200 years ago, tea cost £100 per pound (about half a kilo). It was so expensive that only the upper class could drink it and they kept it under lock and key, so the likes of you and me couldn’t get their grubby mits on it. Not only that but it helped us win the war!
Well that’s according to the BBC’s Nice Cup of Tea programme fronted by British comedian Victoria Wood. This two-part series is all about the history of tea, and I was watching it because we’ve just held our first Tea 2030 project workshop, where we’re exploring how to secure a successful, long term future for the industry.
Click on the image above to visit our Tea 2030 site
Although our project concerns the future of tea, it’s really important that we explore and understand the past too – the story of tea. How, when and where did our love affair with tea begin, and how has it come to be the drink that it is today?
In the programme, they look back hundreds of years, and it’s fascinating viewing. Land and climate were central to tea. The Chinese grew the tea, but the British wanted it, and as they couldn’t grow it (due to the famous British climate) they had to use the land they had acquired in more suitable places. Hence we now have the tea industry in all the old colonial outposts – India, Kenya, and Malawi for example. The programme also showed the traditional way of handpicking and processing the tea.
These factors central to the development of the tea industry as we know it today are also driving change for the future too. Our changing climate is already affecting yields and water availability, and there is increasing competition for land as other crops like palm (for palm oil) become more attractive. And mechanisation of picking to increase efficiency could have serious social consequences for those communities that depend on the industry for their livelihoods.
Of course there are many more. In fact, last week the Tea 2030 group that we're facilitating (a global collaboration of nine leading industry organisations) shortlisted 19 factors that we think will have the biggest impact on the industry over the next couple of decades up to 2030. In the next workshop we’ll be building scenarios using these factors, and we’d love your help to do this. We’ve created a Tumblr site where you can explore them and add your ideas and suggestions for how this might pan out across the industry. You can also find detail from some of the interviews we did with people working in the tea value chain from around the world.
We're still keen to hear from people who would like to take part in the project as active participants. And we're also exploring the possibility of running a US workshop. Please get in touch with Madeleine Lewis if you are interested: email@example.com