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It all starts with a cup of Coffee

It all starts with a cup of Coffee
Many things are not one’s cup of tea, as the saying goes. “I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea,” noted Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his Notes from Underground. “Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. “I’ve had nothing yet. So I can’t take more,” Alice replied in an offended tone – in the book Alice in Wonderland.  This famous brew has been the source of numerous famous quotes over the ages as it continues to delight consumers in its march as the cup that cheers. Tea and health have always been inextricably linked after its legendary discovery by the Father of Agriculture and Medicine – Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, approximately 5,000 years ago. Originally, tea was regarded as a medicinal curiosity and subsequently gained status as a social beverage.

The global ready-to-drink tea and coffee market is growing annually at 11 per cent and likely to touch $125 billion by 2017 with the highest growth coming from the Asia-Pacific region, Priti Kapadia, Director, Sentinel Exhibitions Asia P Ltd and organisers of WTCE, pointed out while adding that the boom in upscale cafes is encouraging companies to modernise their <g data-gr-id="103">machineries</g> and diversify their product mix with larger emphasis on branding and packaging.

Meanwhile, tea was the centre of attraction at the recently-held 3rd edition of the World Tea and Coffee Expo in Mumbai which drew connoisseurs and producers alike in their crowds for sipping on and whipping up different types of brews in tea and coffee. The event also witnessed Sri Lanka and Vietnam seeking greater bilateral trade with India in the fast-growing tea and coffee sectors. 

Inaugurating the Expo, Vu Van Tam, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam, urged for India and Vietnam to join hands in increasing trade between the two countries in the tea and coffee segment. “In view of the tremendous scope in these sectors, we have specially come with a business delegation of 20 leading companies from Vietnam to be part of this niche expo, which offers a unique networking platform with Indian and International companies in the Hot Beverage sector,” he said.

Describing Vietnam as being considered as one of the cradles of the world’s tea plants, he said that scientists globally conducted research on tea plants and concluded that their homeland was on the banks of the Yangtze River (China), Red River (Vietnam), Mekong River and Dranagouta (Assam) – all of which rise in the west of Eastern Tibet mountain range. 

In 1999, the Vietnamese government decided that by 2010, the tea cultivation area in the country would be 1,04,000 hectares with average productivity of 7.5 tonnes of green leaf per hectare, giving a bud output of 6,65,000 tonnes equivalent to a dried tea output of 1,47,000 tonnes. Of this, 1,10,000 tonnes would be exported in generating a turnover of $200 million. By 2009, the planted area of the whole country had reached 1,34,000 hectares and the dried tea output 1,60,000 tonnes – of which 1,30,000 tonnes was exported and domestic consumption was 30,000 tonnes. Exports generated a turnover of $180 million. 

Today, tea plantations are an important contributor to poverty reduction in Vietnam and tea-growers in the mountainous midland areas have managed to eliminate hunger to lead a comfortable life. At present, there are over 400 small, medium and big-scale tea production units – besides 4,00,000 tea-making households – in Vietnam. Black tea makes up 50 per cent, green tea (40 per cent) and scented tea (10 per cent), according to the Trade Promotion Agency Vietnam Tea Association.

Saroja Sirisena, Consul General of Sri Lanka in Mumbai, said that India and Sri Lanka could combine their natural advantages to increase their share in the world markets, and Sri Lanka Tea Board’s exclusive pavilion at this expo highlighting its leading companies was a step in this direction. “Tea was Sri Lanka’s main export and source of <g data-gr-id="125">income,</g> though it is not the main foreign exchange earner today. However, during the British era, tea was first cultivated and produced. And even today Sri Lanka remains the source of the best “black” teas in the world. About 90 per cent of Sri Lankan tea is exported and recognised globally as being synonymous with “black” tea. Tea came from China in 1824 – and from Assam in 1830 – to become a way of life for Sri Lanka and local companies made this tea unique.”

“While we cannot compete with world prices, we can showcase our new flavours and brands, besides the fact that we gained the reputation as the ‘cleanest’ tea in the world, where there is global competition between tea and <g data-gr-id="99">its</g> nemesis – coffee. India and Sri Lanka have a great opportunity to work together in protection of Geographical Indicators – such as Sri Lanka’s in Ceylon Tea and famous Lion logo that goes with it or in India’s Darjeeling tea.” Sri Lanka had combined its two best resources – Tea and Tourism – through welcoming tourists with tea, gourmet brewing etc.,” she added.

“In the realm of beverages, Sri <g data-gr-id="105">lanka</g> and Vietnam have done much good work and achieved great success”, Suresh Kotak, Chairman, Kotak Commodities Ltd, said while highlighting tea and coffee as being an important constituent of “<g data-gr-id="106">Nutra-ceuticals</g>.” Studies had shown that tea-drinking – due to its anti-oxidant contents – helped even promote eye health and control <g data-gr-id="120">intestinal</g> damage by increasing the internal <g data-gr-id="121">flora,</g> while coffee is probiotic,” he said.

Echoing this comment while being upbeat about tea and coffee as stimulants, G Chandrashekhar, Global Economic Advisor of Indian Merchants Chamber, said tea and coffee remained an integral part of India’s food consumption, while its exports of these included the premium variety in which planters would benefit from the expanding world markets. “However, sustainability remained the key to tea and coffee industry – and also the way forward – about which planters and others should be concerned about the related issues”, he noted.

“We cannot fight global warming and climate change. Tropical nations are more vulnerable to these changes, and are we ready to face the consequences of climate change? Governments need to get involved in research to ensure that we stay climate-resilient. Also, tea and coffee’s nutraceutical advantages need to be further researched for health benefits beyond the stimulant status, and that is where the government and necessary policies can make a difference through policy, research and investment support”, he added.

Avinash, a tea-lover and businessman from Rajasthan, lamented about <g data-gr-id="131">lack</g> of media support for the tea industry and urged for greater coverage – including on television – in order to help this industry to grow further. “There are about two lakh small tea growers, who generate around 36 per cent (270 million kgs at Rs 110 per kg totaling Rs 29,700 crores) of India’s tea production per year and if this rate of growth continues, then we will soon achieve 50 per cent of total India production,” said Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty of Confederation of India Small Tea Growers Associations (<g data-gr-id="136">CISTA</g>). “Our small tea growers in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Tripura have tremendous potential to provide low-cost, high-quality tea. Already, some progressive small tea growers in Assam and West Bengal have installed Mini green tea factories to produce high-quality tea to promote their visionary concept of Leaf-to-Teacup. We were earlier producing only green tea, which is actually the raw material of black tea that goes through a mechanical process without addition of any ingredients and is made into different types of tea such as CTC, orthodox and green tea.”

“Earlier, we were farmers, but gradually for sustainability in the tea trade, small tea growers are changing their business patterns from green tea leaf producers to ‘made tea’ producers. Earlier, we were selling to the factories (and still do) but now for sustainability of the tea leaf trade, we are converting ourselves from green tea leaf producers to made tea makers. We are observing since last 10 years, there is a slack in the prices of green tea leaf sales – due to rising costs of production and the growing need to sustain ourselves by moving into production. Also, India is facing big competition in the export market from Kenya and Sri Lanka, which have their products coming from small tea growers. However, Indian small tea growers have the capacity to produce low-cost, <g data-gr-id="139">high quality</g> tea. So it’s a great potential and if Government can promote small tea growers products in the export markets, the Indian exports will be boosted and the country will be competent to benefit from the export market.”

The Organic Small Tea Growers Association from Assam – led by Debananda Gogoi (Working President), Dilip Gogoi (Vice-President) and Bhabendra Mohan Borgohain (General Secretary) – highlighted the message of protecting the environment alongside tea cultivation. Talking to Millennium Post, they said: “With 123 members, ours is the apex body promoting and protecting small tea growers in organic farming in which we create hand-crafted organic green tea, black tea, traditional <g data-gr-id="123">phalap</g> and white tea. We are also organising organic tea eco-tourism tours for tourists, buyers and others including tea-enthusiasts, researchers and farmers to increase their knowledge in this regard. The tour gives a first-hand experience of plucking, hand-rolling and processing of Organic <g data-gr-id="113">tea,</g> while also providing a pleasant view of the lush gardens, traditional lifestyle. 

All about tea
India is one of the largest tea producers in the world, although over 70 <g data-gr-id="190">per cent</g> of its tea is consumed within India itself. India is also among the top five <g data-gr-id="220">per-capita</g> tea consumers. A number of renowned teas, such as Assam and Darjeeling also grow exclusively in India. The Indian tea industry has evolved into one of the most technologically-equipped tea industries in the world. Tea production, certification, exportation, and all other facets of the tea trade in India are controlled by the Tea Board of India. Commercial production of tea in India began after the conquest of large areas by the British East India Company, at which point large tracts of land were converted for mass tea production. 

Vietnam draws emotional comfort from tea legends. “After raining, it will be bright; after difficulty, there will be happiness; drinking Vietnamese tea is the same. The bitterness exists in the first taste, but it will be followed by a light sweet taste. It takes time to feel this later sweet taste and to understand that good Vietnamese tea must begin with the bitter taste. Seeing Vietnamese tea from the cultural angle, one will find that typical Vietnamese folk legends have happy endings. The wicked are always defeated and those who have to face challenges at first are fully compensated with happiness in the end. The same is true for Vietnamese tea. <g data-gr-id="273">Good</g> tea must have after-taste sweetness.” Their coffee too is the stuff that draws on animal legends, which highlight a special coffee created by wild weasels that live in the large coffee farms in the highland areas. 

Sri Lanka’s tea industry traces its roots to the day when a young Scotsman named James Taylor planted the first tea bush on Loolecondera Estate in Hewahata, Sri Lanka in 1867. The plantation, which originally grew coffee, had been struck by a fungus that attacked the coffee trees. Taylor, in a pioneering spirit, planted 10 acres of tea as an alternative crop to coffee over a five-year period. He consulted several Assam planters who showed him how to pluck, wither and roll tea alongside benefits of pruning. In 1872, he sent out the first shipment of Ceylon tea weighing 23 pounds and worth Rs 58, and which paved the way for a flourishing trade for Sri Lanka till today. Today Sri Lanka is the largest exporter of “Black Orthodox” tea in the world. Tea in Sri Lanka thrives at elevations ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level and is grown in pristine environments in a salubrious climate.
Dominick Rodrigues

Dominick Rodrigues

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