I recently joined Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) on an internship to gain experience in ethical trading and to learn more about international development. ETP is a really interesting organisation because it brings a large number of companies together for the sole purpose of improving the sustainability of the tea industry.
My main responsibilities, helping to co-ordinate the monitoring programme and assisting with communications, has given me a good understanding of how ETP’s work is improving the the social and environmental conditions of the tea sector.
As part of my training I recently went to Andover with two of my colleagues to meet the tea buying team from Twinings and to experience tea tasting for the first time.
Before we could get our aprons on and our sipping spoons at the ready, Jeremy Sturges (a senior tea buyer) gave us an insight into the history of Twinings and an overview of tea production.
What was really interesting to learn was how a small change in the weather can affect the quality and taste of tea, and how a variety of processing techniques (withering, oxidising and drying) make such a wide variety of teas from just the one plant – Camellia sinensis.
Armed with all this new information, Jeremy took us into the room where the tasting and blending happens; the engine room if you like. There were shelves upon shelves of boxed teas from all over the world, and rows of different teas in bowls that had been through a strict preparation process ready for tasting. We learnt that it was important to suck the tea quickly against your palate before spitting it out (though I think we have a way to go before we master this), and tasted an array of teas from Africa, Sri Lanka, Argentina and China.
While the visit was interesting it also highlighted the fact that so many people around the world are dependent on tea for a living. It also made me realise how easy it is to take a cup of tea for granted, especially when you consider that it’s produced on the other side of the world and has undergone a huge journey to get here.