Imagine pristine dewy hills with rolling tea plantations and smiling women picking leaves at their leisure – beautiful, is it not? Trouble is that just about everything in this image is wrong if you just bought your tea from any supermarket. Supermarket teas are the most viciously competed market segment within tea industry and pushing down the price is the most important competitive advantage. So why the low price of supermarket tea is such a bad thing?

Walmart logo

Walmart is a market just as the rest of them


Growing tea has been labor intensive from the start. For this reason it has remained dominant farming industry in countries what have very low salaries. However, consumers demand ever cheaper teas and markets are consuming more and more tea, supermarket chains have massive bargaining power over tea farmers and farmers have no way but to cut the costs. Even in low-cost countries this had resulted in the use of machinery and chemicals in tea growing and tea processing as well as the use of pesticides and fertilizers.


Tea farms are located on steep and high hills at starting point for rivers. Fertilizer use will result into nutrient run-offs during bigger rains. This enriches streams, rivers and lakes and huge number of water species perish in resulting oxygen depletion and booming of various algae. Overall this starts a cycle in which the whole ecosystem suffers as a result, because nutrition supply becomes one-sided.


The use of pesticides destroys nature in much the same way as fertilizers.  But the difference is that pesticides work in much more direct and localized manner. The real irony in this practice is that the diseases and insects that are being controlled develop immunity over time and strike back with a vengeance. At that point they are too strong to be controlled by their natural enemies and the balance of the ecosystem is lost. In the long run farmers would do much better by steering off pesticides.


The use of machinery has meant that landscape can me modified in drastic manner when compared to traditional work methods. Nature is not being respected and ecosystems pay the price. Some areas are nothing but tea bushes as far as eye can see. Sure, it looks green, but it is not green.


Machines and chemicals leave their mark also to your tea in your cup. Age old rhythm of handling tea has been hastened and cut short in many places. Chemical additives are used to achieve certain color, odor or flavor while machines terrorize tea leaves into unrecognizable powder, which can only be sold in tea bags. However there are three distinctive benefits in tea bag tea and they are cheap price, ease of management and ease of marketing all of which are qualities highly valued by big multinational marketing chains. This engine pushes cheap artificial tea down our throats and hypnotizes us to believe that what we are really drinking is mystic tea from orient that will cure all the ailments of body.


As you can see the whole supermarket tea experience is a market laboratory experiment gone horribly wrong. It damages everything on its journey from the seedlings to that perfect cup of invigorating tea that the end consumer sips.  Well damage is cast upon almost everything as big marketing brands and supermarkets gain substantial financial benefits. So it is not all bad.


Why was it that drinking supermarket tea is a murder? In Assam an unrest at a tea estate led to a brutal murder of estate managers. It has been more or less the business as usual since tea became such a sought after product. Legions of slaves have been toiling away on tea plantations and almost as many have perished already on their way to a plantation. The combination of cost-cutting and maximizing profits is deadly for too many.


What you can do to save tea? Buy organic, farm-to-retail, fair trade and single estate teas. If you get at least two on the list you are already doing a big favor for our traditional industry and at the same time you are helping it to turn a new green and caring page.

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