Tuesday, 2 February 2010

With full force? Huh? Yeah, ok.

Know I said I'd keep on with Ceylon, but I tried an Assam today and have to write about it. This specific Assam is called Sephinjuri.

The blurb in my tea dealer's brochure says that this is a great morning tea. It's heavy/with full-force, or at least that's my poor translation of what it says, which is odd because my first impression was that it was fruity and light. After a few sips, the description I read was right. This is a dark tea.

Assams are named after the region in India where they originate. It's the only place outside of China where tea is indigenous. There's a botanical distinction between the plants in China and India, but you very likely aren't looking for that here. This region of India, Assam, is in the east. North of Bangladesh. It's the biggest tea-producing region in the world, according to some sources. If you drink non-descript "black tea" from tea bag, you're probably drinking a mix of Assam and Ceylon teas that couldn't be sold any other way. Not bad tea. Just not noteworthy. This Sephinjuri is in an entirely different league.

A few places I've looked have mentioned workers on tea plantations not earning a fair wage. I suppose I should get into that here, albeit lightly. In India, this is probably a more contentious issue than in other places because of the colonial history. But even as I write that, I think, "Wait." Being underpaid would be disenfranchising in any situation.

I know there are at least two sides to any debate about wages. If you sat down and looked at the books of any business, I'm sure the enterprise is more expensive to run than people might assume.

Am also incredibly skeptical about fair-trade products. Theoretically, the idea of the consumer paying more to assure that the growers earn more is laudable. When you look at the extra amount the growers ultimately get, you become aware that the price increase has only one true function. To make the person buying fair-trade tea feel better about himself. Sweeping generalizations are dangerous. Maybe fair-trade has to start out miniscule and grow. I'm still hopeful that this is how things turn out.

Which brings me back to the original question:

How does one know/make sure that the people who grew the tea are being paid reasonably? One doesn't.

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