Have You Begun?


We often think of new beginnings at New Year’s Day, the start of months or seasons, on our birthday or at rites of passage. Sometimes, though, new beginnings come at mid-week, mid-month, mid-season—at some seemingly random time.

Incentive to Actually Begin

And at a new beginning, a new venture, I think I need a bracing beverage, something that takes a stand, something like an old favorite: English Westminster. Shades of Keep Calm and Carry On are found in its crisp, bold, clear brew.

This black classic is a blend of Assam, Java, and Ceylon teas. Due to the absence of Darjeeling tea in its mix, English Westminster is defined by its briskness. In fact, when Darjeeling is added to this same blend of teas, the result is the more robust and malty English Breakfast.

In the Beginning. . .

Westminster itself­—the original one, in England—has endured for centuries, lending a sort of permanence or grounding aspect to the tea.

Over 1,000 years ago, Anglo-Saxons constructed a church, “west minster,” on an island in the Thames. Westminster evolved, with Danish ruler Cnut apparently building a palace here sometime in the early 11th century, which was later followed first by Edward the Confessor’s palace and abbey, and then by William II’s “new palace.”

When Henry II moved the Exchequer to Westminster, the site became the seat of English law, and today continues to be the center of the government.

However, because the Palace of Westminster (or the Houses of Parliament) was completed in 1870—and Westminster Hall is over 900 years old—the building is desperately in need of preservation, restoration, and renovation.

Beginning to Begin

A committee has been formed to evaluate the options available to Westminster. But considering (1) there are over 1,000 rooms used by around 2,000 people, and (2) the staggering cost of this monumental project, I think the committee members are definitely in need of some really strong tea! 

(Yes! Westminster for Westminster! )

Anyway, Cheers!

Because today is always a good day to begin—whether it’s those palace projects in your life or those slightly more pedestrian!



A Conundrum in the Tea Garden

In my last blog, I encouraged supporting those businesses that engage in fair trade practices and so on.

But again, it’s complicated.

The Goal

Recently, the Viêt Nam News ran an article that illustrates the conundrum of meeting the certification standards of Fairtrade International. As you may imagine, this global organization has extensive standards—for small-scale producers, hired labor, contract production, traders.

These comprehensive guidelines aim to secure “sustainable livelihoods” for producers, enabling them to exert control over their own future. This is all really good stuff.

The Reality

But here’s the problem, at least for the current situation in Viet Nam.

According to the article, Viet Nam is “one of the top five tea producers in the world. . . . [and their] products . . . [account for] 60 per cent of the black tea market and 40 per cent of the green tea market.”

But their tea exports, both in volume and value, have been dropping this year.

Hoang Vinh Long of the Viet Nam Tea Association explains that the tea producers:

  • haven’t built a “brand”
  • export the tea in large bags rather than as finished products geared toward individual consumers
  • are small, with little capital
  • produce tea of varying quality
  • have limited knowledge about fair trade standards—at a time when fair trade certification is highly valued by customers

For these small tea producers to meet fair trade standards, they would need to implement different production methods and improve product quality—which takes money.

Money they don’t have.

The Conundrum

So if these small tea producers could be fair trade certified, presumably their products would command higher prices, with greater export volumes, and their tea gardens would be more sustainable, affording them a better way of life.

But to do this, they need to be better educated about tea production and marketing techniques as well as improve their production methods. Which requires capital.

So yes, fair trade certification is in the best interests of the tea producers and traders in Viet Nam, but it is not so easily obtained. Awareness and education, coupled with interest in fair trade products, are a start.

Maybe our purchasing decisions can help this process along.

Increasing the demand for tea that has been grown in an environmentally sustainable way—from producers that are being treated, and that are able to act, in a socially responsible way—may produce a positive ripple effect. 

And anything that helps our earth—and more importantly, our global neighbors—is a worthy goal.

(If you need a place to start, check out TeaHaus’ Vietnam Yen Bai OP.)

Source: http://vietnamnews.vn/economy/272305/vietnamese-tea-needs-to-have-world-certification.html