This week is about an extra mug of tea. 21 May is the second International Tea Day. And I want to request you all to add an extra mug of tea to your day in its honour. Let me explain why.
India is uniquely positioned in that we produce a lot of tea, consume about 80% and export the remaining. While it may appear that we are a big market for tea, we are in fact not even in the top 10. Our per capita consumption is rather low, at 750g; compare it to almost 2kg in the UK or about 1.5kg in Iran, or Turkey, which tops the list at 3.5kg annually. Also, we consume CTC, which is mass-market, lower priced than orthodox or whole-leaf tea.
As consumers, we do have the power to influence what’s produced. If more of us ask for whole-leaf tea, more of us buy from sources that connect gardens with consumers (both online and offline) or buy directly from gardens, if more of us ask questions about where the tea comes from and how it’s made, and how it supports our own consumption preferences, we will prime the industry for change. Fair trade, supporting biodiversity, ethical tea, crafted tea, transparency—these are all words often thrown around loosely. But they stand for something important; they are what will help create a sustainable industry.
Tea producers say that as a large CTC-producing industry, they are selling a commodity whose value is dependent entirely on demand; profits rest not with the farmers but with the sellers and blenders.
How can this change? By our choosing to drink more tea, more consciously. Whole-leaf tea will fetch tea producers better prices, so they will be able to pay better.
If we as tea drinkers can set that chain in motion, trading cheaper commodity tea for a better, even if slightly pricier, product, we can help nudge tea from a commodity to a lifestyle choice.
Good tea need not be exorbitant, there’s plenty that’s affordable. I looked at my own spending: For ₹150, I get 100g of a very good whole-leaf Assam tea that I use every morning—it lasts me a month. I can indulge by spending ₹450-500 for 100g of a seasonal special. Since I re-steep, I get multiple cups from these, which means 100g lasts me more than a month or two. If I choose to splurge on a Darjeeling, I can get a sample box of teas which will last me many months for about ₹1,000, giving me many afternoons of enjoyable teatime.
Recently, I had a chat with someone who was reminiscing about the neighbourhood tea sellers in Kolkata, who knew exactly how each customer liked their tea. There are still a few such sellers around if you look hard enough. If we can patronise such places and offer our loyalty to gardens that stand for their people, their land and their tea, I think we will have done our bit.
So, can you add one more cup of tea to your day? And make it a whole-leaf tea sourced reliably? In return, you will get a cup so flavourful that drinking it will bring you joy.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1