This morning in my usual flick over the world’s leading news stories, I spotted a worrying snippet on the BBC’s news website. Tea plantations in India are beginning to struggle with the effects of climate change, as rainfall patterns change, monsoon downpours get heavier, dry periods get longer and temperatures rise. So far, it’s only Assam tea production that’s affected – but Assam tea is half of India’s tea production, and Sri Lankan producers, who produce Ceylon tea, have confirmed that they expect problems in the future as their climate also changes. Kenya, the other major tea producer, should remain unaffected, since Kenya’s tea production apparently struggles with low temperature problems and their climate is warming.
All the same, to a hardened tea addict like me this is concerning news. Either the price of tea must rise to allow producers to adapt their infrastructure and methods, or they’ll go out of business – and then the price will rise due to less tea being available on the world market. Either way, it’s not good for the producers or the drinkers of Assam (and eventually Ceylon) tea.
Can we produce tea in the UK? The answer is yes – just. At the moment, there is a tea plantation in Cornwall (for non UK readers, the far south-west corner of the UK mainland, right out in the warm North Atlantic drift current and the warmest, mildest climate region in the country). There are a couple of plantations in South Wales, again one of the milder, warmer climate regions of the UK.
As far north as I am, there isn’t a hope of growing a subtropical plant like tea. It might be possible if I could afford a big heated greenhouse with a watering system, but that’s a lot more investment and space than I have available.
The traditional prepping answer to a forthcoming shortage is to stockpile – but although I do keep a couple of months of teabags in the store, tea has a finite lifespan in storage (about 5 years, after which the flavour goes off considerably). 5 years’ of teabags might be one answer to the anticipated price hikes, but in our household we get through about 8 pots of tea a day, which means 56 pots a week, 2,912 pots a year, or 14,560 pots in 5 years. I don’t think we’ve got enough room to store that many teabags!
Besides, what do we do when they run out?
So, I’ve decided there are a few strategies to pursue here. Firstly, increase teabag quantities in the stores (buying now before the price rises helps to buffer the cost increase). Secondly, encourage anyone I know in the southern half of the UK to consider growing tea bushes. Third, find out more about the existing UK tea companies and their products.
And while I’m thinking about it, I’ll go put the kettle on and brew another pot…..