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The cups are empty: obviously time for another brew!

By Dorothy Henderson

As I sip on a freshly brewed cup of Australian grown tea on the veranda of our home, overlooking paddocks that are parched and bleached beach sand white by the summer sun, I contemplate the role of tea in our lives, and in the lives of many people around the world. This particularly flavoursome cup has lifted my spirits on a day when rain evades us, again.

I am saddened by the thought that we would be battling to grow tea on our particular patch of paradise; fertile though the soil is the rainfall and climate say “no”… maybe we could plant a few bushes on the grey-water drains?

The fact Tea Day is, 21 April 2019, (at least in the UK) came as a surprise to me. The ritual of drinking tea, “smoko breaks’, morning and afternoon teas: are fundamental and pivotal routines in the lives of many, with a “cuppa” breaking the day into manageable portions and providing a distraction from stress. We celebrate tea every day, but the notion of one special day of tea worships was an exciting one!

I had never heard of an International Tea Day before; even though several countries have been setting aside a day to celebrate tea for a while.  The importance of tea globally was recognised in the wake of the 3rd Session of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Intergovernmental Group (IGG) on Tea, held in Hangzhou on 17-20 May 2018, the Government of the People’s Republic of China proposed the establishment of an International Tea Day, to be observed on May 21 each year.

The Committee on Commodity Problems (CCP), at its 72nd Session in September 2018, endorsed the proposal and requested the Secretariat to work with the CCP Bureau to take it forward for consideration at the 160th Session of the Council, with a view to presenting it to the next Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2019. The day coincided with Easter Sunday this year, so cups of tea could be combined with traditional fare such as chocolate eggs and Simmel cake!

As is often the case, the problem with exploring a topic close to your heart is that the process becomes something of an epic adventure, so as I research tea, I’m taken on a journey to the tea growing areas of the world…China, Malawi, Kenya, India, Bangladesh…around the globe…ending up in Australia on the websites associated with the Madura, Nerada, Two Rivers, Daintree tea plantations. I explore a myriad of tea outlets, tea shops, books about tea and at one point I find myself watching videos about the Tea Horse Road, transfixed by the very thought of combining two of my very favourite things…beautiful horses and tea! I learned that Akhal Teke horses are being imported today in to China even today. Not paid for in tea though!

AgriFutures Australia points out that tea is “the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, with an estimated 18–20 billion cups of tea consumed every day”, pouring cold water on my tea growing aspirations with a map that excludes Esperance from the potential tea growing areas (but they haven’t seen our grey-water drain!)

I reflect on the impact the humble tea plant, a shrub of the genus Camellia, has had on the lives of so many: the growers, the pickers, the processors and the drinkers…

Map of current and potential growing regions.       (Source:      AgriFutures Australia      )

Map of current and potential growing regions. (Source: AgriFutures Australia )

Like all fascinating journeys though, this one had to come to an end. The tea in my cup has long gone cold. The deadline has passed and the current story has become a retrospective piece asking why on earth the FAO has decided that tea deserves a day of its own on the calendar.

Madura Tea Estate: where 250,000 tea bushes grow on the outskirts of Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales. (Source:      Madura website)

Madura Tea Estate: where 250,000 tea bushes grow on the outskirts of Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales. (Source: Madura website)

Well, in its own words, the FAO’s Committee on Commodity problems decided it was worthwhile in order “to raise awareness of the many benefits of tea for producers and consumers alike and to foster the further development of the tea sector and its contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

Looking through the FAO’s publications, I note that like so many of the things we take for granted, tea producers face challenges (FAO 2019).

“…tea production is highly sensitive to changes in growing conditions. Tea can only be produced in narrowly defined agro-ecological conditions and, hence, in a very limited number of countries, many of which will be heavily impacted by climate change.

“Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, with more floods and droughts, are already affecting yields, tea product quality and prices, lowering incomes and threatening rural livelihoods. These climate changes are expected to intensify, calling for urgent adaptation measures. In parallel, there is a growing recognition of the need to contribute to climate change mitigation, by reducing carbon emissions from tea production and processing.”

Imagine a world where tea became so expensive that it was no longer easy to have cup after cup? Where every crisis could not be met with copious quantities of hot sweet tea in a fine china cup? Where a tin mug of tea became a luxury?  It hardly bears thinking about!

Harvesting tea leaves at a private tea estate in the Nilgiris mountains, India. (Source:      FAO     )

Harvesting tea leaves at a private tea estate in the Nilgiris mountains, India. (Source: FAO)

But just in case, International Tea Day sounds like a good way to make sure we don’t take our cuppas for granted, that we celebrate the tea growers in our own country, and those in places beyond our borders. Savour the tea, and taste the effort and the history of the plant that enriches our lives.

Justifiable reason for putting the kettle back on and brewing another pot….