COVID-19: Update on Spring Teas

June 10, 2020
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Earlier this spring, we found ourselves wondering how we could get to Asia to source our fresh spring teas for the catalogue. But here we are, almost summer, with plenty of new arrivals in stock and many more on the way. A first wave of early teas arrived back in April and a second just made its appearance in our catalogue this week. Making this happen was no small job and became our daily focus over the last few months. From its beginnings in China to the current state of pandemic, COVID-19 has generated so many unprecedented challenges for international commerce.

All flights to Asia were cancelled mid-March, we had no choice but to adapt our usual strategy if we were to offer anything fresh this spring. Fortunately for us, so many years of direct contact and annual visits to our producers (this would have been Kevin’s 27th year!) have created bonds that again proved crucial for the company, this year more than ever. Through our contacts in China, India, Japan and Taiwan, our friends over there helped us to secure some of the best spring harvest we have had in years! Though tasting and selecting teas from our offices in Canada left us nostalgic of those vast Asian skies and exotic climate, we know how beautiful the tea gardens must be looking. Early spring quality was very good in all producing countries.  We are so happy, and relieved, to have them on sale.

Although most of our spring purchases have been made, the situation still bears great impacts on many sectors of the industry. If teas are bought, we still have to wait for them to get to us. Wait, wait, and then wait a little more… The greatest challenge this year hasn’t been finding great teas to buy and sell, but getting them across the sea and to our clients. Logistical problems have been stacking up, sometimes faster than we can handle them. Since May, all commercial lines were blocked and transport companies were overloaded as never before. With airline traffic reduced to only a fraction of its usual size this brought many complications. Not only did shipping delays have greatly increased during the last month, but prices also have been going up continually. With the current low exchange rate of the Canadian dollar, it is very hard to keep the prices stable.

To answer your recent questions and to keep you informed, here is a short summary of the situation by country.

In India

India has been severely affected by the government’s response to COVID-19. Lockdown was declared right in the middle of harvest season and the whole tea industry had to be abruptly put to a halt. Fortunately there were enough premium quality teas for us to select just before lockdown.  Losses have been enormous, especially in Darjeeling, where low volumes and rarity of available lots have raised the prices. Complete suspension of international shipping has also caused major delays in transport.

In Taiwan

Good climate has produced excellent harvests in Taiwan, both in terms of volume and quality. Tea growers, in this regard, did not suffer too much. This being said, export logistics are totally blocked. Transport companies have stopped all deliveries to Canada since April. We are still waiting for developments on this side.

In Japan

Amongst our producing countries, Japan is the one that suffered least from the COVID-19 spread. Government’s measures allowed for a good production overall and transport logistics, although greatly delayed, have been up and running.

In China

Being first hit by the virus also meant China was the first out of lockdown. But though production resumed and is going well, transports systems are overloaded. Shipping and distribution delays have drastically risen and transport prices doubled and even tripled the usual rates.

In Canada

Luckily, postal carriers and stringent safety protocols have allowed us to maintain our activities even during the peak of the crisis. The greatest challenge, here like everywhere else, has again been transport logistics. Just as we have seen in Asia, shipping companies are struggling under the weight of parcels waiting to be delivered and extended delays are cruelly felt by consumers. Even internal deliveries, between our warehouse and boutiques, have been difficult, sometimes provoking inconsistencies in product availabilities across platforms. We are working so hard to minimize the impact of these conditions and thank you all sincerely for your patience and understanding during these unusual times.

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