June 28, 2012
At Yorkshire Tea, Ian Brabbin is the undisputed Head of Tea. It’s not only a great title but it’s also a big responsibility as he leads the expert buying team that, amongst other things, ensures that the supply of top quality teas that go into Yorkshire Tea keeps flowing.
To secure the best teas, you need to have strong, sustainable relationships with the people that actually grow and supply it. The best relationships are face to face, which is why Ian and his Yorkshire Tea buying team take it in turns to travel to some of the best tea gardens in the world to check on the quality of the teas and, equally importantly, the quality of life of the farmers and growers.
Recently, Ian returned from a trip to China and India. Because demand for Yorkshire Tea is higher than ever, Ian has been looking for new sources that can not only deliver the highest quality teas, but also do it to our high ethical standards.
This blog can’t even begin to cover both countries, so let’s just focus a little on China.
China is a massive country for tea. There are over 300 different varieties and 1.5 billion kgs of tea are grown there every year. That accounts for more than a third of all the tea grown in the world and over a billion kgs of that is green tea. So precious is tea in China, there are entire shops dedicated to tea and tea paraphernalia as people give special tea as gifts. Many also take flasks of tea everywhere with them that they continually top up.
Ian visited tea growers in central China, which wasn’t the most accessible – not like popping down to the shops for a pack of Yorkshire Tea. After a 5-hour drive into the heart of the Province, Ian visited a small factory at 800 metres above sea level that made organic tea before continuing another 4 hours to arrive at midnight close to a region where the smallholders have been certified by Fairtrade.
Ian recalls that this was where the adventure started: “There had been horrendous rain over the previous fortnight and there had been scary looking landslides. The road we were travelling on to the village was blocked by mud, trees and rubble, so we abandoned the car and had to walk a few miles in the heavy rain.”
Ian was then met by the chairman of the local community who took them clambering a further mile up a hillside over rocks and trees. “I nearly trod on a snake! But when we got to the top it was stunning and as rural as you could ever get” said Ian.
The community Ian visited consists of 58 smallholder farmers who grow Fairtrade certified tea and are part of a co-op that is also certified.
“Having met the farmers and spent time in their beautiful village I am keen for us to source some speciality teas from this area. Fairtrade premiums have enabled the growers to tarmac the road from the village to the main road and they have bought a new lorry to transport the green tea to the nearby factory.
“We pay a premium for quality teas and by paying good prices, we get the pick of the crop and make a real difference to the lives of the people that grow our tea” explained Ian.
In fact, the six-hour drive back in torrential rain and lightning gave Ian the perfect opportunity to think: “It was a really useful and fascinating visit, I feel I know much more about where our Chinese teas come from.”
And on a slightly different note, Ian added: “I had some of the spiciest food I’ve ever experienced in China. It was mind-blowingly hot. After my taste buds had recovered, I cupped some fantastic speciality teas over there. Mao Feng, which was light and delicate, and also flowering teas where chrysanthemum flowers are hand sown into the tea leaves. Really wonderful.”
So that’s just a glimpse into the lives of our growers and Ian, our Head of Tea. We think all tea should be grown, treated and brewed properly. What do you think?