Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tea Time

At this week's Intersessional Meeting of the FAO Intergovernmental Group on Tea in Washington, the hotel provides hot water and cups, and the "captains of tea" from all over the tea-growing world bring samples.


I had the great privilege of joining this two-day meeting as part of my sabbatical, during which I am working on a two-volume reference book entitled Geography of Coffee & Tea for ABC-CLIO, publishers. I have a lot to learn about the geography of coffee and even more to learn about the geography of tea.


Having no diplomatic credentials, I was very grateful to be admitted to the meeting as an observer, and gratified to be included in one of the Working Group on Climate Change, whose official members are shown above at our (covered) poolside meeting. I was able to participate as a geographer with this group of top tea researchers from Sri Lanka, India, and Kenya (shown left to right).

We developed a report (based on our chair's discussion paper) that will guide the FAO-IGG on tea as it prepares to help tea growers around the world adapt to climate change. Building on the PRECIS regional climate model from the British Hadley Centre. Climate change and tea production are spatially quite variable, and climate varies temporally as well. Because a given cultivar of tea remains in place for 40 years or more, climate adaptation means mapping the best tea cultivars for future conditions. We have taken a small step toward using GIS to provide decision support for farmers adapting to change.

I have been doing most of my recent writing on the teas of Sri Lanka, so I was delighted to meet quite a few Sri Lankans, and to ask directly about the uses of :"Ceylon" and "Sri Lanka." The colonial name (Ceylon) of the country had so much global recognition that it is still used to refer to the tea, even though the country itself has reverted to its pre-colonial name (Sri Lanka).

As I was discussing this, Sri Lanka's trade minister invited me to a tea seminar and tasting later in the week, to hosted by the only ambassador at our meeting, the Hon. Jaliya Wickramasuriya. The event was both informative and enjoyable.

We learned about the trade in Ceylon tea, the care that is taken with protecting its reputation, and its importance to the Sri Lankan economy. We also learned about Walter's Bay, a U.S. company that maintains as much of the tea commodity chain as possible inside of Sri Lanka.This is a cost-effective way to promote social sustainability in tea processing.

At the end, we were treated to a tasting that included all of the Sri Lanka's regional appellations.


My friends at the embassy shared this video of the event, which I recommend to anyone who would like to learn more about tea. My murse and I make a cameo at 0:00:35.

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