Tea, I’m In Too Steep.


It wasn’t until my early teens (before tea became trendy) that I discovered this wonderful world of loose leaf teas. Green, white, oolong, rooibos, tisane and more. I learned about the many different ways tea leaves are processed and how the beverage is prepared. This journey of learning and experiencing the culture of tea brought me into the realization that tea production is not as pleasant as that warm soothing drink we love. There are a lot of problems with tea production, even within fair trade teas. The main problem is that very little small scale farming of tea exist, which results in tea plantations.

The majority of tea we buy comes from large-scale plantations. Even 95% of tea that is labelled fair trade is sourced from plantations. The basic structure of the plantations has not changed since colonial times, consisting of neglectful owners and very low wages for workers.

Recently an investigation by BBC revealed living conditions of many tea plantations in India. They found extremely run-down living areas, lacking in basic hygiene and sanitation. Drains are left open and sewers flood into living areas. The workers are paid about $1.50 a day, far lower than India’s already low minimum wage. There is malnutrition and diseases as a result of their living conditions. The investigation also found workers spraying hazardous chemicals without protective gear and child labour was being used on some estates. Who are the brands these plantations supply? Tetley, Lipton, Twinings and PG Tips.

When it comes to fair trade, the certifiers claim that there is not enough small-farmer tea to create a viable supply chain, that plantation tea is the only way to offer consumers a fair trade tea. However, while it is true that in some cases workers have more power in decision making than those working on non-fair trade plantations, by only working with plantation tea, the current fair trade model focuses far too much on supply and not enough on structural, systemic change.

Searching out my favourite teas that support small scale farmers and are fully committed to fair trade was becoming impossible. So what did I do? I now source all the separate ingredients and make my own. It ended up being a lot easier than I thought and highly satisfying.

They are completely fair trade, organic and have no artificial flavours. I currently have made a Mate Chino (the tea the started off my search for a fair trade option), consisting of roasted mate, cocoa, sunflower petals, almond bits and cornflower blooms. I have also made, Mate Chai, Rooibos Chai and a Chocolate Mint Rooibos.

Next mission, sourcing fair trade jasmine flowers to make that jasmine green tea I could drink all day long.

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