More Tea? Perhaps I’ll think twice before drinking my next “mug of builders”…

MARK:  Love a cuppa tea me.  Earl Grey my favourite brew, but happy to have a nice strong mug of “builders” if one is on offer.  No sugar though – sweet enough. Also developed a liking for the sweet Indian tea called “Chai” made from Masala tea complete with sugar and warm milk.

Monkey about to drink my tea!!!

Monkey about to drink my tea!!!

Walk in to any British supermarket and you will see row upon row of different tea varieties for the shopper to choose, ranging from Twinings, PG Tips and of course good old Yorkshire Tea.  A pound of your hard earned can get you twenty ‘T’ bags of pretty decent stuff and if you have more money than sense you can spend £5-£10 quite easily on some well packaged, cleverly marketed “health tea.”

 A proper tea bag!

A proper tea bag!

“More tea?”  Don’t mind if I do thanks!

But hey, hang on a minute.  Why have I never stopped and actually thought just how tea leaves get into my little perforated bag?  Or considered the people who actually pick tea and what their working and living conditions are like?  Perhaps because I have taken it all for granted – until now.

We’d some time to kill in Mumbai and so turned on the TV to watch the good old BBC World News.  It was showing a news “expose” on the India Tea Trade.  The joint “investigation” by Radio 4’s File on Four and BBC News in Assam was a real eye opener to say the least!  Here’s a quick summary paraphrased from the subsequent BBC Online article.

“Reporters found that in Assam, north-east India, workers are living in broken houses with terrible sanitation. Many families had no toilets and said they have no choice but to defecate amongst the tea bushes. Living and working conditions are so bad, and wages so low – typically tea workers in Assam earn just 115 rupees (just over £1 a day) that their families are left malnourished and vulnerable to fatal illnesses.  A total disregard for health and safety was prevalent, with workers spraying chemicals without protection and on some estates, child labour being used.”

The biggest thing though to shock me and indeed the tea pickers themselves was when the reporter in the interview showed the workers a nicely packaged, small bag of tea from a leading London Retailer.  The cost £7.50!  The workers could not believe the price.  It would take them a week to earn such an amount they said AND only a few minutes to actually pick that quantity of tea.  Shocking.  Out of order.  So just who is making the money here, the Tea Plantation Owner, the Importer, the UK Tea Brands or our friends the Supermarket Retailer?  One thing’s for sure, it ain’t the poor old tea pickers!

We left Mumbai, but a few days later came “face to face” with the World of Tea once again when we visited the Hill Station town of Coonoor.

Manicured tea plantation

Manicured tea plantation

We watched the tea pickers on the side of the mountains undertake long, back breaking work.

The real workers

The real workers

And often, close to the lovely manicured tea plantations there were a few “big houses”, we assume belonging to the owners/managers.



And then looking further down the hill much more humble homes belonging to the tea pickers.

..... and contrast!

….. and contrast!

It was really sad to see that on the edge of the plantation, that some entrepreneurs, were able to take advantage of the tea picking industry and by simply providing a traditional tea pickers “dress”, they could earn in a few short minutes, 200/300 Rupees (£2/3) by photographing tourists and visitor to satisfy the selfie “look at me” society.

An Indian Tourist posing for a photo just above the tea plantation

An Indian Tourist posing for a photo just above the tea plantation

The good news – back to the report a minute – concludes by saying: “Many of the UK’s leading tea brands including PG Tips, Tetleys and Twinings, have said they will work to improve the tea estates they buy from in India after the BBC investigation”.

I for one will now think twice the next time I enjoy a cup of rosie lea.

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6 thoughts on “More Tea? Perhaps I’ll think twice before drinking my next “mug of builders”…

  1. Chris Towers

    I should have warned you about the sugary, milky tea! Horrible. The only place where I have had a decent cup in India is Darjeeling, with no milk or sugar.

    The pickers do have it very rough I agree.

    I left you some jaguars to see when you get to Brazi. We hadl lovely close views twice. Iguazu Falls is truely amazing, so keep some unused photo memory cards for your visit.

    Enjoying the blogs.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Chris/Crisp – glad you are back safe and well from Brazil and thanks for wetting our appetites for next May….. would love to visit Darjeeling – may be next time. best M and S


  2. Angus

    Gave me pause for thought as I sipped my morning coffee. Enjoying the blogs, they provide a few moments of mental escape. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person


    I read this while actually drinking a cup of Twinings Earl Grey, made with loose leaf tea (never knew you preferred Earl Grey too Mark!). The tea pickers would have been even more astonished to open a tea bag and look at the poor quality dust inside (maybe the £7.50 tea bag had good quality tea in it…). I really hope that Twinings among others takes a Cadbury 18th century approach, with for example ‘model villages’ for workers with proper sanitation. Maybe some rest breaks and shady spots too. The comment on defecating on the plantations also rang an ominous bell with me as from all reports this is how men rape women in India – they ambush them when they go to outside loos after dark.

    You should read The International Bank of Bob – a great accompaniment to your trip, if you haven’t read it already. On one man’s journey to microfinance, and how we the rich can use a small amount of money over and over and over again to improve the lives of people like the tea workers.

    Enjoying the blogs! Almost like a free trip with no fear of your train falling off a mountain… 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Anne,

      What a wonderful and thought provoking comment. Your thoughts as always spot on.
      No I have not read – The International Bank of Bob – one I should, so appreciate the link.
      Enjoy your Earl Grey – Mark!


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