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:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Visiting James Finlay and the Toror Tea Factory

Yesterday morning we had the chance to tour the grounds of the James Finlay property here in Kericho. This enormous 12,500 hectare blend of tea estates, flower farms, factories, and forest was truly breathtaking. It employs a total of 15,000 people and is the second largest commercial tea operation in Kenya. I found it very interesting that they've managed to use hydroelectric generators to supply 50% of their energy needs, and have certain areas that are Fair Trade or Organic certified. We were lucky enough to get a tour of one of their CTC (crush-tear-curl) black tea factories and their beautiful rose farm.

After that, we headed through town to the Toror Tea Factory. This high-volume factory is managed by KTDA, which is an organization that manages numerous tea factories and engages stakeholders. Recently the Toror factory has been working on developing automation systems in order to reduce overhead costs, and has also been working with its smallholder tea farm suppliers on a forestry incentive to supply fuel wood for it's tea dryers.

The internet connection here is a little slow so I am having trouble uploading my images... but I will have some soon!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Arriving in Kenya

Last night we arrived in Nairobi and were quickly driven to our hotel. I was taken back by just how friendly most Kenyans are - it's truly amazing how interacting with them makes you feel at home.

This morning we met with the Tea Board of Kenya, where we learned the foundations of the tea industry in this country, and how it compares to the rest of the world. I was very impressed to learn that almost all Kenyan tea is grown essentially without pesticides due to the lack of pests such as nematodes that would prey on the plants. As a result, the tea trees can remain productive for over 60 years!

In the afternoon we made the drive up to Kericho, largely regarded as the tea growing capital of Kenya. On our way, I was entertained by the sight of baboons and zebras on the side of the highway. Once we arrived in Kericho we visited the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya. This organization works with everything from plant breeding to studying the effects of climate change on tea farming. Recently they've been working on optimizing the health benefits of Kenyan tea, a project they are really excited about!

I have to wake up early to tour some tea factories tomorrow, so I'll write more later!

Before I go to bed though I wanted to share a picture I took when I was still in Sri Lanka of elephants walking to the river at the Elephant Orphange near Kandy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More Tea Factory Adventures!

I am so excited because we had a chance for a brief visit to the mid-altitude New Uva Tea Factory yesterday! Here we were given a great tour of the black tea production process, including a tea tasting at the end. I'm proud to say that I can now clearly taste the difference between BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) grade tea and BOPF (Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings). Maybe one day I'll understand the entire black tea grading system - all in due time.

Next we stopped by the high-altitude Luckyland Tea Factory and estate. Saying that the view from the door of this factory is incredible is an understatement; the mountainous areas of Sri Lanka are truly breathtaking. We were greeted at this factory with flower necklaces by the daughters of one of the estate's many tea pluckers; Sri Lankans are known for their warm hospitality.

After Luckyland came Mattakelle. At a staggering 5,400 feet in elevation, it is not uncommon for the entire area to become enveloped by clouds. I sat on the porch of the manager's bungalow for hours enjoying this strange phenomenon. This high-volume factory grows all of its own tea locally - the estate covers mountains. With professional tour guides and a chic cafe, it's truly a must-visit destination for tea enthusiasts.

Right now we're staying at Holyrood (pronounced "Holy Road"). This is a beautiful 800 acre estate and factory, producing 5-6 grades of incredible Ceylon tea. I'd better head to bed (early morning traveling), so I'll fill you in on the rest of the details soon!

New Uva tea factory

Close-up of the tea leaves ripe for the picking in the lower tea regions of Sri Lanka

Tasting Ceylon teas at the New Uva tea factory

The tea packing and storage room at the Luckyland Estate

Friday, July 15, 2011

Picture Post

Hi!  I wanted to give you a couple quick pictures of the beauty I have been experiencing. Full update coming soon!

Here is the fog enveloping the bungalow at Mattakelle Tea Factory

This is the garden at Sanquhar Bungalow, Pussellawa

Isn't it all amazing??

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Visiting Tea Factories in Sri Lanka!

During this trip we've spent a lot of our time visiting some of Sri Lanka's finest tea factories and estates. Here are some of the highlights:

We started off with the Lumbini Tea Factory in the south. This is a low-altitude tea factory famous for its high quality Ceylon teas. We had a chance to tour the estate grounds, seeing multiple varieties of tea plants (as well as a nutmeg tree and a capsicum garden). It was truly beautiful!

Next we spent the night at the New Vithanakande Tea Factory. This is a large-volume factory that processes tea derived almost entirely from small farms in the area. Running for 24 hours a day, it employs hundreds of local men and women, and has a strong small farm outreach program including a newsletter.

I have included lots of pictures below!  I would love to hear what YOU think of them!

Here is a picture of the tea tasting process at the Lumbini Tea Factory:

A shipping truck from New Vithanakande tea factory:

A view from the high mountains of the tea growing region:

Some tea I picked at a teafield near NV:

 The rolling process at NV:

The view from the front of the manager bungalow at New Vithanakande:

 The withering process at NV:

Our next stops are New Uva Tea Factory and Luckyland Tea Factory... stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lumbini Tea Factory Photos

As promised here are some pictures from my visit to the Lumbini Tea Factory in Sri Lanka!  It was so beautiful, the pictures really can't do it justice! 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Our first tea stop... Lumbini Tea Factory!

Before heading to southern Sri Lanka to arrive at the Lumbini Tea Factory, we spent the morning in Colombo meeting with the Sri Lanka Tea Board. I learned about the entire structure of the Ceylon Tea industry from Director Hasitha De Alwis and Senior Executive Priyanka Liyanage. After conversing for just a half hour, I had pages and pages of notes about the industry, on everything from social responsibility to the auction process. They take great pride in the high percentage of orthodox method processed tea, and the diversity of flavors the country's geography is capable of producing.

Yesterday evening we finally caught sight of our first tea fields, en route to the Lumbini Tea Factory. This family-owned-and-operated factory and plantation produces some of the most tasteful and complex black tea I have ever encountered! I was ecstatic to have a chance to taste tea that had been plucked just over a week ago; certainly the freshest tea I've ever had. This morning (after an authentic Sri Lankan breakfast of milk-rice, eggs, spicy onions, and fish) we took a tour of the tea fields and the processing factory. I've never seen so much tea in my life! The vast majority of the tea produced here is black tea of various grades, and a couple varieties of white tea (silver tips and golden tips). At the end of our tour, we had a tea tasting of about ten of the different kinds of tea produced here. It is amazing how many different flavors you can get from the same green leaf.

Later today we'll be heading to the New Vithanakanda Tea Factory in Delwala. We've heard from the local Sri Lankans that this is an enormous and very well-respected plantation and factory with high quality tea. We're very excited to visit!

More pictures to come later today!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Picture Post

Here is a picture of me and my Tea Council Rep from Pollock Communications, Tasia, enjoying our first dinner!  It was a traditional Sri Lankan meal that I ate with my hands! It was not only delicious but quite the experience.


Friday, July 8, 2011

We arrived in Sri Lanka!

It was a very long journey that took me through New York City, Dubai, and an island in the Indian Ocean called Male (look it up!). It was about an hour-long drive through Colombo to reach our hotel, and it was wild. All around us are three-wheeled vehicles called trishaws, entire families on motorcycles, glowing Buddha statues, and the occasional Pizza Hut.

Given the massive time zone difference between the east coast of the US and Sri Lanka, we're very jetlagged. I'm looking forward to catching a good eight hours of sleep at our hotel, and having curry for breakfast in the morning. If I have time, I might try to walk down to the coast - the Indian Ocean is only a block from my hotel room!

This is my amazing view...

 ...better pictures to come soon!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Picture Post

Sri Lanka is the only place in the world I know of where three wheel cars are the norm!

Getting excited!

I finally made it to Sri Lanka and there is SO much I am looking forward to!  I can't wait to visit the Hantane Tea Museum, operated by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. Seeing the old machinery used for processing tea will give me a glimpse of the rich history of tea in Sri Lanka. Visiting the New Vithanakande Tea Factory will also be a treat; I’ve recently had the chance to sample some of their black teas, and I was very impressed!

Another thing I’m really excited to see is the tea auction process in Kenya. My business experience with tea has been largely limited to marketing – so it will be very interesting to observe the large-quantity tea sourcing process first hand. Similarly, visiting Unilever Kenya will be fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 50 pounds of tea in my life; checking out this massive tea manufacture process will be a definite eye-opener.

Wrapping up my trip in New York City will be the perfect way to end. It's going to be great interning with Tracy Stern at SALONTEA; I know there's a lot I can learn from her! I'll probably spend my weekends seeing the normal NYC sights - my mother is from the city and can't stop recommending places I should explore!

On that note, do you have any recommendations for when I am in New York?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Preparing for the trip!

Hey everyone, I’ve been going through the process of preparing for my trip to Sri Lanka, Kenya, and New York City, and I thought I’d share some of the experience with you!

First things first: vaccinations. Luckily, since I’ve done some international travel before, I wasn’t required to have too many! I ended up getting a yellow fever shot, typhoid pills, and a prescription for anti-malarial medication. Not too bad for a trip across three continents! I’ve also been exercising regularly and trying to eat as healthy as possible, in order to prepare my body for the strain of constant travel. I’m sure the huge quantities of tea I’ve been drinking will also help with this!

I’ve been drinking a lot of black teas lately, which happens to be the specialty of Sri Lanka and Kenya, to also help with the preparation. I love the boost of energy it gives me!

I am also starting to pack, which is much more difficult than I originally thought. Luckily the weather won’t vary too much from country to country but there is still a lot to consider and think about.  Any suggestions for items that I can’t forget?  (I know bug spray is a must!)