Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Working at the SALONTEA Facility in Ballston Spa

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Tracy Stern of SALONTEA in her facility in Ballston Spa, which is in upstate New York. What an amazing company! They go far beyond just selling tea. Tracy has created a unique  lifestyle based around tea, fashion and being social. While in Ballston Spa, I did everything from pulling orders in the warehouse, to brainstorming new ways for the company to become more eco-friendly. They're already doing a lot: Everything from corn-based lids, to biodegradable tea sachets. Right now they're prepping for the World Tea East expo in September - looks like it’s going to be exciting!

It was great to see this area of New York outside of the city. I spent some time in Ithaca when I was in high school and this trip was a great reminder of just how beautiful the state of New York is. So very green! I'm about to hop on a bus to head back to Manhattan, and with less than ten days left I'm thinking of the things I have left to see in New York City: the Guggenheim Museum, and World Trade Center Memorial, any other suggestions?

Today I am in SoHo learning from the master tea blenders at Harney & Sons... here are a couple pictures!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Life in the Big Apple!

I'm excited to finally be in New York City! I've been staying in midtown Manhattan, which is amazing. It's a simple 10-minute walk to Grand Central Station and from there I can get almost anywhere on the island in under 20 minutes. 

I had a pretty busy first week here! Most of my time was spent at the Tea Council of the USA and Pollock Communications office, where I debriefed the “Tea Team” on my adventures and quickly captured all my experiences in writing, which wasn’t too hard as I took extensive notes during my internship and  journeys through Sri Lanka and Kenya.

 I gained some great experience while working with the PR team. I wrote a quote for a press release about the Sip of Success internship, and offered my insights into how to use all of the information I gained to further the public’s knowledge of tea…including, of course, its many health benefits and all the different varieties. 

While at the Tea Council of the USA I had the chance to meet with the president, Joe Simrany, and to thank him and the whole association for making this internship possible. He was very welcoming and excited to hear all that I had learned and observed.  His incredible knowledge of all things tea – and his deep passion for the industry – convinced me even more of my own desire to make a career in the tea business. He also served me a delicious cup of Japanese green tea - perfect for this warm NYC weather we've been having. 

Next stop is going to be SALONTEA, I can’t wait!

The Empire State Building:

Central Park:

The Brooklyn Bridge:

Saturday, July 30, 2011

New York Here I Come!

For our last day in Kenya we stopped by the Melvin Marsh factory. Operated by a member of the Tea Board of Kenya, this company handles packing, blending, flavoring, and direct sales of fine Kenyan tea. The taste of each blend is checked at every stage of the process, such as after mixing or filling tea bags. Melvin Marsh specializes in spiced tea; they are well known for their Masala, ginger, and cinnamon black teas, but have expanded to offer herbal teas and green tea. Selling locally and internationally, Melvin Marsh is now the largest packer and blender of flavored Kenyan teas.

Well, that about sums it up for my time abroad. Now I'm off to New York City. It's been great visiting Asia and Africa for the past few weeks, and I'm definitely looking forward to the Big Apple!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Last Few Days in Kenya

On July 20th we visited the Imenti Tea Factory. Tea from this Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) managed factory fetches the highest prices in the entire Mombasa auction, so we were very curious to see just what made this tea so special. The answer? Hard work, attention to detail, and high elevation! This beautiful factory was actually commissioned by President Kibaki (Minister of Finance, at the time) in 1971. It now is Fair Trade Certified, and does processing for over 5,000 smallholders in the area. Located on the slopes of Mt. Kenya, it is over 2,000 meters above sea level. The factory operates under a motto of "continuous improvement." One example of this is the factory's impressive environmental initiatives. Imenti is the first KTDA factory to operate its own hydroelectric power generator, a project the management is very excited about. Furthermore, they've started developing their own firewood land (1,500 acres of eucalyptus) to power their tea dryers.

The next morning we visited the Kangaita Tea Factory, located almost directly on the equator. Also managed by KTDA, this factory is known for its product diversification efforts. It was the only factory we saw in Kenya that offered orthodox black tea processing, green tea (both CTC and orthodox), white tea, and even purple tea! I was amazed to find out just how much tea buyers are willing to pay for the fine white tea that comes from Kenya (hint: it's many times the market price of even the finest black teas!). Directly employing about 200 people (and serving over 6,000 smallholders), this factory processes 15 million kilograms of green leaf per year using three factory lines. An astonishing 80% of the resulting revenue goes to the tea farmers.

This is some new purple tea we had.  Basically it is a different variety of the same original tea plant, but it has been selectively bred to maximize the level of anthocyanin content, the ingredient that makes red wine health.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Picture Post - Kenya

Hi everyone!  I have been very busy but wanted to post a few pictures from my time in Kenya... More to come shortly!

A package of black tea from the KTDA Imenti factory - 20 of these packages (around 60-70 kilograms each) make up one lot to be sold at the Mombasa auction

Tea nursery (vegetative propagation of tea plants) at the James Finlay unit in Kericho

Tea tasting at the KTDA Kangaita factory

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Auction day on the Coast of Kenya

Right before visiting the auction, we stopped by the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) headquarters. The EATTA is in charge of running the Mombasa auction - considered by many to be the highest volume tea auction in the world, representing 11 African countries. In addition to working with the auction, they also are engaged in marketing for the tea industry as well as trying to eliminate inefficiencies in the system.

Next came the auction. Tea buyers from around the world gather in one large room and make bids (in English) on lots of tea - each lot generally has 20 bulk bags of tea, about 60-70 kilograms each. Most tea cost between $2 and $3.25 per kilogram, and usually 5-6 lots are sold each minute; so you can imagine how much money is really flowing! The auction even has its own strange code language. When someone says "Thank you" after you purchase a lot of tea, they are actually asking if they can split it with you. It was really interesting to watch this all happen!

The coast of Mombasa at low tide - believe it or not, this is winter in Kenya:

A cart of many-colored roses in the packing room of Finlay's horticulture operation:

This is a special clone of tea intended for producing white tea - it has been selectively bred to have perfect tips for making silver-needles style tea:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Busy Day in Mombasa!

On July 18th we visited the Venus Tea Traders. Like all Kenyan brokers, the Venus Tea Traders are the links between the producers and the exporters. 50-85% of the tea crop in Kenya goes through the auction system in Mombasa. Weeks before the auction, samples of each lot of tea are distributed to potential buyers. Then on auction day (which happens twice per week), buyers make bids on lots in increments of $.02 USD per kilogram. In addition to auctioning off massive amounts of tea, the brokers also do market analysis for the producers and make recommendations for production. Different markets value different aspects of tea; some are very focused on the appearance of the tea (the darker the better!) while others are concerned with the final taste of the brew. We also spoke with manager John Mbugua about the efforts to market tea to the youth in Kenya, and how to most Kenyans, tea is inextricably linked to milk; they are almost always taken together.

After that, we stopped by the Cargill warehousing operation in Mombasa. Because the producers do not have their own warehouses near the auction, Cargill provides this space for them. But it's not just Kenyan tea - the warehouses keep tea from all over east Africa. Once Cargill receives the orders from the auctions, they release the tea to the appropriate buyer. Their eight warehouses in Mombasa can store up to 200,000 packages of tea, each weighing around 60 kilograms!

Finally we visited Gold Crown / Global Tea, a collection of three companies that buy, package, and export tea. Furthermore, they are also responsible for blending their share of the tea that gets exported. I was very impressed by the collection of flavored teas that they've created - just one part of their value addition activities. This creates a higher return for the farmer, something that everyone wants!

A tasting cup of green tea in the tasting room of one of Finlay's CTC factories:

Because of the high altitude (around 2100 meters above sea level), a thick fog hovers over the tea fields at Kangaita on the day we visited:

The withering process at the KTDA Imenti factory. Air is blown through these troughs, removing some of the moisture from the green leaf before it enters the CTC process: