India is the largest consumer of black tea; a fact that comes as no surprise to a Bengali like me, having seen the sheer amount of tea my family consumes in a week. Although ‘chai’ – the hot and sweet beverage – has been a part of our everyday life for a long time, it is only recently that its health benefits have become commonly known. Tea is rich in antioxidants and is a natural source of fluoride, which helps in controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and has been shown to inhibit cancer. Most of the tea we consume, however, is cultivated in conventional non-organic farms which pursue a host of ecologically damaging practices. The eco-friendly alternative is organic tea, and in this article we will trace the steps involved in the production of an organic tea bag.
The journey of the tea bag starts from an organic tea farm nestled in the green foothills of some far away mountain range. Organic tea farms cultivate tea without any chemical fertilizers, insecticides or pesticides. These farms have a vibrant natural eco-system wherein the population of harmful insects is controlled by their natural predators like spiders, lizards and mantises, which make the tea bushes their home.
Besides the health benefits of organic farming these projects have an additional economic benefit; they offer farmers above-average wages, a clean and safe working environment and training towards sustainable development using local natural resources. However, organic farms generally have lower production, while requiring the back-breaking work of weeding out parasitic weeds which find the natural environment favorable for their growth. In spite of the challenges, organic tea farms have been successfully established in India, China, Japan and Sri Lanka. Tea harvested from these farms is processed and packaged in special organic certified facilities before being sold for consumption. Organic tea bags are labeled by certification agencies like ‘Fair Trade’, thus authenticating their organic status. It is finally up to the consumers to make an informed choice about whether to choose organic products or not; shelling out a few extra rupees for mother earth in exchange for the fine flavor of organic tea. After consumption, the used tea leaves – rich in nitrogen and other micro-nutrients – make for an excellent natural fertilizer for the plants in a kitchen garden.
Although there has been an increasing trend towards organic farming and consumption of organic produce, the organic tea market is still mostly confined to Europe and the United States. With significant progress being made by cooperative projects like Sustainable Agriculture Information Network (SUSTAINET) in commercializing organic farms and in researching the general principles involved in organic farming, we may expect to see more organic produce making in to the super market shelves at competitive prices in the near future.
Author: Abhishek Biswas
Abhishek is currently doing his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Old Dominion University. He spends his free time reading classic literature and planning his next meal. He has a knack of picking out good recipes and likes to try them out at home. He is a soccer fan.
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