STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 8, Number 2

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22 STiR coffee and tea / Issue 2, 2019 (April / May) Tea Report: Peter Keen AUSTRALIA Growing Tea the Aussie Way Arakai Estate is a small tea garden along the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. It was originally a deer farm and then a rainforest timber operation. The Collins family that now owns it looked for a crop to complement their timber growing and milling and avocado cultivation, which are mainly done in the winter months when tea is dormant. Tea also offered an opportunity to do something new and different. The estate has won the Australian Tea Masters' Golden Leaf award for three years out of the four that it has harvested tea. It has built a strong international reputation and most of its sales are from abroad. It's proud of its "rogue Australian" approach to produc- ing a light tea suited to the Australian palate. This non-traditional way began with importing Japanese cultivars because they were the most practical, given Australia's very strict biosecurity rules. This choice favored the style of tea Brendan Collins, the father of the family and director of the tea initiative, aimed for: "a really light and flowery and naturally sweet tea." That is very different from the national tea consump- tion he disdains. This reflects the British heritage of plain, black, and mediocre "commodi-tea" (Collin's own term). The estate is laid out as a line of tea hedges, making it easy for machine harvesting. This is done by using two old bikes tied to a frame that holds up the cutter heads. The line is five kilometers long, with a total harvest of 25 km; "It's basically just a camellia hedge." Collins estimates that he has pushed "that thing" 600 kilometers. The harvesting takes two people 4-5 days. The bushes are from six Japanese cultivars. The terroir is ideal for tea: good pH levels in the soil, a subtropical climate with excellent rainfall, an elevation that ensures the cold that the plants need for their dormant period in the winter, and a far lower degree of pests and diseases than larger tea growing regions, eliminating the need for spraying plants. Arakai's farming is intrinsically organic. A caveat must be added here. These statements apply historically but the 2018-19 period of unprecedented floods, fire, and drought may signal a climate change that is irreversible and unstoppable in its damage. No one knows if this will be so. Arakai is illustrative of a wave of innovation in Australia's tea markets. Unilever's T2 retail business has become a global pace-setter in high end specialty tea shops. There is a growing variety of small growers in Queensland and New South Wales, which are creating distinctive mainly Japanese-style teas – in the Aussie way. INDIA Apps for India's Tea Growers The Tea Board of India announced at the end of January 2019 an initiative for small tea growers (STGs) that five years ago would have seemed a fantasy but today is just an application of well-estab- lished computer and communication tools. The innovation – and effort – is in the mobilization of users, not in the technology. Chai Sahay – "Tea Help" – is the preliminary name for a smartphone app that will initially be used by the regula- tory authority to issue a wide range of information, record data on field activities and garden conditions, including pesticides, and help monitor and report on farm visits. The system handles six languages, including Hindi, Assamese, Bengali and English. It is designed to provide forecasts and alerts based on AI machine learning models that will work with a growing range of micro-level data. A priority is to offer tailored recommendations for plucking, pruning and weed management, among others. Chai Sahay will also handle many administrative paper-dominated tasks, such as STG registration. The impetus for Chai Sahay is the extensive shift in India's tea farming. Five years ago, STGs accounted for 25% of total production. This has almost doubled, to a reported 47% at the end of 2018. There are over 200,000 STGs. Larger growers and elite estates have escalated their complaints about STGs' overall quality and use of pesticides. The Chai Sahay plan is to increase informa- tion, education and guidance simply and conveniently. It's a start and the merit of smart phone Android-based apps is that they can be handled as building blocks, adding capabilities and features as you do on your own smartphone. India was a pioneer in mobile phone deployment, with Bharti Airtel the world's price and service leader, with a strong presence in the rural agriculture communities. Much of the Chai Sahay infrastructure for deployment and evolution is already in place. The main blockages are likely to be funding and coordination of the rollout. It's also a signal of what is to come. Look back five years at how much technology change has become practical in the tea fields. Then look ahead five years; the degree of innovation will be at least as fast and wide. IRAN Sanctions Upend Iran Trade U.S. sanctions imposed to punish Iran have cut demand as traders are scared to transact with Iran for fear of not getting paid as banks shy away from remitting money from the country. Iran is an important tea trading partner, paying good prices for large orders of Indian, Sri Lanka and Kenyan tea. When a previous round of sanctions was lifted in 2016 exports surged and profits rose for traders supplying CTC (cut, tear, curl) to Iran's 80 million tea drinkers. Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) said earnings are down 17% due in part to financial restrictions reinstated in November 2018. The inability for the two countries to trade in dollars led to a surplus greater than the local export market can absorb, say KTDA officials. Iran is the world's fifth largest tea importer, purchasing $280 million from Kenya last year. About 20 percent of Iran's 88,000 metric tons of tea imports are from Kenya with Sri Lanka, India, and China supplying the rest. Arakai Estate harvester

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