Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The hollowing out of Sr Lanka: the export of "refuse" tea

Our natural resources, history and people are under assault-from within. Now the tea trade seems to be latest victim.

 Serendipity has alerted us that the racket of refuse tea seems to be gaining ground again. As a commentor on his post points out, thanks to politically influenced wage increases the industry is screwed. I just hope that ordinary exporters are not resorting to this out of desperation.

When tea is is produced it is graded,  OP, BOP and the like. The last useable grade is dust, what is left is called refuse.

Raw refuse tea resembles coir mattress fibre; light brown and stringy. Its composition is actually mostly the stems of the tea that has been badly plucked-ideally only 2 leaves and a bud are plucked, but whatever stems and stalks end up as refuse.

It is normally used as fertiliser; due to its appearance its impossible to sell as tea, no one would touch it and it could not brew much either as there is so little tea in it.

How then can it be sold? By treating it with chemicals.

The "production" involves treating the refuse with lime (calcium carbonate) and potassium permanganate. This is what blackens the tea and probably breaks down the fibres. To this is then mixed a small quantity of normal tea and the disguise is complete.

Apart from anything else the stuff is actually poisonous. Main markets are thought to be poor African nations, although thanks to the breakdown of law in the near East, Iraq seems to have been targeted as well.  Worse, they now seem to be targeting other key markets as well.

Thankfully there are well established systems put in by the British that, if they work, can stop the export of this poison:

1. All tea is sold via auction and through licensed brokers;
2. All tea must have a proper factory of origin,
3. All samples for auction are tasted and spare samples stored for retesting if needed,
4. No export can take place without a tea board license which adds an additional layer of control.

These systems were under assault from 2005, from the day this regime came into power. The tea trade has rallied round and kept most of the bounders out, but it is an uphill struggle.

Two Akbar Bros employees paid with their lives for their integrity-they were shot in a drive by killing in 2005/6 I think.

If there is new evidence of the checks being circumvented maximum publicity needs to be brought to bear, Serendipity please bring out any further info.

The Sunday Observer had a surprisingly good article on the problem.

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