If you’re a regular shopper here at Seibiant, either in person or online, you will probably be aware that we have a number of routes whereby we buy our teas. Where we can, we buy direct from farmers, because this is better for us, and better for the farmers and farm workers. This applies to our Japanese teas, the Assams, the oolongs. Where we haven’t been able to establish contact with farmers who can provide us with the quality we are looking for, we use large specialist wholesalers, tea merchants if you like, and this is the case especially for our ‘bulk’ teas, where we buy in large quantities, such as the breakfast teas, the Earl Greys, and the botanicals that we use for our own herbal blends. We need to have an efficient, effective set up, as we really don’t want to be running out of these teas. We also use specialist wholesalers who specialise in specific types of tea, such as the fruit tisanes, and the fine Chinese green teas, and some of the black teas, and also the Pu-erh teas.
There are a number of issues which are significant with regard to the tea supply chain, seasonality, freshness, but also the impact on the whole tea industry of changes that are taking place. The combination of Covid-19 worldwide, and Brexit nationally, have had a huge impact on shipping in terms of cost and time, and we are getting to the stage where this is having a direct impact on some of our suppliers. The Chinese and larger Japanese suppliers have all switched to using DHL which has added hugely to the cost of transport but it does mean that we get tea quicker. In India currently there are huge problems with FedEx, which I believe is due to the impact of Covid-19, but it means that there are too few drivers, resulting in delays. I placed an order with the farm in Assam some weeks ago, but they replied saying that they had issues with FedEx, and would invoice me when this was sorted, and I have still not heard back from them. I continue to contact them weekly,
These shipping complications, and the increased costs make it tempting to rely on distributors to build the tea supply chain, but the extra layers of warehousing and shipping can make it nearly impossible to deliver tea in the season it was harvested. When traditional ocean shipping is backed up for months, only going direct to the source and leaning on expensive air shipping right now can preserve seasonality, and for us, with a limited market in a little corner of North Wales, we feel this is essential. Faced with a choice of what to cut in the face of rising costs, the tea industry should not cut service and quality from the supply chain. Instead, we can cut out the extra layers of distribution, even if that means taking more complexity onto the shoulders of the tea merchant.
There is a risk that buying tea from third party wholesalers removes the tea industry too far away from farmers. The urge to rely on distributors at shipping and import level means that there is an increase in the potential to lose access to fine teas completely, to lose those direct relationships with farmers, and equally significant, lose fresh seasonal teas, and lose customer relationships.
This blog began as a way of explaining the difficulties we and our farm friends in Assam are facing currently, but has ended up being an honest and transparent explanation of the difficulties in the tea trade currently. Education has always been part of our role at Seibiant, and this is no different.