A couple of weeks prior to the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas last year Corax, of the consistently excellent tea blog Cha Dao, asked me to engage in a bit of information gathering during my time there, which would ultimately become a guest post. He also solicited Nigel Melican of Teacraft Ltd, who agreed to sit down with me for an interview on the topics of fair-trade practices, organic farming and sustainability with regard to the tea industry.
If you are not already familiar with Nigel Melican, he is one of the most knowledgeable tea professionals in the world today, particularly with respect to the science of tea production. But his thirty-plus years in the tea industry (and a few more in the world itself) have also given him a breadth of understanding of the socio-politics of worldwide agriculture, which was essential to our topics of inquiry.
The source discussion resulted in quite a lengthy transcription, so the piece will be published in three separate sections. The first is now available for you to read:
With the intention of inspiring you to read the rest, here is a small excerpt of our conversation:
Cinnabar: There’s a lot of controversy about fair-trade practices in tea production in India. There’s been a lot of backlash saying that workers aren’t actually getting any benefit from it. Even though the plantations get certified, there’s no follow-up after that to make sure that the benefits are actually going back into the community.
Nigel Melican: Yes, it’s looking bad. There are certain companies who, if someone in the company really believes in it then they’ll follow it up and make sure that happens. But it can either slip between marketing and, I suppose, human resources, although very few tea companies have the sort of human resources department on the producers’ side, and there must be some direct exploitation as well. Generally I think they go into it for the right reasons, but it doesn’t always deliver in the way that it’s supposed to.
The photo at the top of this post is of a group of Chinese workers and foreign traders during the Qing Dynasty.