Dubai Takes Center Stage with Global Dubai Tea Forum and Golden Leaf India Awards

Tea industry leaders from around the world converged in Dubai – considered by some to be the world’s largest tea hub – to discuss the future of tea, consumer trends and new market opportunities.

The venue was the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) – the world’s flagship free zone and Government of Dubai authority on commodities trade and enterprise – which hosted the eighth edition of the Global Dubai Tea Forum (GDTF). The event took place April 25–27.

With the theme “Unpacking the Future of Tea: From Consumer Trends to New Market Opportunities,” GDTF 2023 gathered more than 300 industry experts and professionals – including traders, producers, suppliers, buyers and governments from across the globe – to address key trends within the global tea market and to discuss how to harness current opportunities to drive its sustainable growth.

Interestingly, all of this happened at a locale that does not produce tea but is the world's largest re-exporter of tea.

Global Dubai Tea Forum 2023
(Photo: Courtesy of Global Dubai Tea Forum)

Trends in Producing Countries, Consumer Developments and Sustainability

The four main panels for discussion were “Producing Countries – Growth, Trends and Opportunities,” “Consumer Trends: Consumer Consciousness, Choice and Competition,” “Sustainability: From Packaging and Plastics to Transparency and Fair Trade,” and “Technology, Innovation and Disruption in the Tea Industry.”

The opening keynote address was delivered by His Excellency Abdullah Al Saleh, undersecretary of the UAE Ministry of Economy, who said: “With its strategic location, at the crossroads of the world, the advanced infrastructure and the enabling business ecosystem, the UAE is well-positioned to drive global tea trade. In 2021, we ranked first in global tea reexport with a 51 percent contribution in terms of value and quantity, and fifth in tea trade after major producing countries. As such, the UAE represents the perfect venue to host such an important forum that brings together traders and industry players to shape the future of tea.”

Saeed Al Suwaidi, director of agri commodities at DMCC, said the DMCC Tea Centre has played a major role in positioning Dubai at the heart of the global tea trade and that this world class facility aims to develop and grow tea trade by connecting markets through Dubai.

"Building on a record-breaking 2022, our Tea Centre is poised to deliver yet another strong performance throughout 2023,” said Suwaidi. “This growth will be driven by technology and automation, as well as a focus on developing specialty tea and innovative infusions that will delight tea 'enthusiasts around the world.”

The DMCC Tea Centre now handles on average 43,000 metric tonnes of bulk tea every year, contributing to the UAE’s status as one of the largest re-exporters of tea in the world. 

Mohit Agarwal of Asian Tea and Exports, who presented at the event, said one gets a 360-degree view and diverse perspective of the tea world at the Dubai tea conference. “The vibes were positive from the meet,” Agarwal said. “There were discussions on tea and technology, sustainability, latest tea trends.”

Agarwal spoke on the current situation facing tea producing countries, the challenges they face, and the solutions to make the industry sustainable. 

Sandip Thapa, founder and CEO of CuppaTrade, who attended the meeting, said the concept of a global digital marketplace for tea, breaking the barriers of time and region, was well received during some of his discussion and interactions. His company focuses on bringing together tea buyers and sellers.

“It is high time the industry exploited learnings from Amazon, Uber, WhatsApp, UPI [United Payments Interface] etc. – technologies and services that we use every single day,” Thapa explained. “Stakeholders agreed that the bulk tea business has been lacking in innovation. The auction system is almost two centuries old. It served its purpose in an era where tea gardens were at far off places, modes of transport were limited and time taking, information flow was at snail’s pace, and an industry around tea was being built. Now, when technology and services have leapfrogged to 24-hour online shopping, when WFH [work from home] is an accepted norm, and ChatGPT4 is outdated as five is round the corner, we are still stuck with the outdated Frankenstein model, which is neither here nor there."

Thapa added: “The stakeholders are desperate for an innovative, digital alternatives that will make trading easy… We shall strengthen the connections forged at the [Global Dubai Tea Forum]. We are particularly excited and working towards a Cuppa Trade / DMCC alliance, which would present an exceptional opportunity for tea producers, especially small growers, to showcase their teas to the world via a global platform.”

Delegates also explored key tea trends, such as the rising demand for greater choice and varieties, including new flavored teas and specialty products. Participants addressed major challenges, including constrained shipping impacting supply chains, geopolitical tensions, inflation causing uncertainty, and climate change impacting production. In addition, discussions highlighted how new technologies, innovations and the push for greater sustainability will disrupt and shape the tea market at all levels of the supply chain for years to come.

Abhiroop Chuckarbutty, president of Lipton Tea and Infusions for Africa, Middle East and Turkey, said tea has many benefits and needs to be marketed properly to consumers, so that people stop seeing it as an old-age beverage, which the youth does not identify with. He stressed that brands need to do a better job at developing the herbals segment, and added that there is a need to focus on creating wonderful consumer experiences in and out of home.

The Golden Leaf India Awards Coincide with Global Dubai Tea Forum 2023

During lunch breaks at the event, delegates were given an experience with tasting teas from South India, which was organized by The United Planters' Association of South India. In fact, the 18th edition of the Golden Leaf India Awards was held in Dubai, which coincided with the Global Tea Forum.

“We showed the quality profile of teas from South India and teas grown at different elevations,” said R. Sanjith, secretary general of UPASI (United Planters' Association of Southern India). “There was appreciation of the teas from the delegates.”

The Golden Leaf India Awards’ first-level screening of teas was held on April 1 at UPASI, and the qualified teas were evaluated for pesticide residue parameters and heavy metals in the NABL India [National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories] accredited laboratory of UPASI Tea Research Foundation.

The 62 short-listed teas that qualified the first and second level of screening were evaluated by a panel of international jury comprising of renowned tasters and major buyers, namely: Abdurahman Kunnath of Sun Group FZE, Dubai; Andrey Kraynev of James Finlay (ME), DMCC, Dubai; Mike Jones of Carrier Jones Ltd, UK; Sanjiv Chatterji, head of supply chain, Africa, Middle East & Turkey, Lipton Teas and Infusions; Shabnam Weber of the Tea & Herbal Association of Canada; Sharon Hall of UK Tea & Infusions Association; and Mohammad Yahya Beyad of Britannia Tea Co Ltd, UK.

Global Dubai Tea Forum 2023
Experts taste and evaluate teas from South India at the final tasting session of the 18th Edition of The Golden Leaf India Awards, held in Dubai and coinciding with the Global Dubai Tea Forum 2023.​ (Photo: Courtesy of The United Planters' Association of South India)

Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company Pvt Ltd won seven awards. Harrisons Malayalam Limited-SBU(A) and Parry Agro Industries Ltd received four awards each. Darmona Tea Industry, Green T Estate, Kodanad Tea Estate and Sri Vasuprada Plantations Ltd accepted three awards each. Poabs Organics Products Pvt Ltd and Woodbriar Group took home two awards each, and Harrisons Malayalam Limited-SBU(B) and Rousdonmullai Estate (a division of IRM Pvt Ltd) each received one award.

To learn more about the Global Dubai Tea Forum, visit

Roopak Goswami has worked for more than two decades as a newspaper journalist in Northeast India. Tea is his passion, and he covers the global tea industry regularly for World Tea News.

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