The 800 tea gardens of Assam have experienced one of their most challenging growing seasons in history this year. At the outbreak of the COVID-19, the government ordered the shutdown of all tea plucking, fertilizing, and pest management activities for three weeks.

Plucking tea in Assam, India. Photo by Bruce Richardson

That closure slowed the spread of the virus and provided the opportunity to implement public health measures. Thankfully, our leading grower, Mana Organics, reported that their gardens did not report a single case of COVID-19. Management developed a detailed COVID plan and procured PPE so that workers could return to the gardens safely when the government lifted the lockdown.

While most Assam tea ends up in teabags, exceptional small-batch production fetches top dollar prices for tea drinkers who appreciate well-crafted tippy grades, such as SFTGFOP.

But, tea plants need constant attention during late spring and early summer. Without workers to pluck new growth, bushes grew to the point where they became unmanageable. Many gardens decided to make prunings, which affected the bushes’ productivity and led to a shortage of tea.

Instead of making disastrous deep prunes like other gardens, Mana Organics opted for a lighter prune that minimized crop loss while maintaining plant health.

Pruning tea bushes. Photo by Bruce Richardson

To make matters worse, Assam has experienced major unseasonal flooding this year. During the peak production months of June and July, day after day of heavy rain and cooler temperatures hampered the growth of tea bushes just as they were beginning to recover from the unscheduled prunings. Those wet conditions kept workers out of the fields and hampered tea transportation to Calcutta’s warehouses and shipping depots.

As the rains came, Mana Organics organized a flood response that minimized harm to workers and gardens. As a result, while yields have dropped, they report a much lower loss than the industry average of 50%.

In particular, their Dinjoye Tea Estate has managed to avert significant crop loss through adaptive management and sustainable agricultural practices.

Pallets of Assam Tea arrive by air freight from Calcutta in 5-7 days.

On a brighter note, the 2020 teas are excellent! Our first summer shipment arrived in our Kentucky warehouse recently. The small-batch specialty tea, FTGFOP1-CL (Extra Tippy), is one of the best teas we have seen from the Dinjoye Gardens.

That’s the tea that starts my day!

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