Coronavirus Experience. Changing Work Environment in the UK, Italy & Turkey

We continue a series of posts in which Tea Masters from around the world share their experience of work in the pandemic.

Dr Sharon Hall. The UK National TMC Coordinator. Chief Executive at the UK Tea & Infusions Association (UKTIA). London, the UK

The UK has been on lockdown since the end of March. The Prime Minister ordered the closure of café’s, pubs, bars and restaurants and only takeaway & delivery services have been permitted to continue. Large out of home chains that sell tea were also closed, but as of now (mid-April), some are considering reopening to provide delivery services only, until the lockdown is lifted. There has been a significant spike in retail demand for black tea over the past few weeks, as consumers have enjoyed drinking more tea at home. UK brands continue to report good stocks of tea to ensure this increased demand is met. A UKTIA survey, carried out by the Tea Advisory Panel, revealed a cup of tea helps consumers achieve inner calm and this may be why many of us are drinking tea more often, while we work from home. Our hope is these new habits stick after lockdown and increased consumption is sustained, as more consumers reconnect with tea.

Gabriella Lombardi. Italy National TMC Coordinator. President of Protea Academy. Milan, Italy

I live in Milan and Lombardy region was the first pandemic’s epicentre in Italy.

Here Italian government extended the quarantined areas, so-called “red-zones”, ordering people not to enter or leave Lombardy region, before taking the decision to lockdown the whole country trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

We are facing a real tsunami here and an emergency situation like no other since the Second World War. Only in the summer we will be able to assess the losses and tell you which tea projects have survived this crisis.

I predict that in the current situation mass-market low-price tea consumption will increase. The same will happen with specialty tea, as the consumers of expensive and sophisticated teas are people who can afford to pay for them even in the most difficult situation. The segment of medium-priced tea will be very much reduced down to its possible complete disappearance.

Tea shops and tea rooms are now all closed, only deliveries and online sales are allowed. As a result, online sales of tea have increased and this is a way to reduce losses and face fixed costs.

Protea Academy which has the distance learning in its DNA, currently has all the online TAC Tea Sommelier courses sold out. This is a positive signal because horeca professionals are understanding the importance of training and specialization.

In the coming months, innovation, quality of a product and service will be rewarded.

Hasan Önder. Turkey National TMC Coordinator. General Coordinator at the Rize Commodity Exchange. Rize, Turkey

Turkey is the fifth largest tea-producer country in the world (280 thousand metric tons). According to 2019 data, annual tea consumption per capita in Turkey is 3.7 kg. Most of the total tea production meets the domestic market demand, only less than 2% of it is exported. Total annual tea import amount is almost 35 thousand metric tons mostly from Sri Lanka, Kenya and Indonesia. Worldwide, the Turkish tea market is the third largest one after China and India. 

But it seems that after Covid-19 many things will change, the first tea harvest is going to start in a couple of weeks and more than probably our first flush production will be 25% less than usual, and the total annual production of tea may decrease by 40 thousand tons. This is due to the closure of external borders and suspended transportation within the country. Tea pluckers and tea factory workers from both neighbouring countries and other regions of Turkey are unable to come to Rize.

The tea harvest starts in May, so this is just a preliminary forecast. At the same time, tea consumption in the country has increased by 12% despite the closure of cafes and restaurants, where tea is usually consumed in large amounts. Last year, official imports of tea into Turkey amounted to 17 thousand tons. Import of tea into Turkey is subject to a rather high duty, 145%. On the other hand, Turkey has around 100 thousand tons stock, so it seems that the government’s import policy will hardly change due to the emerging shortage of tea. But because of the increased tea consumption the volume of tea imports can increase up to 50 thousand tons.

Yusuf Pirim. Tea Masters Cup Turkey 2019 Tea Preparation Winner. Rize and Istanbul, Turkey

When the epidemic started, I immediately came to the village to deal with the tea field. I was going to start tea tourism this year in the Black Sea region, I created the infrastructure and established a connection with the tourism company.

We did not cancel our plans, we just postponed them. We did not lose hope in these periods. We continue to work to develop further. I also continue to work on organic green tea production. I am proud to be a part of the tea development in Turkey. I also provide online training on teas that strengthen our immune system. For those who are at home and cannot go out, I can say that educational and instructive trainings do attract attention.

People now make their own bread or meals because they are tired of being consumers only during this period while staying at home. I also see that they have turned their balconies into small vegetable gardens. I observe that people who migrated from small villages to big cities long for village again and want to produce rather than consume. We are a part of capitalism and we will never get away from it, but we have to learn how we can minimize this order.

I am spending this lockdown already fully producing. I feel safe and peaceful because I am in the village. I plant vegetables and fruits in my garden. I am interested in my tea field, I train myself to produce new tea. I discover the plants in the forests. I hope the pandemic time will be educational and instructive for us.

Stay with science and health! Lots of love!