Coronavirus Experience. Changing Work Environment in Ireland, Thailand & South Korea

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

Dittawat Kaewkarnjanadit. President of Tea and Chinese Culture Appreciation Society of Thailand, member of the Board of Directors for Tea and Coffee institute of Mae Fah Luang University, member of the Board of Directors for Thailand-Chiangrai Tea Board. Bangkok, Thailand.

Thailand tea cultivation area was around 20,000 hectares at the end of last year (10% more than in 2018). We produce around 20,000 tons of dried tea leaves. Total tea export in 2019 was 3300 tons with export value around 19.7 million USD. Thailand imported 14,000 tons of tea products in 2019 ( 21.5 million USD import value).

The coronavirus pandemic situation in Thailand is continuously improving (as of April 20, according to Thailand Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, there were 27 new coronavirus cases and no new fatalities; total numbers being 2,792 coronavirus cases, 47 deaths and 1,999 people discharged from hospitals).

On lockdown, Thai government initial closure order applied to restaurants, department stores, marketplaces, beauty and barber shops, exhibition centers and some businesses. Tea shops located in department stores or market places had to close down, but some tea stores can sell their tea products online or via delivery. The volume of tea sales dropped 50% or more compared to the same period of the last year.

This period is normally the time for tea harvesting. The coronavirus situation led to a shortage of tea pluckers, because traveling between villages, districts or provinces was prohibited. Most of our tea pluckers are people coming from the highlands or across the border from Myanmar. For now, all Thailand border checkpoints are closed. So, if the situation continues, that will have a great effect on the tea industry and export volume. In addition, logistics is negatively affected due to restrictions from governments around the world.

But somehow, after the coronavirus is gone, the tea business will get back to normal or even get better in Thailand and the world market. The strong reason supporting my opinion is that people will become more concerned about their health and preventive measures to make themselves stronger, and tea will definitely be one of their choices. Now we try to promote tea benefits. In the tea research area, tea components were linked with boosting the immune system and resisting various diseases, especially rhinovirus that causes common cold. I am sure that in the near future the research on the ability of tea to cope with coronavirus will be conducted and the result of it will be positive for the tea industry.

Arvind Khedun. TMC Ireland 2020 Tea Pairing Winner. Cloud Picker Cafe, Head barista. Dublin, Ireland

For the moment, in Ireland, all the cafes and tea shops are closed due to the lockdown caused by COVID-19 pandemic. It has a big impact on cafes and tea shops and we don’t know how many of them will be able to survive the lockdown. You can still buy coffee and tea online through local suppliers, which is good. For the moment, I am on layoff from the company I work for; hopefully, after the pandemic is over, I can go back to work and get ready for the world Tea Masters Cup competition. Just hoping this finishes as soon as possible.

The lockdown is till the 5th of May. There is a couple of cafes around which are serving takeaway coffee through a window with card payment only accepted. Most of the barista I know are also on layoff. Which is good — we have not lost our jobs yet. But it all depends on how long the pandemic will last. Another good thing is the government here is paying for all workers a COVID-19 welfare payment.

William Lee. Tea Masters Cup Korea National Coordinator

Since tea production in Korea isn’t of mass scale as it is in India, China and Sri Lanka, most of the Korean tea is hand-plucked specialty tea, so, COVID-19 did not have a serious impact on the market. And Korean government did not enforce lockdown or border closing, unlike India and China.

However, there are issues not linked to COVID-19 which affected our tea production.

It was rather warm in early April, young tea leaves started to appear and some Hadong area farmers started to pluck the tea leaf earlier. But when suddenly, after April 5, the weather turned colder (3-5 degrees), young leaves were badly affected and the production of Woojeon (our first flush tea, the premium one) decreased by 30% compared to the last year’s volume (Korea produces less than 500 kg of Woojeon tea per year). Now all farmers are waiting for Sejak tea harvest time, which usually takes place between April 20 and May 6.

Every year, in the first weekend of May, Korea Tea Board in collaboration with county governments organized Boseong Tea Festival and Hadong Wild Tea Festival, where all farmers brought their Woojeon to show and meet with customers and tea people. But due to coronavirus this year, both tea festivals are cancelled to avoid public gathering and this will result in less promotion for tea farmers. Korea Tea Board also hosts ‘Tea World Festival’ at COEX in Seoul, where Tea Masters Cup International 2016 was held, and it is still scheduled for June.

It’s difficult to calculate tea consumption in Korea, as it depends on whether we include herbals into the ‘tea’ category. However, according to Korean Customs Agency, the import of Camellia Sinensis has increased by 22% over the past 3 years, considering the local Korean production is constant. And Korea has the highest cafe number per capita in the world. Every cafe has a tea or tea variation menu.

At Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious colleges in Korea, students formed ‘Yonsei Tea Club’, they visit different tea shops to get experience in different tea cultures. As an executive director of the Korea Tea Board I launched ‘Gahoe’ tea meetings. These are special tea gatherings held once a month in different locations where 20 different teas are introduced. The first ‘Gahoe’ happened on the 8th of March, and there were 35 new members with 32 of them being under 30 years of age. So, there is a certain increase in tea consumption in a Korean youth population.

Yeongseo Kim. TMC Korea 2019 Tea Pairing Winner

I was able to focus on my personal time to experience and study different types of teas from around the world.

Chanmi Yu. TMC Korea 2019 Tea Preparation Winner

The situation led our family to stay home and have more conversation over cups of tea and it bonded us more.

Hyun Jeong Lee. TMC Korea 2019 National Judge. Professor of International Tea Studies, Mokpo National University

I get to spend more time with my sons to drink tea at home.