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THE PRICE TO PAY

12 July 2011

at 20:01 by john

Darjeeling First Flush Leaf

As the First Flush 2011 got under way this year the four unions that represent the garden workers in Darjeeling called an embargo. Local politicians, closely linked with the unions, had also whipped things up to win votes in the upcoming regional elections. Manufacture continued as normal but all factories were ‘locked in’ not a leaf, invoice or even sample was to leave for the market place in Kolkata. All factories were heavily guarded until the embargo was lifted early April.

February and March this year saw the end of a 3 year term, the workers wages in the Darjeeling plantations were to be renegotiated. The majority of the process is simply index linked against standard costs, inflation and market prices etc. The DPA (Darjeeling Planters Association) represents the ‘Planters’ i.e. the owners and their staff. This year, after 60 years of association with the planters of the rest of India, the DPA decided to break away and do their negotiating alone. One main reason was that Darjeeling’s First Flush depends very much on timing. Tea lovers are waiting worldwide for the fresh leaves to arrive and too much delay spoils this crucial factor of immediacy. They could not afford to endure the possibility of long drawn out months of discussion. They needed the issue to be dealt with quickly.

tea pluckers

Wages represent 70% of a garden’s costs so even a small increase represents an enormous annual increase. During this Spring’s negotiations a settlement was finally agreed upon where wages would increase by 34%! That will mean the overall cost of producing Darjeeling tea, if we take 34% of our initial 70%, of 23.8% in an industry that is already in a precarious financial position!

The other essential aspect to this situation is the difficulty the gardens are having in finding enough labour. Younger generations are increasingly interested in the world ‘outside the valley’. Absenteeism is at its highest rate ever and many growers are starting to panic and seriously talking about mechanical plucking options. We all know the effect that mechanical plucking is going to have on our Darjeelings. Hand plucking is the only way to get the selection of leaf necessary for the quality we expect from these teas.

hand plucked tea garden

As a merchant I have to think sustainable and long term for these growers, I want to see their industry solid and in good health but I cannot immediately put up my prices 23%! Where a $10/50g tea increases to $12.30 overnight. The burden will have to be split between all the players. But I may have to put them up by $1 for now, if I expect these teas to be produced the traditional way for me and my clients for many years to come.

The Singell DJ5 or Thurbo DJ5 among, if not the best First Flush Darjeelings of the entire region this year are still coming in at 85c per cup. Less than a teabag at Starbucks, domestic beer, Coca Cola, mineral water the list goes on and let’s not get into a comparison with fine tea!

Kevin Gascoyne.

steep tea gardens

The Japanese teas of 2011 are finally on the shelves!

5 July 2011

at 15:46 by john

Over the last few years our Japanese teas have always arrived in early June. This year we have had to wait for all those beautiful fresh leaves to arrive. To start with, Japan had a colder winter than usual which delayed the harvest by about fifteen days.
Then, following all the terrible events that Japan suffered in March, we were obliged to follow a strict protocol with the 2011 harvest to ensure that our teas were not affected by radiation. These are the principal steps we have taken:

* Results and certification of soil analysis from each tea producer

* Results and certification of analysis of fresh leaf and/or infused leaf

* Results and certification from an independent firm here in Quebec of the Japanese teas
   upon arrival in our Montreal warehouse

A part of the copy of radiation report from our tea producers in Japan

A part of the copy of radiation report from our tea producers in Japan

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So what was the result of all these precautions?

We received over a dozen radiation analysis certificates from our Japanese producers. Not one of them showed levels of radiation above the acceptable Canadian norms (1000 bq/kg). In fact the majority fall below the level of detection around 136 bq/kg. So the Japanese teas we have imported for the 2011 catalogue can be enjoyed with full confidence.
As an extra precaution the Japanese teas were also analysed on arrival in our warehouse by a radiation specialist before being sent out to our stores and Internet clients. After all these checks we now have the pleasure to announce the availability of a wonderful variety of 2011 teas: Sencha Haruno, Sencha Ashikubo, Sencha Nagashima, Sencha Isagawa, Kamairicha, Sencha Fukamushi Aji, Sencha Tuyuhikari, Sencha Tsukigase, Genmaicha, Genmaicha (sencha-matcha), Guricha, and Gyokuro Hokuen, to satisfy those thirsty palates!
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Other teas will be available in the coming weeks. Rest assured that we will continue this level of testing with the same vigilance until the situation is completely restored to normal in Japan.
So enjoy, I recommend my most recent favourite the Sencha Tuyuhikari which comes from a newly developed cultivar the Tuyuhikari. A great example of a high class sencha with notes of green freshness and a long floral aftertaste.

M. Deschamps, radiation safety specialist, making tests on our latest arrivals of Japanese tea
M. Deschamps, radiation safety specialist, making tests on our latest arrivals of Japanese tea

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Hugo Américi / Taster responsible for our imports from Taiwan & Japan.
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Dong Ding (Cooked): traditional regional flavour.

1 July 2011

at 0:21 by john

Lake Dong Ding and tea gardens

Lake Dong Ding and tea gardens overhung by betel palm trees.

Dong Ding (locally known as “Tung Ting”) is the best known of all the Taiwanese wulong’s here in the West, for a long time it was one of the only members of this great family of tea to reach us! Hundreds of producers are growing these teas on the mountain Dong Ding (meaning “frozen peaks”) in the vicinity of the rural town of Lu Gu (Nantou County). Traveling in this corner of Taiwan, we realize that it is almost entirely focussed on the tea industry. The people are very proud of their long tradition and the accumulated knowledge behind this floral treasure.

withering of wulong

Though increasingly found in “uncooked” form (see the Dong Ding Chang in our selection), the traditional Dong Ding’s stand out from the other wulongs of Taiwan for their tradition of roasting. In a competitive market where more regions of production are developing on the island due to the popularity of Gao Shan Cha (High Mountain Teas) and low oxidized wulongs, the distinction of these teas from Dong Ding must be preserved.
Grown at an altitude of around 700-800 meters, Dong Ding’s are traditionally oxidized between 20 and 30%, rolled intensively for several hours and then dried. Finally they are roasted for a period of ten to fifteen hours depending on the preference of the producer. The result is a dry leaf that look like beads of a beautiful bronze-green to dark brown, with aromas of flowers, honey and pastries released when infused. The liquor, usually bright golden to coppery, contains sweet and floral flavors, the roasting offers hints of fresh bread, summer honey, tropical fruit jam, roasted butter or toasted cereal.
The Dong Ding (roasted) from Mr. Nen Yu, we have just received is a great example of the traditional character of a Dong Ding classic.

Mr. Nen Yu at the tasting of his teas in spring 2008

Mr. Nen Yu at the tasting of his teas in spring 2008

Each year, several thousand teas are presented in various competitions in Lu Gu. During a trip to Taiwan Hugo has the opportunity to be present during the course of the main competition where more than 3000 teas, all wulongs (many from Dong Ding) with the distinction of having the classification of “Dong Ding (oxidation / roasting style)”, are examined, tasted and evaluated.

Competition in Lu Gu

Competition in Lu Gu where thousands of Tung Ting teas are judged in each contest.

 
 

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