Climate change is real: Assam tea did not see a second flush this year

Measures to mitigate the impact of climate change on the tea industry need to be urgently undertaken, say tea experts.

Assam tea is generally known for the second flush (period when the tea plants start growing new leaves to be harvested), which comes in May-June and is characterised by its boldness and robustness and is topped with classic flavours of malt and woody astringency. It is valued for its rich taste, bright liquors and is considered to be one of the choicest teas in the world.

Tea planters in Assam say the pure second flush character is missing. Tea is the second most consumed drink globally after water.

“The character of the second flush variety for which Assam tea is known was missing this time. There have been changes in climate for the last few years but this year has been drastic,” Romen Chandra Gogoi, tea taster at Tocklai Tea Research Institute in Assam, said. There was deficit rainfall in Assam this time.

“Climate in Assam is not following a particular pattern. Earlier, one could predict the weather but not anymore,” Samar Jyoti  Chaliha, a tea planter in Upper Assam, said.

Another one said: “Climatic changes have been so abrupt that sometimes we don’t even know that the second flush has come.” 

Vivek Goenka, the chairman of Indian Tea Association, said:

The tea industry in Assam and Bengal is facing the consequences of climate change. Erratic weather patterns, prolonged periods of drought, prolonged periods of rain, and a lot more. Measures to mitigate the impact need to be urgently undertaken and also adapting to the new normal.

The conditions were so bad that the Tocklai Tea Research Institute had to issue a special bulletin on management of adverse stress conditions due to drought-like situations.

The special bulletin released by Tocklai said:

The new season of 2021 has been a difficult year for the tea industry of Assam so far due to high deficit of rainfall both in quantity and number of rainy days. The average maximum temperature is also comparatively higher. The crop harvest of the tea estates across Assam has been badly affected due to the prevailing moisture stress conditions resulting in stunted growth, wilting, defoliation and die back of branches in varying degrees which has even led to withdrawal of plucking temporarily in some tea estates.

Modelling studies have shown that by 2050, the optimal suitability of tea growing regions in Kenya, Sri Lanka and China will be reduced by 26.2 per cent, 14 per cent and 4.7 per cent, respectively and by 2070 suitability in Sri Lanka will decline by nearly 30 per cent.

Assam is the most highly climate vulnerable state in the country, according to a climate vulnerability index done by non-profit Council on Energy, Environment and Water. It has a vulnerability index score of 0.616, followed by Andhra Pradesh with 0.483 and Maharashtra with 0.478.

The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) in its briefing document on Climate and Tea said climate change was having serious implications for the tea sector and for the farmers and communities who relied on it for their living.

“Its effects will impact how and where tea can be grown and pose a significant threat to the livelihoods of millions,” it added.

The ETP is a membership organisation working with tea companies, development organisations and governments to improve the lives of tea workers, farmers and their environment.