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Notes on the world’s first International Tea Day

Many days have been earmarked for tea in the past, but this one was made official by a UN resolution

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy

We will celebrate the first International Tea Day on 21 May. Many days have been earmarked for tea in the past but this one was made official by a UN resolution last year. Celebrations, if any, will be muted, of course.

India is the second largest producer of tea in the world, at over 1,000 million kilograms a year, with 1,500-plus estates and 200,000-plus small farmers, employing more than a million people, half of them women. The industry has been going through a crisis, owing to the high cost of production, low prices, the effects of climate change and now, coronavirus-triggered challenges.

I thought it was a good time to outline the responsibility of tea drinkers to the industry. Here’s what I arrived at:

Try orthodox: We may be chai loyalists but why resist the sheer variety on offer? We live in a country that produces amazingly good orthodox teas. Think Darjeeling muscatel, Assam tippy teas and the Nilgiri green. They are more expensive than CTC tea but offer a mind-boggling range of flavours to explore and enjoy.

Choose more than one tea: Every tea region in the country has a unique landscape, reflected in the taste and flavours of its tea. From the exquisite high-grown Darjeelings to the less famous but equally flavourful Kangra, from the aromatic Nilgiris to the malty Assam valley, the proudly organic Sikkim, and the unusual but memorable aged teas of Arunachal Pradesh—so many teas, so much choice!

Insist on sustainably grown tea: We should also start asking about the source of our tea. The tea industry is often blamed for working conditions, deforestation and pesticide use. The onus is on us, as the customer, to choose responsibly. When we question and insist on a transparent supply chain, we set the wheels of sustainability in motion. Tea gardens and tea factories are supposed to, in any case, protect worker rights, preserve the natural habitat and ensure prescribed food safety norms are followed. Many producers, like Goodricke Group Ltd, Nuxalbari Tea and Gopaldhara Tea, showcase their commitment to sustainable agriculture through their social media channels. Follow them, ask questions, buy direct (or from a recognized marketplace), visit when you can, and if you are convinced, give them your loyalty.

Question fads: Fads about tea as a detox brew or a weight-loss aid will come and go. Sometimes, these benefit the industry, increasing sales, but as customers we should question the claims. Tea has some inherent benefits but choose tea for pleasure, not as medicine.

Tea is fun: Don’t let the purists intimidate you. Feel free to break the rules—try milk in your Darjeeling, sweeten your green tea, make your own blend. With tea, always make room for a little play.

Raise a cup: And last, this International Tea Day, drink an extra cup. To say thanks to the folks who work so hard to bring us our tea. It’s a tough life out there in the gardens.

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.

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