Saturday, March 7, 2009

Trouble Brewing

My mother sent me a clipping from her newspaper of an article printed the same day as the A Cup of Tea Solves Everything show opened (20 Feb). Peter Jenkinson was writing about the price of tea...In typical Daily Express scare fashion we are told "The price could rise by 50%".

"The main factors influencing the price of tea are...a weakening of the pound coupled with severe political unrest in Kenya, a major supplier of the commodity" (which is traded in dollars).

This is really an update on a similar story which was reported at the same time last year (Feb 08) when post election troubles started in Kenya and thousands of tea plantation workers were forced to flee the land as violence erupted, and wholesale prices rose by up to 30%.

Jenkinson says the industry has been reluctant to pass on cost increases to consumers. I'd say, though, that they've just been selling us CRAP tea. The PG Tips teabags I have been buying are rubbish.

But what I didn't know was this: "The reason for our close tea trading partnership with (Kenya) is all down to the method of production most widely used there called CTC...More than 99% of African tea is harvested using the Cut, Tear and Curl method. This results in the end product being a very fine particle of tea which suits teabag manufacture perfectly..."

Also: "As tea drinkers we have a tendency in Britain to decide that a brew is ready for us to drink when a certain redness in colour is achieved. African tea suits the quick-fix culture in which most of us live now. It reaches the ideal hue much more speedily because of the soil conditions present during the growing process..."

Apparently the market in connoisseur teas from China and India will hold up, since "some of us are willing to pay extra and try a little harder to find a flavour we would truly value...but most of us are sticking to builders tea and doing ourselves a disservice by the way we make it...The optimum amount of time to release the full flavour and all the beneficial qualities from a bag of tea is 90 seconds. Yet we Brits, on average, leave our teabags in water for just 38 seconds."

Co-incidentally, at the time I received my mother's clipping, I had just started a print design job for a local Caribbean dance company and was getting into African batik prints, and had bought a great selection of remnants for a tenner in the local African textile shop in the high street. I was surprised to find that most of the fabric sold there was made in Holland. The shop-keeper told me that her customers preferred the Dutch cloth to the African because it was better quality and lasted longer and kept its colours after several washes.

Here is a snap of one of those prints, which has a little of the Willow about it (although the design is probably based on the palm tree):

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