oxfam CEO Amitabh Behar in appealing for improved wages described “a stark gap between the current wagers that tea workers receive vis a vis the living wages that has been calculated.”

    – Dan Bolton

    Learm more…

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  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 24

    Hear the Headlines

    | Logistics Companies Invest to Right the Ship
    | Kenya’s Newly Elected KTDA Board Ousts Executives
    | Hain Celestial Streamlines its Tea Selections

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap
    Tea Price Report

    A special auction conducted by the Tea Board of India across auction centers featured a carefully curated catalogue of teas, plucked on the International Tea Day on 21st May. This special sale saw record prices that brought welcome energy and excitement to the industry. Read more…


    Tea Biz this week travels to Darjeeling, India where Dorje Tea, an innovative new tea venture is taking root at the Agarwal family’s ancestral farm at Selim Hill Tea Garden … and then to the Jersey Isles off the coast of France where Alicia Gentili, project manager and tea maker at Jersey Fine Tea, discusses the challenges and rewards of establishing a new tea garden in the English Channel.

    Dorje Tea co-founders Sparsh Agarwal and Ishaan Kanoria, right.

    Reviving Darjeeling

    By Aravinda Anantharaman

    Sparsh Agarwal is the fourth generation in his family to cultivate tea in the Himalayas but, as you will hear, he is not bound by tradition. Agarwal and Dorje Tea co-founder Ishaan Kanoria are targeting India’s domestic market, offering a subscription model that delivers Darjeeling tea from all four plucking seasons that will improve profitability and give Selim Hill Tea Garden a second chance.  Read more…

    Sparsh Agarwal on marketing Darjeeling’s seasonality domestically
    Alicia Gentili, project manager and tea maker at Jersey Fine Teas

    Splendid Tea from the Isle of Jersey

    By Dananjaya Silva | PMD Silva

    Camellia sinensis is a versatile plant that is grown in many parts of the world, observes Tea Biz correspondent Dananjaya Silva. At 49 degrees latitude, Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands situated between England and France, is much further north than traditional tea lands, yet the island is proving to be fertile ground to produce fine loose-leaf tea. Silva talks about the challenges of growing tea outside its comfort zone with project manager and tea maker Alicia Gentili from Jersey Fine Tea. Read more…

    Alicia Gentili on growing tea on the English Channel Island of Jersey
    MSC Ship
    MSC operates the world’s second largest container fleet by TEU

    Logistics Companies Invest to Right the Ship

    By Dan Bolton

    Shortages of raw ingredients for beverages and higher shipping costs continue the saga of supply chain woes into summer. Last week Starbucks’ customers found green tea in short supply along with chai tea bags and oat milk. No single item has disappeared from the menu, but Reuters found temporary shortages at nine major fast-service chains are widespread.

    Less obvious are the costs passed along due to more expensive air and sea transport and a shortage of truckers. Reserving a 40-foot container to ship tea from Shanghai to Los Angeles cost $6,368 in June, according to the Drewry Freight Rate Index. Delivery to Chicago from Shanghai normally takes 35 days (including 33 at sea) but shippers now estimate 73 days for delivery as port-to-destination times have doubled. When premiums are added to secure equipment and vessel space is included, the effective West Coast rate for landing tea from China ends up being about $8,000 to $11,000 per FEU (forty-foot equivalent unit), according to the Journal of Commerce.

    At the consumer level, this means online orders for tea must now meet $50 and $75 thresholds to qualify for free shipping and that four-week delays are common. Observers predict that the kinks in the supply chain will persist through 2022.

    Biz Insight – Global container fleets are consolidating as shipping companies put new-found money to work acquiring vessels and ordering containers. Swiss-owned MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) has acquired 70 ships since August and has an orderbook of 800,000 TEU for new ships. The buildup in demand shows no sign of abating as consumers spend pandemic savings and economies emerge from lockdowns.

    Kenya surge
    Kenya is home to 658,000 tea smallholders

    Newly Elected KTDA Board Ousts Executives

    Newly elected Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) directors and chairman David Muni Ichoho on June 22 were escorted by police to their offices in the KTDA headquarters in Nairobi.

    KTDA’s Peter Kanyago, who had been at the helm of the tea agency for 26 years, was forced to relinquish his position after he was unseated in a local election April 25. KTDA CEO Lerionka Tiampati and other senior staff were given compulsory leave. Ichoho announced an internal investigation to determine culpability for potential malpractice and possible abuse of office.

    Kenya’s tea farmers collectively own 66 of the nation’s tea factories. They contract with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to pay for what they produce and to market their tea.

    During the past two years local concerns about a ‘tea cartel’ and a new administration in Nairobi led to legislative reforms that permit factories to replace directors by conducting special elections. The previous system awarded votes by share. Board members found they only had to please the largest farmers. Now it’s one man, one vote. Ousted board members challenged the Tea Act, 2021 in court and consider any special elections conducted between March and May invalid.

    Ichoho’s first official act was to notify the organization to accord full recognition and cooperation to the new board as it takes over factory management, “We wish to assure all stakeholders that the operations of the group are running smoothly without any interruptions.”

    He told the Kenya News Agency that “Procurement contracts will also be reviewed to ascertain value for money and determine if the services and goods were obtained within the market benchmarks.”

    “The reform journey began in earnest on 14th January 2020, with the directives by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Kenya, following outcry by over 658,000 farmers over dwindling fortunes as it became clear that the tea value chain governance structures had been captured by some individuals and groups of persons for their own selfish interests at the expense of the principal stakeholders – the tea farmers,” said Ichoho.

    He said KTDA abdicated their core responsibility of serving the best interests of the farmers.

    “It is against this background that shareholders made a decision to exercise their rights to make leadership changes with a view to charting a new direction towards a sustainable and profitable farming in tea sub-sector for smallholders. The farmers, towards this objective undertook to elect new leaders from the shareholders as Factory Directors and Board members for the KTDA Holdings,” Ichoho said.

    A spokesperson at a non-violent late-night protest predicted that a case before Kenya’s Constitutional Court would find the government’s actions unconstitutional and reinstate the old board.

    Ichoho said that all cases brought by or that have been filed by KTDA challenging the Crops Industry Regulations, 2020, and the Tea Act, 2021 will be discontinued with immediate effect.

    “The Company will support full implementation of the Tea Act 2020 and will no longer pursue avenues that are against the interest of over 600,000 small holder farmers,” according to the Kenya News Agency report.

    On June 18, 2021 KTDA elected the following: David Muni Ichoho as chairperson with board members, Michael Kamau Ngatia, Paul Mwangi Kagema, Enos Njiru Njeru, John Mithamo Wasusana, Geoffrey Chege Kirundi, Abungana Khasiani, Erick Kipeyegon Chepkwony, Thaddeus Mose Mangenya, James Ombasa Omweno, Wesley Cheruiyot Koech and Baptista Muriki Kanyaru.

    Patrick Ngunjiri was appointed Acting Company Secretary.

    Celestial Seasonings
    Celestial Seasonings offers 105 varieties of tea.

    Hain Celestial Simplifies Tea Selections

    US grocery stores enjoyed a strong 2020 and in 2021 pandemic stickiness is apparent for e-commerce convenience and at-home meals, according to Coresite Research which reports that as of June US retail store closures are down year-over-year for the first time since the initial lockdowns.

    Half of Americans now say they would feel “very comfortable” shopping in a physical store during the next three months, compared to 29% in the year-ago period according to SafetyCulture. When they return, consumers will discover that higher ingredient costs, packaging, shipping expense and eroding brand loyalty convinced food manufacturers to simplify their offerings.

    General Mills anticipates raising its prices 7% globally over the next year. “We are ending one period of significant consumer disruption only to start another,” Chief Executive Jeff Harmening told the Wall Street Journal. “The next few months will be especially critical for our brands as the world transitions to a new normal.”

    Tea manufacturer Hain Celestial has a big footprint in grocery with thousands of SKU (stock-keeping units) – far too many according to Mark L. Schiller, president and chief executive officer. Schiller told investors that shedding 20 brands, discontinuing 1,000 SKUs proactively before the pandemic and really simplifying the way we operate …” were the cornerstones of a simplification strategy that has increased margins.

    He told Food Business News that he is transitioning the $2 billion Hain Celestial Group from a holding company to an operating company. The new focus is on innovation vs. additional flavor varieties, he said.

    “So, instead of ‘here’s the 37th flavor of Sleepytime tea,’ ” he said, “we’re bringing tea with energy, tea with melatonin, tea with probiotics and gut health and immunity and things that are much more incremental in the category, cold brew tea, K-cups, things that really are going to help the retailer grow their category and therefore, earn their space.”

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  • 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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  • COVID’s Toll

    COVID's Toll on India's Tea Estates
    India’s tea industry is excempt from lockdowns but there are limits on workers in factories and masks are mandatory.

    COVID-19 2nd Wave Strikes Blow to Rural India

    Rural India is home to 895 million of the nation’s 1.35 billion people, most of whom live in small villages and towns.

    Last year the coronavirus pandemic plunged India’s economy into a recession for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. Domestic consumption decline so severely that the economy contractedd by an estimated 7.7% according to the OECD’s Economic Outlook 2021.

    Agriculture accounts for a third of India’s gross domestic product and tea production, tea exports and tea retail all suffered. Agrarian workers, however, were largely spared the high death counts experienced in the nation’s cities.

    That is no longer the case as the COVID 2nd Wave crests. India’s tea industry employs 3.5 million workers who reside in small homes and are reliant on crowded vans for transport, resulting in much higher rates of infection this spring than in 2020.

    Although the tea industry is designated essential and therefore exempt from the strict lockdowns ordered in 2020, containment zones are in place at more than half of Assam’s 800 registered gardens. A combination of dry weather and reductions in labor due to COVID restrictions depressed harvest totals during the first six months of 2021.

    The situation is less dire in the Nilgiris following a major push by Minister for Medical and Family Welfare Ma. Subramanian. The state ministry prioritized tea workers and reported June 28 that all tea estate workers and factory workers have received a first shot and that 21,500 of 27,500 tea workers in tribal communities had been vaccinated. The ministry has vaccinated 289,000 individuals to date and will soon begin administering booster shots.

    Situation summary

    • Daily wage earners face reduced hours and fewer work days harvesting and processing tea. Declines of INRs 250-500 daily are common. As a result, many now find it difficult to meet daily food and loan obligations. Pay varies by region and there are incentives for the most productive workers, but wages are low at INRs 7,000 ($96) per month.
    • Testing is inadquate. Rapid antigen tests are available but workers, most without vehicles, must travel long distances to testing centers. Traffic restrictions limit travel between districts.
    • Hospitalization is expensive. Sugarcane grower Dattatray Bagal, told The Economic Times that a hospital bill of INRs 820,000 ($11,191) to care for his father, who died of COVID-19, “not only exhausted our savings but also forced us to borrow from relatives.” Some farmers were hit so badly that they don’t have money to buy seeds and fertilizers to plant summer-sown crops such as corn and soybean, according to the newspaper.
    • Accustomed to malaria (6.7 milllion cases in India, 9,620 deaths annually), tuberculosis (440,000 deaths annually) many workers are far more fearful of diseses they know. Mandatory quarantines and isolation during hospitalization lead to rumors that once someone is taken away, COVID victims never return.
    • Hospitals in the tea growing regions are small and generally equipped to provide only first aid and basic medical care. Few are staffed with full-time doctors and nurses. Medicines for fever, headaches, stomachaches are in short supply.
    • Many who fall ill restort to home remedies, fearful they will be sent to a COVID Care Centre (mandatory in Assam). Standard contact tracing often identifies family members who work at the estate, as well as neighbors and friends of those who test positive, leading to 15-day quarantines and loss of wages.
    • Tea workers do not receive paid leave. Central and state governments have issued pandemic guidelines for paid leave. West Bengal’s Department of Personnel and Training instituted its paid leave policy June 7. Categories include commuted leave, special casual leave, earned leave, half-pay leave for any government worker who tests positive for COVID. Tea Estates are asked to consider the same.

    Christian Kharia, who lives at Nagasuree tea garden and is the president of the UBCSS (Uttar Bangal Chai Shramik Sangathan) said that “People in the tea gardens are very casual about COVID. They treat it like any other sickness. People are not following COVID protocols.”

    Workers Face Long Term Financial Setback

    In India, in 2019, there were are an estimated 138 million subsistence households earning $1,000 to $5,000 a year, ($85 to $400 per month), according to Statista. The impact of COVID-19 on household income will slow that growth due to lost hours and a significant decline in commerce due to lockdowns.

    Prior to the pandemic, income growth was projected at 5% in rural India with the lower middle class expected to expand to 131 million households earning $5,000 to $10,000 annually by 2022, up from 92 million households in 2019. The 30 million rural households earning $10,000 to $25,000 were estimated to grow to 48 million by 2022, according to Statista market research.

    The pandemic dashed that promising outlook, taking its toll in every sector.

    Deaths Due to COVID-19

    COVID-19 ImpactAssamWest BengalKarnatakaKeralaTamil Nadu
    Population (2020 in Millions)35.99729696.78684868.809637.9612888.32544
    Population Density (per k2)3971,029 320860550
    Tea Garden Workers (registered)
    Tea Smallholders1.3 million
    Infections (curent)39,837
    Confirmed Cases (total)466,590100,437
    Positives per 100 tests (Positivity)
    COVID Deaths4,0387,663
    Compiled from state and territory COVID websites. Click link to view source for latest updates. | Updated 1 July 2021.


    Update 6-29: Assam is reporting that a high percentage (12%) of those testing positive are young people under 18 with 5,778 under five years of age, according to the National Health Mission. Deaths number 34 since April. During the second wave 280,504 have so far tested positive in Assam. The Deccan Herald writes that 28,851 of those who tested positive were between the ages of 6-18 years.

    Dibrugarh reported 2,430 cases among children, which was 12.19% of total cases. Nagaon was third with 2,288 cases (14.38%) followed by Kamrup (2,023) and Sonitpur (1,839). During the first wave, 8% of those who tested positive were younger than 18 years, according to the National Health Mission.

    Update 6-28: Vaccination sites are active at 415 tea estates as of June 22. In Assam 99,701 tea workers have received a first shot and 6,027 have received a second shot. A total of 508 tea estates reported COVID cases. Those with 20 or more were ordered to designate containment zones and activate COVID Care Centres.

    During the period May 18-28 Assam recorded a 300% spike in COVID cases, according to Bidyananda Barkakoty, adviser at the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA). He said that the number of workers in the factory and fields was reduced by half. Workers who tested positive are forced to stay at Covid Centres to prevent spreading the virus to their families.


    Assam’s 800 registered tea estates and 1.3 million smallholders produced 725,000 metric tons in 2019. Last year Assam’s big gardens produced 336,000 metric tons and smallholders produced 290,0000 metric tons for a combined 626,000 metric tons. Production is expected to decline by 20-25% as a result of dry weather and COVID mandates that reduce the first flush production by 60,000 metric tons. About 18% of Assam’s population works in tea.

    Assam (Tea Estate Workers)

    LocationTea Workers
    Active Cases
    Tea Wokers
    Total Cases
    Tea Workers
    Tea Workers
    DibugrahN/A N/A N/A
    Jorhat N/A N/A N/A
    Guwaharti N/A N/A N/A
    xxxx N/A N/A N/A
    Total2,81713,22910,410 102
    Source: North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) | 2nd Wave March-June

    Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris)

    Updated 6-23 Active cases stand at 6,895 for the Nilgiris. The state government has also placed Nilgiris on the priority list for vaccinations, as the drive continues.

    Mobile vans deployed for vaccination drive in the Nilgiris

    Supriya Sahu (IAS), COVID Monitoring Officer for the Nilgiris said, “The population of tribals in the Nilgiris stands at 27,000 of which 21,500 are 18 years and older. We have so far vaccinated 15,414 tribals. We are involving Primary Health Centres (PHC) and Block Medical Officers completely in the planning. Everyday, they inform the NGOs about the number of vaccine doses that are coming in so that the NGO teams can mobilise people in different villages. The PHCs then follow that list in a true example of bottom up community-owned planning. We had launched an awareness programme with NGOs to break the vaccine hesitancy. Key was to try and mobilise the entire village and not just individuals so that we can achieve 100% coverage in a village.”

    Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris Tea Estate Workers)

    Location Active
    Tea Workers
    Tea Workers
    Source: Supriya Sahu | 2nd Wave March – June 23, 2021


    Updated 6-23: According to the state COVID portal, on 1st April, Kerala had recorded 4,632 deaths from COVID-19 and active cases were at 26,201. The first reported death was 30th March, 2020. On 22nd June, the number of active cases were 100,437 with fatalities between 1st April, 2021 and 22nd June, 2021 reported at 7,663. 

    The main tea-growing districts of Wayanad and Idukki saw slightly lower numbers than other districts in the state. The two districts combined report 331 deaths and have 9019 active cases as of 22nd June 2021. Vaccinations are underway with 28.17% vaccinated at present. Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram districts on the other hand, were more severely affected. Palakkad reported over 1000 deaths from COVID so far, with 7,320 active cases as of 22nd June, 2021. Thiruvananthapuram was the worst affected district and currently has nearly 100,000 active cases. Reported fatalities stood at 2,562 in this district. 

    Ashok Dugar of Chinnar Tea said that the 2nd Wave saw more cases and the workers were reluctant to shift to the isolation centres. So at their estate, the 30-bed hospital was converted to a District COVID Care Centre in May. They are also preparing for the 3rd Wave now. The disruption in production that came with the first wave was not there in the second wave as tea was exempted from lockdown.

    He added that estate managements who have large infrastructure and ready machinery should come forward to set up and upgrade their facilities to take care of not only their own but neighbouring patients in the remote rural areas, which will be great relief to the government’s much-stressed resources .

    Kerala (Tea Estate Workers)

    Location Active
    Tea Workers
    Tea Workers
    Idukki 5,244 N/A N/A
    Wayanad 3,215 N/A N/A
    Total 8,659 N/A 331
    Source: Kerala COVID Portal | 2nd Wave April 1 – June 23

    West Bengal

    Updated 6-1: In West Bengal, more than 4,500 cases have been recorded across 300 of the state’s 800 tea gardens, according to government data, as reported by Thomas Reuters Foundation.

    West Bengal (Tea Estate Workers)

    Location Active
    Tea Workers
    Tea Workers
    DarjeelingN/A N/A N/A
    Dooars N/A N/A N/A
    Terai N/A N/A N/A
    xxxxx N/A N/A N/A
    Total N/A N/A N/A
    Source: West Bengal

    Regional Updates

    Tea Biz welcomes COVID updates from tea estates, labor unions, tea associations, medical and and government authorities. Write Dan Bolton, Aravinda Anantharaman (Nilgiris), or Roopak Goswami (Assam)

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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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