Thursday, June 27, 2019


Taste of tea paramount; Only 20% of drinkers focus on health benefits
Monday, 07 January, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ruhani Sandhu
The specialty tea industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and there has never been a better time in the history of tea, where the rapid shift in health-conscious consumer preferences is driving the growth of this segment of tea.

Although the growing tea consciousness makes the future of specialty tea look very exciting and promising, there are major issues in the present that are threatening the sustainability of tea.

There are a few core crises that we are facing, and if we, as businesses and consumers accept and address these concerns, we can collaboratively take initiatives in the present to preserve the future of the tea industry.

Preference of the user on the taste rather than the quality
Research shows that about 80 per cent of tea drinkers in India focus on taste, while just 20 per cent focus on the health benefits. The reality is that tea is not just about the taste.

Where the tea is grown, how its grown, by whom it is grown, the soil, mountains, altitude, temperature, how the tea is processed, and most importantly, its purity are more important factors because they contribute to the overall tea experience, which the modern consumer is looking for.

Purity is very essential to this segment of tea, and people must realise that their tea should not smell like perfume, because the latter has a different purpose.

Lack of awareness of specialty tea in the market
If we consider other beverages like coffee, water, sports drinks, juices and dairy, their price per serving has been increasing with time while for tea it has merely changed.

Ask a modern tea consumer what specialty tea is, and the answer will be a long pause. The modern tea boom is good news, but it has played havoc on the prices, credibility and recognition of premium tea.

A trip to the local supermarket will explain quite a bit about the current state of the affairs of the tea industry.

As tea is becoming an international symbol of health, art and business, we need to adapt to ethical practices and make our consumers knowledgeable about the science of specialty tea, what makes it the topmost grade of tea and the different grades of tea that are available in the market.

Absence of a regulatory organisation to keep quality check
What we have been trying to do for the longest time is make the tea industry a profitable and efficient system for us.

The rising demand for tea has unfortunately lead to tea’s commoditisation, which has given immense leverage to tea brands to mask tea and sell it under any label of their choice - premium, organic, othodox, 100 per cent natural, directly from the farmers etc.

There are lot of brands in the market, but they are mostly selling flavoured teas which are very high in toxins, chemicals, pesticides and carcinogens that can lead to serious health hazards.

Not many people are aware of the fact that most of the health benefits that we read about tea are based on tests done on standard whole leaf grade and not tea bags, flavoured teas, instant tea and ready-to-drink tea.

Specialty tea is valued for its purity, flavours, aroma and texture. The lack of organisation and cooperation, that focusses on specialty tea and engages and educates a broad market, is causing a gap and disrupting the system.

Threat of losing workforce due to centralisation of tea trade
The traditional tea trade set up, where buyers work on a buy low and sell high strategy, and producers are under high pressure to sell at the lowest cost possible, has caused a major dent in the prices and livelihood of small tea growers and farmers.

The farmers and small tea growers are suffering because of extremely low margins, and most of them are at the verge of shifting to cities for better livelihoods, while many have already done that.

The most exquisite tea leaves grow at high-altitude and steep terrains, where mechanisation is not possible. So, basically, all the plucking has to be done by hand with a lot of care and understanding of the tea bushes.

And this work can only be done by communities who understand their plants and by experienced tea pluckers.

If there are no people to work on the field how will the rising demand for specialty tea in the future be met?

Ignorance is not always bliss and change must not be the enemy
The current tea industry is not sustainable. How we solve these problems and find integrated solutions – it is all about adaptability.

The solutions are not easy, but consciousness is the key. There is a need to create a tea system that says, “These are our goals. Now how do we get here?”

Tea is the most natural resource from nature that can heal people and provide wellness to humanity.

But it is all about drinking the right tea. The tea that must be provided to the consumers is one that is created for them and not made by them.

If certain essential steps are not taken in the present, this is what the future of tea will be - market prices will remain low and cost of production will continue to rise.

And the only way to meet the rising demand of tea will be through the industrialisation of tea farming.

To save the future of the tea industry, there is a need to establish strong bond between people and where tea comes from, and make positive impact on the planet, people’s taste buds and their health.

Box element
How to spot good tea?
    • Drink tippy teas – Abundant in silver and golden tips, these teas are of superior quality higher concentration of vitamins, minerals and flavour
    • Ensure that the tea smells natural and doesn’t have any off-notes with hints of chemical
    • Try to have delicate, fresh green leaves as they are less processed and have higher concentration of antioxidants
    • Look for layers, density, aroma in taste and flavour. With time, people will be able to differentiate between good and bad tea
    • They must try to buy tea leaves that are nicely rolled, whole and not broken and powdered

(The author is founder and chief executive officer, Rangsaa)
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