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Tea and climate change


Tea consumption continues to grow as scientific research continues to show the benefits of the idea of health and well-being. This concept is no longer a trend but rather a way of life. Many people will now drink tea because they have been made aware of the health benefits of doing so.

The employment of many people in some of the worlds poorest areas is reliant on tea production. Take Sri Lanka as an example, this is a country where a tenth of the population relies on employment on tea plantations.

According to a report, some of the main challenges faced by tea businesses are demographics, productivity and the constant competition for land ownership. Issues that are also faced for these businesses are an increase in automatic or mechanised tea production, the attitude of the consumer towards the value of food and the major factor of climate change.

What is climate change?

Simply put, climate change is a term used to describe the change in the climate of the earth and the temperatures found in weather. The term 'the greenhouse effect' was coined first by physicists Joseph Fourier and John Tyndell in the years 1824 and 1861, respectively. Some time down the line, in 1896, Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius was responsible for research which evidenced that the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when burning coal was causing significant damage. He pointed out that over a longer period of time, this effect would significantly increase the overall global temperature. Back when these claims were laid, there was not the advanced technology that we have today and so the claims were constantly up for debate.

Fast forward to the 1950s and with more advances in technology, the claims were investigated once again. In the 1970s, environmental issues were raised once more and ultimately, after over a century of research, scientists could finally prove their theory. The results were that it is clearly evident that the activities of humans are contributing greatly to the pollution of the air, therefore resulting in the 'greenhouse effect.'

What does this have to do with tea?

Whether tea is grown in the lowlands or the highlands, one thing it requires is a consistent temperature. Any sudden change in temperature can have an effect on the quality of the tea as well as the flavour, aroma and even the amount of anti-oxidants which can be found in the leaves. The amount of tea which can be grown can also be affected by these changes.

"As you may well be aware, India and China are some of the largest tea producing countries on the planet."

As an example, the amount of catechin, (which is an antioxidant, beneficial to our health) is affected by how much water is absorbed by the tea leaves before it is harvested.

As you may well be aware, India and China are some of the largest tea producing countries on the planet. India produces over 1.3 millions tonnes of tea every year. However, due to weather conditions such as those found in monsoon season, the tea plants can often be found with root rot, which is caused by excessive amounts of water leading to water-logging.

"It is estimated that tea production will decrease by 10.5% over the next 30-50 years in Sri Lanka alone."

Another issues which causes problems for the tea is drought, which is also connected to climate change. In 2017, in Kerala, southern India, many tea plantations were affected by a sudden drought which was evident in the decreased amount of tea production for that year.

China was responsible for the production of almost 2.5 million tonnes of tea in the year 2017, but farmer also faced droughts in this country, giving them added challenges.

The tea production of Pu Erh which is on the famous Nannuoshan mountain, was cut in half. One of the effects of drought on tea is that it can cause the tea to have a more bitter taste than usual

It is likely that not one of the tea producing countries has been left unaffected by these issues brought by climate change. It is estimated that tea production will decrease by 10.5% over the next 30-50 years in Sri Lanka alone. This is purely down to the increasing global temperature.

In Kenya, where many tea plantations can be found in the mountains, there is the issue of frost which can cause damage to the leaves of the tea plant.

Saving tea

It has already been predicted that tea producing regions will be affected as a result of the temperature changes caused by climate change. This means that the land will no longer have the right conditions to grow tea plants. However, we are fortunate that there are many initiatives which are trying to save tea farms. One such initiative is the Ethical Tea Partnership who work alongside tea farmers to help them to adapt their methods to climate changes and also work to predict future weather in order to assess the impact on the tea growth.

In China, at the Institute of Botany, scientists are attempting to extract the correct genome from the tea plant in order to be able to breed it and speed up the growth of new varieties of tea plant. These plants might be more aromatic, have more nutrients and even may be able to resist and survive the conditions after climate change.

Conclusion

It is evident that the production of tea is going to slow down if we do not either reduce the effects of climate change or find new ways to make the tea plant more resistant to changes that have already occurred. There is no denying that climate change has already had an effect on the tea growing industry, with results speaking for themselves.

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