Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hands Across The Water - Part One of a Trilogy

Sometimes I'm direct and to the point. Sometimes I ramble.
I suspect, as I start to write this, that you might want to cancel the papers and phone work sick for a week or so. There's a lot to this.
In fact, I'm going to break it up into three parts, and I have no idea how part three might pan out.
As regular readers know, I worry a lot about the men, women and children who take part in my cup of tea. There's an appalling amount of exploitation within this industry.
And having been in the industry, I also know it can be quite lucrative at both a wholesale and retail level.
In my quest for excellence, I also worry about the care taken with that precious cargo.
A while back a friend (the wonderful @joiedetea, for you twitterites) introduced me to an Indian company that was exporting great Darjeeling teas.
So I started buying my teas from close to the source. The quality is amazing, though I don't seem to save much money over buying them locally.
Since this means a great deal more of the money from each transaction remains in India; I assume that this must filter down to the worker level. Perhaps I am being naive.
So, here's where we can get interesting.
Yesterday I held a launch party/tasting for a new direct on-line Indian tea company in my home town of Adelaide.
It's not uncommon for people to send me tea to review or taste. But on this occasion, I have actively promoted a specific company.
The whole thing came about when I wrote to them complimenting them on their website. I struck up a conversation with the delightful Kaushal, and it wasn't long before we agreed that he would send me some teas, I'd hold an event, and review the teas.
So, Part Two of this Trilogy, I will commence writing in a few moments, and that will be the review of the teas.
At the same time, I invite Darjeeling Tea Express to write to me and explain what steps they are taking to improve the lot of the impoverished Indian tea worker. I already know they share my concerns - I read their blog.
And that will help me put together Part Three.
Let's all see how that works out.


  1. This is something I think a lot about as well. It'd be much easier, as the consumer, to never ask the difficult questions. As long as the suppliers think we don't care about the workers' conditions, then they have no motivation to assure them.

    Am looking forward to hearing what you thought of the tea, but this issue I'll be watching as carefully.

  2. Fascinating post and can't wait to read the next part.

    I commend people like you who are buying direct to the real source of the tea. I'm curious, are you buying the teas directly from them as a consumer or are you buying in large lots for a business?

    Knowing the story behind the tea is very appealing to me. I sincerely hope that buying direct does filter down to the level of making the workers' lives better!

  3. Thanks for the comment Amanda - I currently buy as an individual, though I am in the process of providing advice to a new venture that might buy commercial quantities.

  4. Hi Devotea,

    Firstly, big thanks for tasting the teas and providing your frank opinion/construtive feedback. That will always be helpful to us to strive for better.

    I share your concerns over livelihood/conditions of tea workers and the benefit they receive in this industry. We would also like to highlight that at this point, we are pure play direct tea buyers and a new startup.

    From our experience of being in trade, most tea producers do not provide much except the minimum stipulated by law and it includes food subsidy, free housing and a daily wage (negotiated in every 2-3 years). However, due to profit maximisation mentality, most tea producers do not share proportionate gains/profits with their tea workers. In rare cases, it is a sad to hear the story of their personal plight. Even certifications like Fair Trade do not mean much on the ground.

    DarjeelingTeaXpress firmly believes that we need to empower the workers as owners of the land as that will allow them to have a direct share of the gains. We covered it earlier in our blog post here :

    Going forward, we intend to procure increasingly large part of our teas from such co-operatives and encourage more of the same. Our business model eliminates many players in the value chain by bringing teas direct from the gardens to consumers. Hence, we definitely aim to share our proceedings with institutions that support tea plantation labourers such as Hayden Hall as well. We cannot claim anything yet as we have just commenced operations, but allow us some time to scale up and implement this.

    - Darjeeling Tea Bazaar