Fairtrade Tea – James Pogson – 28th October 2013.

There are 165 mil­lion cups of tea drunk in the UK each day (!). We all tried a tasty sample from Kenya, prior to the present­a­tion, and if you thought wine-making was an art, then try tea (from the plant known as Camellia Sinensis).

Much trav­elled to many of the tea-producing coun­tries in the world, James impressed us with his in-depth know­ledge and enthu­si­asm, telling us how the influ­ence of alti­tude, solar energy, weather, and soil con­di­tions determ­ine taste and are key to a good end product, but also key, is how the new shoots on the bushes are selec­ted and picked. Up to 9 picks a year can be achieved (e.g. in Rwanda), sub­ject to weather, car­ried out by mainly women who are better than men.

Different coun­tries have vary­ing levels of organ­isa­tion with, for example, in an area the size of Wales, the Sri Lankan work­ers are col­lect­ively organ­ised and mil­it­ant, but in India on one estate the size of Middlesex with 800,000 pick­ers and 200,000 garden­ers and other sup­port staff, the wel­fare of the work­ers is taken very ser­i­ously from cradle to grave. The Fairtrade Foundation encour­ages whole­salers to sign up to an agree­ment to pay a levy of 50 cents (USA)/kg, over and above the pur­chase price which can range from £2.50 to £3.50/kg. About 80% of this goes back to the wel­fare of the work­ers, with 1.8% dir­ectly to the pick­ers, and the rest to the tea fact­ory. 1 to 3% of tea drunk is Fairtrade.

Once picked we were taken through the pro­cess of drying, using hot air at 45C then CTC (chopped, torn and crushed), fer­men­ted, after lumps removed, and finally dried at 350C trying to avoid over­heat­ing to pre­vent the burnt con­di­tion called ‘Joan of Arc’.

With the final leaves now look­ing like tea, they are sieved and graded into 8 cat­egor­ies of uni­form dens­ity, bagged in paper sacks and not put in tea chests any­more. Container loads then take 3 months to reach the UK where they are put in tea bags for us to drink.