When is the last time you really thought about where your tea comes from?
The tea leaves look so beautiful, they are perfectly rolled and they smell fragrant. Each cup is delicious, but did you stop and think about where your tea comes from?
Are Fair Trade certification and organic cultivation enough? What about fair trade with the earth itself?
As I traveled through countless tea farms, tea estates, and ancient tree tea plantations, I was stunned to find that most of these places had completely destroyed the entire ecosystem around them, leaving behind nothing but manicured rows of trees and depleted the soil. All the beauty that made the land such a wonderful place, in the beginning, is now gone to pave way for the profit machines.
Looking at entire mountains destroyed and laid bare except for countless rows of tea trees is simply horrendous. The original inhabitants, the birds, the insects, the flowers, have all vanished. As I visited more tea farms like that, I felt despair and anger growing, How could I support this?
Yes, most of us live far away from China, but what happens in one part of the pond has a ripple effect. That ripple is now changing into a big wave as the tea industry is getting bigger and bigger every year. More mountains are made barren, and more of the wilderness is destroyed to plant rows of a single species of trees at the cost of everything else. You might say that’s the way it is. However, more and more people are questioning these practices and asking, “What can I do?” There is something you can do. Be informed about where your tea is being sourced from, and buy tea from a wild forest tea garden or purchase sustainably harvested tea. You may ask what is a wild forest tea garden? What is sustainably harvested tea?
These are teas harvested from trees that grow naturally in an undisturbed environment. In such places, flowers such as orchids grow naturally around and on the tea trees, adding an incredible flavor to the tea. Tea trees are extremely absorbent, taking in energy and smells from everything around them.
I once heard of a tribal leader in Yunnan who could describe in great detail the environment around the tea tree just by taking a sniff of the tea leaf. Such expertise only underlines how important the surrounding environment is and how significant an impact it has on the taste, smell and quality.
Tea is the world’s second most popular drink. It is gaining in popularity every year, and sales are expected to increase over the next 10 years. This is great news if you are in the tea business, but this could be bad for the earth if careless, unsustainable mass tea farming continues. There are some big issues that need to be addressed.
We need to ask how we can sustain our growing tea consumption without desecrating our beautiful mountains and valleys with mass tea plantations. How can we grow our tea in a more sustainable way that will not interfere with the local ecology?
We need more tea gardens that integrate with the local ecology and wildlife, and grow them in a way that does not deplete the soil. I call this type of tea BiodiversiTEA (Biodiversity Tea).
On a BiodiversiTEA (Biodiversity Tea) plantation, you can see flowers, grass and plants growing naturally in between the tea trees. On a typical mass- planted tea plantation, all the grass and native plants are ruthlessly ripped out of the ground as they are considered a weed that will suck nourishment from the tea tree. Actually, given how absorbent a tea tree is, all the plants, trees and flowers growing around it greatly affect the taste of the leaves.
Have you given any thought as to why you constantly add sugar, milk or honey to sweeten tea? That is because the mass farmed teas that are commercially available have a very unpleasant taste, leading tea producers to add berries, dried fruits, and flowers to create mixed blends that seem so trendy these days.
My friends, who own large tea factories and who count large tea companies in the US as their clients, have confided in me as to why the big corporations love to do blended teas. It is really simple and is all profit-driven. The large tea companies buy really low quality, cheap tea, and mask the taste of the tea with fruits. flowers and berries and sell it as blended tea. Now don’t get me wrong. These large tea companies are masters of their trade and are reaping huge profits, offering all of us lessons in how to run a commercially viable tea business.
But what about those of us who are in the tea business because of our passion for tea? What about those who want to drink really high quality tea so as to be able to get the true taste of the tea? What about those of us who care not only about Fair Trade, but also about preserving our quickly vanishing forests and wildlife? Can you drink good tea and still preserve our natural resources?
YES! I strongly urge you to support BiodiversiTEA (Biodiversity Tea) and any true tea artisans that carries these kinds of teas. There are not many of us out there, but I can see a trend coming soon to China. I hope to be working with a group on creating this awareness, and to make it a reality across China, by educating farmers, plantation owners and locals on how to change their farming practices to adapt to their local environment, not destroy it.
More and more people have chosen to buy directly from tea farmers in recent years. What these tea buyers don’t realize is how challenging it is to maintain the relationship. All the tea farmers seem very friendly, they invite you to meet their family, they cook for you, and they appear willing to do a whole lot more for you. Everything seems perfect and you think it will all work out fine. They send you the first batch and it is perfect.
Then you get buyers who give you large orders, but the quality of tea that you are receiving from the farmer seems to deteriorate. We had one farmer with whom we had a long-standing arrangement. We knew everyone in his village. He even had organic certification as he had made enough money to invest in it when the farm got better known.
We conduct random tests on our teas to make sure that each batch is up to standard. We had sampled the spring harvest, which turned out to be delicious, so we proceeded with an order. When the farmer’s supplies arrived, our testing revealed pesticides on the leaves. This greatly surprised us as we had always received quality organic tea from this farmer.
We called him immediately. He admitted he didn’t have enough and made up the shortfall with tea from another farm. He thought we wouldn’t notice the difference since we are not a big company. But he has no idea we have Shana who is our in-house tea artisan who has very high techniques and ability can identify if the teas from true biodiversity environment or not.
We decided to cancel the relationship with tea farmers in the end, as we believe we should never comprise with the people who are dishonest.
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