On the 2nd May 2013, Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership, a group of 28 UK based tea companies, produced a joint report, Understanding Wage Issues in the Tea Industry, stemming from recent reports of problems in textile and garment factories in Bangladesh.
The report states that “the combined value of tea picker’s pay and benefits in Malawi is around average for the country but only about half the World Bank’s poverty line income”, further stating that the situation is not much better in Assam, India and West Java, Indonesia. Workers’ pay is set at a national level and furthermore fair trade certification can be granted so long as employees receive the legal minimum wages.
This does not show the tea industry in a great light, especially considering how good the coffee industry has been at guaranteeing provenance and ethical wages for those working in the business. The stakeholders wish to move forward, but finding a consensus may be difficult. There is, however, another way forward as promoted by Tim d’Offay of Postcard Teas in London.
Postcard Teas was set up by Tim and his wife in December 2005, who has worked in the
industry for over 20 years, and his passion for the leafy brew is infectious. He has always been an advocate of letting the tea do the talking. He tastes widely and picks only teas that have character, often some of the most rare on the planet from centuries old tea trees tended by various tea masters.
In 2008, Postcards became the first tea importer to put stamps on their labels to state exactly where the tea originated from, and the region of production. To this day they are still the only company that does this, refusing to let branding hide the origins of a drink that is as complex as wine in terms of variety. Without knowledge of where the tea comes from, there is no way of being able to research whether the practices of the farm are ethical or their history.
Postcard Teas have also recently looked to take this a step further. “This is an issue we have been thinking about for some time before the Oxfam report, which is why we’ve been in the process of slowly phasing out teas from plantations and estates and only working with small farmers,” says Tim. By doing this, one deals directly with the families that pick the leaves and make the tea. All the money goes to them, and by making sure that their farms are less than five acres, it can guarantee that they do not have to hire pickers and exploit others.
Along with Postcard Teas Master’s of tea from China, Japan and Taiwan, a number of recent additions to the already extensive range have shown a commitment to this approach. All the Darjeeling now comes from co-operatives of farmers who work together for a common goal. Dawai Pani, or Mineral Springs, produces from an abandoned tea farm, and another farm called Potong is owned and run by 350 farmers on this old British estate since 2005. Kerela is another bastion of what Tim likes to call “small tea” with their Family Tea made at a co-operative of 160 small family farms.
Tim is a true tea aficionado, and he cares about how teas are made. With Postcard Teas’ approach to sourcing and displaying the provenance of the leaves, you can guarantee both top quality and ethical practices: things that can’t be seen if buying from a brand. Furthermore, you can pop in to try a cup as well.
9 Dering Street
Off New Bond Street
London, W1S 1AG
Tel: +44 (0)20 7629 3654
£2 per set for all non- tea master teas
£6 per set for all tea master teas
Samples are free if you subsequently make a purchase.