In this article we want to show you the difference between the classic and the direct, modern tea trade and to tell you why it is time to make a difference in the tea world.

Teafield teafield india india
Panorama over beautiful tea fields in India

The classic tea trade

We call the tea trade classic, as it has been for several decades. These include, for example, large companies, most of which sell their products in supermarkets, as well as the long-established wholesalers. Of course, it is difficult to generalize all these companies, because the corporate structures and the philosophy behind them can vary greatly. So without pointing your finger, we want to show you in a thought experiment how best not to do it in the tea trade.

Let’s start our journey in a tea garden in Sri Lanka. The garden is clearly euphemistic, because the land is more like gigantic estates than gardens. Sir Lanka is an island south of the Indian subcontinent and one of the largest tea growing areas in the world. Mainly black tea is produced for export. More than one million people are employed here in the tea industry, almost 4 of the land mass of Sri Lanka are covered with tea plants.

In the fields, women usually work, which are far below in the social structure of society. The workers are paid by weight, the wages are often meagre. When it rains, the pickers usually get less money, because the picked leaves are heavier and can be harvested less, and the wage per kilogram for the wet tea leaves is lower.

The plantations are often gigantic and belong to large companies or agricultural associations. After harvesting, the tea is finished in large production facilities. Tea from Sri Lanka usually has a rather small and fine leaf, which is ideal for being used in tea bags.

After production, the finished tea goes on sale. Buying tea directly from producers through the free market is difficult. Most of the teas will only be auctioned on promotions to the highest bidding. The goods usually go to regional dealers, who collect the tea from different plantations and then resell it. Local retailers in turn sell the tea to national wholesalers in India or Sri Lanka. From here, the path continues out into the world.

If the tea is shipped to Europe, it will most likely land in one of the major ports in Rotterdam, Bremen or Hamburg. Here are many wholesalers who buy and store tea from all over the world. Wherever you enjoy a cup of tea in Europe, there is a good chance that the tea was traded over Germany or the Netherlands.

Tea trading teafield fresh tea plantsOnce in Europe, the tea has made a long and above all long journey. Finding out where the tea originally came from is almost impossible at this point. The daily productions of a single plantation are usually not sufficient to meet the needs of large companies. Therefore, different batches of one or more farms are mixed.

The tea buttons of the dealers decide which tea they buy and in what quantities. They know exactly how the tea must taste after they look and how to mix the teas in order to achieve a desired taste. For large brands, it is important to be able to offer customers a constant, always constant taste. Since tea is a natural product, it is subject to variations in quality and taste. The tea tasters must therefore mix teas of different origins in such a way that the taste remains as constant as possible.

The result is a mixture of different teas of different origins, a so-called blend. With such a mixture, it is impossible to find out where the tea originally came from. The leaves go down in a trivial mass. The counterpart to a blend would be the single-origin tea, which consists of only one batch of a single tea garden.

Now it’s about getting tea on the shelves of supermarkets, grocers and restaurateurs. Loose or packed in tea bags, the tea travels from warehouse to warehouse or is taken in trucks from one logistics center to the next. We can’t talk about freshness here for a long time. As the tea tastes, should it finally find its way into a hot water bath in a cup, we probably don’t have to explain to you anymore.

Our tea shopping explains

Tea trade chain Tea Tea Tea
Our retail chain: Short and crisp

Our tea shopping process, on the other hand, is extremely short and uncomplicated for all involved. The process is always the same. Whether we shop in Japan, Taiwan, India, Nepal or China, we always source our tea directly from our partner farms. Without an intermediary far and wide.

As soon as we find that our tea warehouse is empty, will contact us with one of our partner farms to place an order on. All our products are ordered directly from the tea garden, with which we maintain a personal relationship and which we have already visited on site. In addition, we do not hoard huge quantities of tea in our Cologne warehouse, but order at regular intervals so that we can always offer fresh tea.

Off by customs

Once the order has been received in the tea garden, it is packed and sets off on the journey, usually by plane. This is currently the most efficient transport route for our quantities. In the future, we also plan to ship by sea in order to further save the climate. From the tea garden to Germany, about one to two weeks pass, depending on the country of origin.

After that, the delivery is still checked by customs. Depending on the season, this may also take a few days. It is important to customs that the imported goods are clean. For this purpose, a certified laboratory test is required, which ensures that limit values for pollutant loads are met for each individual tea variety. If this certificate is missing, the customs authorities shall take samples themselves.

After customs, the tea almost made it. Now the tea is delivered to our warehouse in Cologne, where it is then repackaged. The size of the containers in which the tea arrives varies greatly depending on the country of origin. Teas from Taiwan usually come in containers of only 250-500 g, Japanese teas usually in bags one kilogram each and shipments from China or Indonesia like to sometimes in 5-10 kg heavy bags. Of course, it is important to us to cause as little waste as possible, which is why we ask all our suppliers to send as large containers as possible. However, our Asian partners are not always so flexible.

Our criteria for tea shopping

In addition to direct shopping at the tea gardens, we attach great importance to two other criteria in our purchase: the cultivation of tea according to ecologically sustainable criteria and the fair and socially justifiable treatment of the local workforce. In order to protect people and nature, we only offer our customers clean teas that are free of any synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

It is also very important to us that the workers are paid fairly for their work and can live well from their work. During our visit to the Glenburn Tea Estate in Darjeeling, for example, we learned that the child of every picker is entitled to a job in the tea garden later on. Free education and clean accommodation are also provided.

Tea Leaves Teeleaves Tea Trade
Freshly picked tea leaves

Procurement issues in Taiwan and Japan

In countries such as Taiwan or Japan, there is less concern about socially worrying working conditions. The labour standards here are very high, and there is also a severe shortage of labour, which ensures that workers in the fields or in factories can demand high wages.

A bigger problem in these countries is to get pure teas, which is guaranteed to come from a particular region. In Taiwan, there is a kind of “tea mafia” that imports oolong teas from Thailand or Vietnam and sells them more expensively than fake Taiwanese oolongs. Knowing the people of the tea garden and its exact location is therefore particularly important in Taiwan. In this way, we can ensure that these are guaranteed to be single-origin teas from Taiwan. In addition, the location of the garden in Taiwan plays a special role, especially with the famous High Mountain Oolongs. Because the higher the tea garden above sea level, the higher the quality.

Another hurdle for the tea trade in Taiwan is that the tea produced here is mostly consumed in-country. The Taiwanese drink a lot of tea, so why bother with long shipping routes and import conditions when you can get rid of the products with much less effort in your own country? One factor that plays into our hands is organic farming. There are few tea gardens in Taiwan that are important to produce sustainably. For the tea farmers, it takes a lot of effort to produce organically grown tea, which inevitably makes the tea more expensive than that of the competition. Many locals do not see it as paying this extra fee, which is why sustainable tea gardens in Taiwan and also in Japan are looking for buyers abroad.

Customers in Western countries are much more willing to pay more for tea, especially when it comes to organically produced products. As a company, we also have to pay this extra fee so that our partner farms can continue to work naturally and sell their products to us profitably. However, we can more than compensate for this surcharge by trading directly with the tea gardens and reselling them to our customers on our products with only small margins.

Pros and cons of direct trading

The direct trade in tea is much more transparent than the indirect, classic tea trade. We can tell you exactly where our tea comes from and give you maximum transparency and information. In addition, through direct trade, we have access to unusual and special types of tea, which normally do not find their way to Europe. And as if this were not enough, we can also ensure through this approach that organically grown and fairly produced teas are guaranteed.

But, is there a catch in the matter? Of course, because for us direct purchasing means much more effort. We need to deal with customs, build our own supply chains and tackle the mammoth task of finding suitable producers in far-flung continents. Other tea online shops only open the catalogue of a North German wholesaler, place an order and have tea in stock within a few days without any effort and effort.

But that is not enough for us. We don’t just want to offer our customers something good, but the best of the best. We want to stand out from the standard tea trade and go our own way. No effort is too great for us and we hope that you will notice this in your cup!

Fancy having tea?

Perhaps we were able to convince you with our approach and awakenyourthirsty! We would be happy if you would visit our online shop. Here you will find high-quality teas from all over the world. Directly traded and sustainably grown!



This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)