Tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world after water.
All tea comes from one leaf, the Camellia Sinensis plant, including black tea, green tea, white tea and oolong teas. Two types of leaf from the Camellia Leaf are used to create the variety of teas that we are familiar with, the small leafed china plant and the large leaf assam plant. Each tea is given its unique flavour and distinct colour by the different oxidisation and processing techniques that the tea leaves can under-go. Other teas, including herbal (such as chamomile and peppermint) and teas that do not contain caffeine (such as Rooibus tea) are officially titles ’tisanes’. This is because they are not made from the Camellia leaf and therefore are not technically considered a ‘true’ tea.
Tea is typically grown on large, commercial plantations, also called tea estates or gardens, and is a very labor-intensive product to grow. While this includes employing workers for processes such as fertilising, weeding and pruning, half the labor costs go towards the cost of plucking; the workers who undertake the physically demanding task of ‘plucking’ often experience back pains as well as withstanding all weather conditions and being exposed to pesticides. Many tea estates operate their own factory on the farms in order to process the green tea leaf.
The problems that come with farming an agricultural product remain the same as with any other, the trials that mother nature can pose can be detrimental to a tea estates exports. So, as with any agricultural product, these factors affect the availability and prices of a product, as well as impacting the income of farmers and their livelihoods; although most tea is grown on large tea estates, these especially impact the tea that is grown on small plots of farmland owned by individuals. A key problem posed for individual farmers is that they do not have the influence of the large chain companies in the supply market; meaning that they often do not have any form of contract to sell their product, meaning that they have no guarantee of income for the oncoming season. However, the challenges also exist for the workers on tea estates, who often experience low wages, long working hours as well as being dependant on the management for basic needs.