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.