Climate Change, Ethical Practices, the Next Generation Workforce Are Among Key Tea Industry Topics

The global tea industry is facing longstanding issues that have the potential to hinder its growth and future sustainability.

World Tea News spoke with various experts who cited some of these challenges, including the well-being of tea production workers (given low wages), a decline in tea production related to a lack of interest in from younger generations, an unknown production future due to the effects of climate change, and maintaining ingredient integrity with tea products.

Sustainable and Ethical Practices Are Needed in the Tea Industry

Bala Sarda, CEO and founder of VAHDAM India, said one of the most pressing topics is the need for sustainable and ethical practices throughout the entire tea supply chain.

“The challenges faced by the tea industry, including low wages, unremunerative prices, high production costs, along with supply chain and logistic complexities, have reached a critical juncture that demands immediate attention and action,” Sarda said.

The tea industry holds immense importance worldwide, with tea being the second most consumed beverage globally. However, Sarda noted the sector is grappling with long-term issues that must be addressed.

Firstly, Sarda said the well-being of the workers involved in tea production is of paramount concern. “The persistent issue of low wages not only affects the livelihoods of tea workers but also perpetuates social and economic inequalities. Addressing this challenge is crucial to ensuring fair wages, better living conditions, and improved labor standards, which will contribute to a more equitable and just industry.”

Secondly, Sarda pointed out that the prevailing problem of unremunerative prices for tea leaves impacts not only the farmers but also the overall economic viability of tea cultivation. “By focusing on fair pricing mechanisms and empowering farmers, the industry can ensure a stable income for growers and encourage the continued cultivation of high-quality tea.”

Bala Sarda CEO and Founder of VAHDAM India
Bala Sarda, CEO and founder of VAHDAM India (Photo: Courtesy of VAHDAM India)

Overall, Sarda said the high cost of production poses a significant hurdle, as it can erode the profitability of tea businesses and thwart their ability to invest in sustainability measures. Finding innovative ways to optimize production costs without compromising on quality is vital to ensure the industry's long-term competitiveness.

“Streamlining the supply chain and integrating modern logistics technologies can enhance efficiency, reduce waste, and ensure that the benefits of tea production are fairly distributed among all stakeholders,” Sarda concluded.

The Younger Generation Must Embrace Tea as a Profession

Chris Tanobi, a matcha enthusiast representing Ujiha, based in Australia, said that as specialists in Japanese matcha, they noticed a concerning trend – a decline in tea production, mainly because the younger generations aren't carrying on the tea business or farming tradition.

“On the flip side, the international market for matcha is booming," Tanobi said. "That's why it becomes incredibly crucial for the younger generation, particularly in Japan, to embrace tea and its heritage. By doing so, they can play a vital role in preserving and promoting this timeless tradition for generations to come."

Chris Tanobi - Matcha Enthusiast Representing Ujiha - Australia
Chris Tanobi, representing Ujiha (Photo: Courtesy of Chris Tanobi / Ujiha)

Ensuring the Cost of Production Before Things Get Worse

Kevin Gascoyne, tea taster and owner of the Camellia Sinensis tea company in Montreal, Canada, who's also a regular World Tea Expo speaker, said the world’s tea producers all use cultivation systems that are based on the reaction of their plants to the specific seasonal cycles and weather patterns of their region.

“All these regions are experiencing an unknown future from the erratic meteorological events associated with the effects of climate change,” Gascoyne said. “They are struggling, and it seems likely that this is not going to improve before it gets worse.”

So, when we “put the kettle on,” Gascoyne shared, the industry should consider the extra mile the makers of our favorite brew have gone. “When we buy our tea, we should be ready to pay a dollar more to help them through a year of bad harvest,” he said. “If we sell tea, we should pay a reasonable price for it, ensuring that the cost of production is well covered at source.”

Gascoyne said the industry should also be very careful about new rules, regulations and criteria that “we throw at the toiling tea-folk that we rely on for our beloved leaf from our comfortable armchairs.”

Tea Industry Issues - Tea Business Trends
Kevin Gascoyne, tea taster and owner of Camellia Sinensis (Photo: Courtesy of Camellia Sinensis)

Maintaining Ingredient Integrity

Kat Wiranowski, director of marketing for Organic India USA, said one of the most crucial topics facing the global tea industry today is ingredient and sourcing integrity.

“While rising costs may be top of mind, avoiding cost-cutting measures that sacrifice ingredient purity will pay dividends for brands over time,” Wiranowski revealed. “This may also prove to be a critical factor in the long-term health of the tea industry as a whole. Ingredient sourcing has a direct impact on product quality, both taste and benefit, as well as on the agricultural practices that affect the health of the land on which it’s grown.”

Wiranowski explained that maintaining ingredient integrity translates to authentic brand communication that resonates with the consumer and contributes to sustained sales growth for tea companies.

Tea Industry Issues - Tea Business Trends - Tea Report
Kat Wiranowski, director of marketing for Organic India USA (Photo: Courtesy of Kat Wiranowski / Organic India USA)

Liat Racin, founder of Boston-based Tamim Teas, agrees, in terms of maintaining ingredient integrity. In fact, Racin said functional mushrooms are exploding in today's beverage and tea industry – you can find them in teas, coffees and protein powders – but to meet the growing demand for them, many companies are importing functional mushrooms as highly processed powders and extracts from questionable sources.

Racin noted that this this particular “western method” of processing and using them has no tradition in the cultures that have enjoyed them for thousands of years.

Climate Change Tea Industry Agriculture Workers Workforce Issues Report
Liat Racin, founder of Tamim Teas (Photo: Courtesy of Tamim Teas )

Erin Flynn Jay is a reporter and publicist based in Philadelphia. She’s also an occasional contributor to Questex’s World Tea News, in addition to having written for Bar & Restaurant News. Some of her other writing credits include Next Avenue and Woman’s World, among many others.

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