Tea loses flavour as prices remain flat

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Reduction in production due to early closure of season fails to have any impact on prices

Belying hopes of tea prices rising due to the early closure of the tea season last year, prices have remained flat till February 2019, according to market sources.

Sources at the Tea Board as well as in the industry said that about 25 million kg of ‘bad teas’ were sucked out of the market following a directive issued by the board to tea manufacturers to stop plucking and receiving green tea leaves by mid-December 2018.

An upward trend noticed at the tea auctions early in 2019, was not sustained, trade sources said. At the Sale No. 9 of the Kolkata Auction this week, prices of CTC (crush, tear, curl) teas closed at ₹112.9 per kg against ₹112.4 a year ago.

Orthodox tea prices at the same sale were marginally higher at ₹171.3 per kg against ₹169.1 per kg. Sources said that sufficient availability of tea in the market influenced the prices.

Move to improve quality

Tea Board Chairman and Deputy Chairman Arun Kumar Ray told that the main objective behind the move on early closure was to improve quality. “We are expecting good quality teas to arrive in the market soon. However, prices are determined by demand and supply,” he observed.

For quite a few years now, tea plucking continued till end-December, although earlier, the onset of the winter signalled a closure of tea plucking. Mostly, poor quality teas grow during this period and auction prices of the commodity were affected due to this for north Indian produce that accounts for about 75% of India’s tea crop. South Indian tea is traditionally grown year-round without impacting quality.

The Tea Board’s closure order covered manufacturers in West Bengal, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. For Assam, the deadline was December 10. The Tea Board said that manufacturing tea during winter dormancy resulted in made-tea devoid of the quality prescribed under the Food Safety and Standards. The regulator felt that harvesting such a crop harmed exports of Indian teas — known for their flavour, aroma and briskness.

Based on appeals to resume production and acting on recommendations of a committee of experts, the Tea Board has allowed leaf plucking from February 9 for orthodox teas and from end-February for CTC teas.

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