Wednesday, March 4, 2009

TEA: Where does it come from?

In my last post, I gave a little history of how tea came to America, how it became popular, and how Victorian Tea Parties developed. We are planning to host afternoon Victorian Teas here at our Inn, so I thought I should do a little research on the many kinds of teas available. I've identified various countries who specialize in tea farming and thought maybe you might like to see what I came up with...........

Tea consumption
Tea has been a popular pick-me-up for thousands of years. Black, green and other teas are made from the leaves of the same plant, Camellia sinensis, which grows in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. India, China, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil and other countries export large volumes of the dried and shredded leaf. About 2.4 million hectares (six million acres) are planted in tea, often in large plantations called "estates." Tea consumption is increasing thanks to news about its health benefits, but production has been growing even faster, resulting in an oversupply and depressed prices for farmers.

Rainforest Alliance
Rainforest Alliance certification is a comprehensive process that promotes and guarantees improvements in agriculture and forestry. Their independent seal of approval ensures that goods and services were produced in compliance with strict guidelines protecting the environment, wildlife, workers and local communities. The Rainforest Alliance launched its tea certification program in 2007. The first Rain Forest Alliance Tea farm was Kericho, an estate in Kenya owned by Unilever that supplies the Lipton and PG Tips brands.

Tropical crops
Like any tropical crop, tea raises a number of environmental and social issues, each with a cost/benefit balance that can be tipped in a positive way. Tea grows year-round, employing a lot of people, especially pluckers who carefully pick the top three or so leaves from every branch on the bush. That makes tea an important employer, and there are challenges around wages, labor organization, housing, health care and other rights and benefits.

Tea Farming
Tea farming replaces biodiversity-rich tropical forests with a beautiful, but single-species, monoculture. Soil erosion, competition for water, pollution from fertilizers, and the need for firewood to fuel tea dryers are some of the main environmental concerns. By following the Sustainable Agriculture Network standards, growers can proactively address the social and environmental challenges. The Rainforest Alliance organized multi-stakeholder meetings in Kenya to gather input on the standards, ensuring that they are as effective at tea as they have been for coffee, bananas and other crops.
(some information in this article taken from "Sustainable Agriculture", an on-line article by the Rainforest Alliance)
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1 comment:

  1. Such an interesting post! It's nice to know that the Rainforest Alliance in looking over the production of crops, especially considering some of the problems we've had with food sources lately. Hope you'll post more info about Tea. It's so popular now. I'd like to know more about it. Any suggestions on some of the specific brands or varieties?