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The Journey the Typical Tea Travels

Avantika Jalan about tea supply chain

When buying tea at the store, you probably don’t think about from where it came. But that tea made a lengthy journey before reaching that shelf.

If you pick up black tea, it likely grew in the state of Assam in north-east India. There small grower garden, family owned tea estates, and huge multinationals produce 6,100 metric tons black tea a year.

Most growers sell their teas at auction houses in India. This hasn’t really changed since 1861, when the British established the first auction house, J.Thomas, in Calcutta. Producers send their tea to the auction houses, and the auction houses sell their tea to registered buyers.

Most registered buyers are large established tea exporters and tea traders. They buy a whole range of tea at the auction – from the cheapest to the highest qualities. Some of these buyers—like Tetley and Lipton— incorporate these teas into their products. Others, bundle their tea purchases together for sale for export.

Most of the tea that reaches North America is imported by a handful of companies. This small group of large importers control a most of the supply the tea supply in America. They emphasize low prices, and high volumes at the expense of quality.

These importers sell to tea blenders, distributors, and packers. These buyers then mix their tea with essential oils, herbs, fruits, and other flavorings. These blends are then incorporated into tea bags, loose packs, and/or ready to drink teas. Most of the branded tea you find in America – in the store, online, or restaurants — fall into these categories of products.

This movement of tea from the estate to store shelf is highly dynamic and often more convoluted than described, with the tea exchanging hands many times before reaching the customer.

A graphic describing the typical tea value chain from garden to customer

Can you imagine how many miles on the ocean this tea has ventured? How many trucks it has been tossed in the back of? How many times the tea must have been packed, and re-packed? How many months in many warehouses it sat before reaching the shelf?

How can anyone trace this tea back to origin? How can you as a buyer ensure that the tea you drink comes from growers with safe, sanitary working conditions? How can you trust that your tea is 100% organic as the box claims?

We at Mana are challenging this system to provide you with tea you can trace and trust. Next week we will tell you how Mana brings tea to you, and how it’s different from the other regular teas that you find in the grocery store. Stay tuned!

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