The world of tea: Tea trade worldwide and in Tanzania

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Have you already had a cup of tea today? The probability that you answer this question with an enthusiastic “Yes!” is quite likely.  After all, every fifth person in Germany consumes tea every day. Since tea production is currently not possible in our latitudes (still – attention climate change!), we have to resort to the import of tea from all over the world. From a total of 63 countries, Germany imports more than 53,000 tons every year.

Tea is currently more popular than ever! In 2018 the production of tea reached a new record “Tea is by far the most consumed beverage worldwide after water,” confirms Maximilian Wittig, Managing Director of the German Tea Association. Therefore Tanzania, the second largest tea production country in Africa after Kenya, wants to push forward with its tea production. This often involves drastic measures such as the increased use of pesticides or the exploitation of plantations and their workers. In the following we will take a brief look at the history of the tea trade and its structures worldwide and in Tanzania. We will also focus on fair alternatives in the production of tea and talk with a local producer.

Background of tea trade – history, tea production and trade structures

In 2780 B.C., the invigorating effect of tea leaves was discovered in China, and so the production of tea and its triumphal procession slowly began – first towards the West and then around the whole world. Already in 2000 B.C., China profited from the trade in tea – especially through the introduction of the tea tax. Even this early Chinese tea trade functioned according to the rules of the global market economy, which is determined by competition. Today, tea production takes place in 52 countries around the world – mainly in Asia, Africa and South America. The first eight tee nations produce about 90 % of the total tea production volume; China is still the sole leader with 35 %.

How is tea made exactly? The tea production process is quite similar worldwide. The processing of the tea leaves takes place in five phases. After the tea leaves have been picked, they are “wilted” evenly on long racks for ten to 20 hours. During the subsequent rolling process, leaf cells are broken up so that the cell sap can escape. This then oxidizes during fermentation and dries on the leaves. The leaves are often additionally dried with hot air and then sorted and packaged.

Tanzania has the largest tea production in Africa after Kenya (over 100,000 tons per year). Tea production is one of the main branches of agricultural production in Tanzania. German settlers first processed tea leaves on a very small scale here in 1902. The commercial cultivation of tea began in the 1920s by the British. After Tanzania gained independence from Great Britain, the new government nationalized most of the tea factories and some tea plantations. This led to the decay of many factories, which could no longer withstand the pressure of the world market.

How does the tea trade work today worldwide and in Tanzania

Conventionally produced tea has a bitter aftertaste: pesticide pollution and exploitation on the plantations are unfortunately part of everyday life in tea production. According to its industrialization plan, Tanzania wants to increase its tea production in the next five years due to the growing global demand for tea. In addition, the tea trade is to be promoted by establishing its own tea auctions. For example, Unilever Tea Tanzania Ltd (UTT) has built an $8 million processing plant in southern Tanzania and supports farmers with best production practices, seedlings, interest-free loans and consulting services. However, the main focus will be on pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers to increase yields. 19 out of 23 tea factories in Tanzania are run by big landowners and half of the tea cultivation areas are owned by international operators. The added value for the local population in tea production is therefore almost zero in Tanzania as in many other producing countries.

Fair tea trade – What is the difference to conventional trade?

Fair tea trade differs in various criteria from this conventional trade. For example, many cooperatives like GEPA, El Puente, Weltpartner and other fair trade organizations practice the principle of direct purchase. This means that costs for intermediate trade or stock exchanges are not incurred and are passed on to the producers. Through “fair” wages, fixed purchase prices and pre-financing, small producers should at least be able to cover their living costs. The Fairtrade premium additionally invests an average of 1.30 Euros per kilogram of tea leaves in social and development projects. Fairtrade certifications such as the Fairtrade label do not guarantee a minimum wage for the producers. Further information about this can be found here: Fair trade differs enormously depending on certification and cooperative. This is exactly where our cooperation partner Kazi Yetu comes in with the Tanzania Tea Collection and takes fair trade standards to a new level. What this means for local employees is explained by an employee who works for Tanzania Tea Collection.

Interview with local Tanzania staff member Modesta of the Tanzania Tea Collection

Why did you choose to work in the position you currently hold?

I have always worked in Finance and aimed to grow into an Operations and Finance role with more responsibility to manage a team. I also enjoy working for this business because I can see the direct impact and results of my work. I can see that I am making a difference.

What did you do before you started there? 

I used to work as an accountant at a logistics company for consumer goods and other export and trade.

What kind of impact does working with sustainable tea have on your life? Did you experience any changes?

My consumer habits have changed, I now tend to purchase products that are sustainable compared to those that are not. Also, as I learn more and more about sustainable products, I’ve found myself being an ambassador and motivating others to do the same, in terms of their purchases.

Why should we talk about the history of global tea trade more often? What do you think is the responsibility of the consuming countries in the Global North?

Tea, like other food and drink products, is mostly traded by large companies, exported in bulk and packaged in the Global North. Consumers should think about the journey of their food and drinks and think about how the trade happens and who is benefiting from it.

What does a truly fair-trade mean to you?

For me, fair trade is about providing good working conditions, potential for growth, and job opportunities. Fair trade includes paying farmers well and creating work for others in a value chain.


Maybe your next cup of tea will bring the background of the international tea trade back to your mind and you will consciously decide for the fair alternative. Tanzania Tea Collection as a pioneer of fair trade in tea has many parallels and the same values as fairafric. This is, besides the taste experience, also a reason why our chocolates and the Tanzania Tea Collection harmonize so well in our new Tea o’clock Bundle.