We continue a series of posts in which Tea Masters from around the world share their experience of work in the pandemic.
Anna Bolgova, TMC Kazakhstan National Coordinator. Teamaster.kz, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Our business got cut off from warehouses; they are out of town, and there is a checkpoint system — the city was cut off from the suburbs. All the business centers in which we have smaller warehouses had been closed until May 25. Only with a special permit from the business center director could one get inside. So our whole business is frozen at the moment. We keep in touch with restaurants, they are also closed. There are some 20 percent of small take-away coffee shops working. Still before the quarantine, on March 16, our customers from hospitality industry bought stocks of tea to last them long, because the dollar rate began to rise then, and we warned our clients that it made sense to make a stock of tea before prices would rise. Everyone bought tea, and then everything froze. Now we’re waiting for summer verandas to be allowed to open.
Daulet Nurgozha, TMC Kazakhstan 2019 Tea Mixology Winner. Marshmallow Coffeeshop, Almaty, Kazakhstan
I’m one of those HoReCa representatives who is out of work. In short, just a couple of weeks before the announcement of the state of emergency, I opened a coffee shop. I didn’t even know that anything like this would happen. And then I had to temporarily stop working and close the coffee shop for a while.
Has the demand for tea increased in the Kazakhstan during the pandemic?!… It has definitely decreased, as most of HoReCa sector is out of business and the borders are closed and tea is consumed only at home.
Only a part of hospitality businesses that made deliveries before the quarantine and were well-known to the consumer is coping with the situation.
Alan Hughes. Noble and Savage Tea Merchants co-founder and director, Whakatane, New Zealand
New Zealand, with it’s cohesive, strong leadership acted very quickly with the COVID-19 pandemic, closing borders as soon as possible along with implementing the four levels of lockdown that would fluctuate depending on how many people were affected.
Over this time we were deemed an essential business by the NZ Government, we continued to work through the Level 4 lockdown which saw all retail and public spaces close, with the public’s movement limited to home and grocery shops. With our primary business being high-end cafes and luxurious restaurants/hotels upon admission to Level 4, we saw overnight a loss of 80% of our business. Within the retail space, we had to close down our popup flagship store.
While brick and mortar retail dropped away, we have noticed at-home consumption of tea has increased exponentially over the lockdown with a skew on the teas that have health benefits as well as consumers looking for new and unique blends of teas. I would attribute this increase to:
- forced savings (not being able to spend money);
- the lack of access to a cafe;
- people don’t want to see the hospo industry dissolve, so they are looking to support local brands.
There are enormous challenges within the tea industry with the aftermath of this pandemic which nobody can fully predict, but there is a familiar feeling across all countries; everybody just wants it to go back to normal.
In a business sense, it is an incredible opportunity for a good challenge; we have spent many nights looking to navigate this new opportunity to do things better than we have ever before; from accessing new markets that we had not seen before to launching new products to solve a new problem that has arisen from COVID-19.
We are feeling cautiously optimistic about our future; the next year will be tough in the tea industry. Still, we aim to keep improving our service to our customers, and we will look to support our suppliers as best as we can so they can keep making fantastic tea.
There will always be a great need for tea; it soothes, it invigorates, it inspires, it’s a perfect companion.
This epidemic, hopefully, will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do things differently and to make things better. Let’s not just focus on profits let us all focus on how we can make a positive impact on the people and world around us.
Nina Gruntkowski. Chá Camélia, Porto, Portugal
Chá Camélia is situated in the North of Portugal, approximately 30 km north of the city of Porto. Since 2011 we have been establishing and planting a tea plantation. During the course of the first five years we managed to both grow and plant over 12,000 tea plants (Camellia sinensis) on a little less than one hectare of land.
Last year (2019) was our first real harvest, as the first plot of plants were ready to pick. We hand pick all of the tea leaves and process them by hand in an artisanal and traditional way. Erika Kobayashi from Brasil, a very special Chajin (tea person), accompanied the whole harvest and quickly became my right arm in the entire tea production. We developed our way to produce green tea and had planned the 2020 harvest together.
For the first time during our harvest we were also expecting some expert advice and help from Shigeru and Haruyo Morimoto. The couple have produced organic green tea for over 40 years in Miyazaki (Kyushu Island, southern Japan) and embraced our project right from the beginning. We consider them our inspiration.
Everything was well prepared for our second and considerably larger harvest, when the Covid-19 pandemic started to get much more serious. Aware of the situation our Japanese friends decided to not even risk booking their flights. With Erika in Brasil, she and I were in constant contact to see if she could make it to Portugal or not. But faster than expected, Portugal and the other European countries closed their borders, and the flight was cancelled. This happened just a few days before our first plants were ready to be harvested.
Therefore, as nature waits for nobody, we started picking our tea with a reduced team, keeping great distances in between each other, not knowing if the next day we would be allowed to travel by car to the tea plantation or what would happen if one of us would fall ill.
As each day passed, we picked larger quantities of leaves which we had to process during the same day into green tea. There were a lot of uncertainties, but luckily as always Chá Camélia attracted the right people at the right time and I was able to train two more local people to help me with the hand production.
It is a miracle, but apart from the mentally complicated situation and that none of us could foresee how the next day would look like, we managed to produce three times more tea than last year with an excellent level of quality. We even launched a new 100% hand-picked and hand produced premium green tea called Kintsugi Chá.
Running in parallel to the harvest our tea distribution business continued, which made us extremely happy but at the same time was a real challenge. Our reduced team was running in between the production area and the office dealing with the harvest and the distribution work at the same time. Of course the distribution to restaurants and shops has almost stopped during lock down, but at the same time our online shop has flourished. We are very thankful that so many people via social media accompanied our tea harvest, encouraged us to continue our work and supported us with online orders. This is a true example of how tea can connect people through distance and difficult times.