Tea Drinkers: Beware

Climate Change Weakening Indian Tea Crop

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted January 9, 2011 at 7:00PM

Tea growers in India's northeastern region are reporting consistently weaker tea… and pointing the finger at climate change.

Nobody likes weak tea — least of all the farmers who account for a third of the world’s global tea production.cupotea

And this particular region, Assam state, produces nearly 55 percent of the nation’s total tea crop.

Farmers are dealing with a dual-problem: shortfall in production — a drop in production of nearly 30,000 tons of tea — and a lesser-quality crop.

Rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns are likely the culprit in changes in plantation yield, directly effecting the flavor of a notoriously strong, hearty, black tea, often marketed as a “breakfast tea,” that come from this region of India.

"We are indeed concerned," Rajib Barooah, a tea planter in Jorhat — Assam's main tea growing district — told the Associated Press.

"Assam tea's strong flavor is its hallmark."

Tea growers are worried not only for the future profits, but of a decline in consumer demand. Assam tea is coveted for its strong bright flavor — a flavor that has undergone subtle (and not preferrable) changes over the last few years.

India’s temperature has risen 3.6°F within the last decade, and according to a report by the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment, the temperature in India could increase by 3.8°F by as soon as 2030.

Rising temperatures increase the likelihood of flooding and drought; warmer weather coupled with changes in irrigation does not bode well for a tea crop…

Dhiraj Kakaty is head of the Assam Branch Indian Tea Association.

Kakaty reports many more sunless days during monsoon rains in 2010, meaning tea leaves received less light and less oxygen.

Warmer, wetter weather fosters a thriving environment for tea mosquitoes, which damage tea bushes.

But it's not all rainy days; total annual rainfall in Assam has dropped by more than 20% in the past 60 years...

Various reports from climate experts and scientists confirm data showing a link between climate change and the increased occurrence of natural disasters — further threat to agriculture.

Indian tea growers are now petitioning their own government to put money toward funding research that would examine climate change in relation to the flavor and shortfall in their crop.