Production + Economics

Tea is the most popular manufactured drink in the world in terms of consumption. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world – including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol – put together. Most tea consumed outside East Asia is produced on large plantations in the hilly regions of India and Sri Lanka, and is destined to be sold to large businesses. Opposite this large-scale industrial production are many small “gardens,” sometimes minuscule plantations that produce highly sought-after teas prized by gourmets. These teas are both rare and expensive, and can be compared to some of the most expensive wines in this respect.
India is the world’s largest tea-drinking nation although the per capita consumption of tea remains a modest 750 grams per person every year.
Turkey with 2.5 kg of tea consumed per person per year, is the world’s greatest per capita consumer.
In 2003, world tea production was 3.21 million tonnes annually. In 2010, world tea production reached over 4.52 million tonnes. The largest producers of tea are the People’s Republic of China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Workers who pick and pack tea on plantations in developing countries can face harsh working conditions and can earn below the living wage. A number of bodies independently certify the production of tea. Tea from certified estates can be sold with a certification label on the pack. The most important certification schemes are ETP,n Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, UTZ certified, and Organic. All these schemes certify other crops (such as coffee, cocoa and fruit), as well.
In 1907, American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began distributing samples of his tea in small bags of Chinese silk with a drawstring. Consumers noticed they could simply leave the tea in the bag and reuse it with fresh tea. However, the potential of this distribution/packaging method would not be fully realized until later on. During Word War II, tea was rationed in the United Kingdom. In 1953 (after rationing in the UK ended), Tetley launched the tea bag in the UK and it was an immediate success.

Tea leaves are packed into a small envelope (usually composed of paper) known as a tea bag.

Tea leaves are packed into a small envelope (usually composed of paper) known as a tea bag. The use of tea bags is easy and convenient, making them popular for many people today. However, the use of tea bags has negative aspects, as well. The tea used in tea bags is commonly fannings or “dust”, the waste product produced from the sorting of higher quality loose leaf tea. However, this is not true for all brands of tea; many high quality specialty teas are available in bag form.

Tea aficionados commonly believe this method provides an inferior taste and experience. The paper used for the bag may also be tasted, which can detract from the tea’s own flavor. Because fannings and dust are a lower quality of the tea to begin with, the tea found in tea bags is less finicky when it comes to brewing time and temperature.

Additional reasons why bag tea is considered less well-flavored include:

  • Dried tea loses its flavor quickly on exposure to air. Most bag teas (although not all) contain leaves broken into small pieces; the great surface area to volume of the leaves in tea bags exposes them to more air, and therefore causes them to go stale faster. Loose tea leaves are likely to be in larger pieces, or to be entirely intact.
  • Breaking up the leaves for bags extracts flavored oils. The small size of the bag does not allow leaves to diffuse and steep properly.

The “pyramid tea bag” (or sachet) addresses one of the connoisseurs’ arguments against paper tea bags by way of its three-dimensional shape, which allows more room for tea leaves to expand while steeping.. However, some types of pyramid tea bags have been criticized as being environmentally unfriendly, since their synthetic material is not as biodegradable as loose tea leaves and paper tea bags. Tea Squared uses a biodegradable tea bag material.

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