To be tasty tea must be processed within a few hours of plucking. Since plucking in north-eastern India ends in December the Tea Board of India announced for the first time a mandatory closing of factories during the winter to prevent the processing of stale leaves.
Gardens in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur must cease plucking by Dec. 10. Gardens in West Bengal, Bihar, Sikkim, Himachal, and Uttarakhand must complete their harvest by December 15. In all these areas processing operations must cease until spring. Tea harvested in Southern India, which does not experience the same seasonal cycle, will continue to be harvested.
Growers told World Tea News that the local tea industry welcomed this move as a positive step to rein in the unscrupulous tea manufacturers, who often use older, non-succulent leaves processed during the post-harvest season to dupe buyers.
Compliance is mandatory under the Tea (Marketing) Control Order. A communiqué by the tea board stated that it would take necessary action if its order is violated. Fines and more severe restrictions could follow. The restrictions apply to growers large and small.
The order states that in Assam Dec. 10 is the last date for plucking or receiving of green leaves. Purchase of green leaves must cease on Dec. 11 with Dec. 12 the last date for notifying the tea board that fresh leaf processing has concluded. Sorting, packing and storage of cut, tear and curl (CTC) must be completed by Dec. 20. The final manufacturing steps for orthodox and green teas must be concluded by Dec. 30. Assam produces more than half the country’s total tea.
Tea Board chairman P.K. Bezboruah explained that during the winter months unscrupulous elements mix tea dust with tea leaves and reprocess which are of very poor quality. “It’s time we take stern measures to produce quality tea,” he said. Bezboruah hinted at these steps during the during the Assam Tea Planters Annual General Meeting a few months ago and then formally presented his plan to the board. The decision “will help reduce substandard teas produced by reprocessing in the month of December” and it sends a clear message that India is serious about improving its reputation for quality.
Current 3 percent of tea is harvested in December, typically early in the month. The ban will hardly impact gardens already producing good quality tea.
Indranil Sharma, owner of Sotai Tea Estate, which is known for producing quality black tea in Assam, said that his production continues to the end of December, but he was ready to sacrifice if the tea board order was properly implemented.
“The Board should take all necessary measures so that the Dec. 10 deadline is met by all the tea factories so that the prices of tea improve if not this year but by next year,” he said.
Another planter welcoming the move said that the tea board should work with local law enforcement authorities, to ensure uniform implementation.
“I am sure this will help to remove sub-standard teas from the market,” he said, adding that securing the support of small growers is critical because of the crucial role they play. “It could otherwise turn into a law and order situation as some bought leaf factory owners might provoke the small tea growers,” he warned.
Bidyananda Barkakoty, adviser to the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA), said that manufacturers are known to reprocess teas from pruned branches beginning in December when the trees are groomed.
“In Assam, tea fibre, which should be declared tea waste, is used by some factories to remanufacture CTC, giving it a black grainy look. Some use color adulterants. These teas are not fit for human consumption. Moreover, these teas create an oversupply situation which impacts the price of new season teas,” he said.
Source: Tea Board of India