The great British cuppa comes under threat

Boiling mad! The great British cuppa comes under threat from coronavirus as pandemic strikes plantations in the world’s biggest tea-producing regions

  •  Lockdowns in the world’s biggest tea-producing regions are threatening global supplies which means the cost of the daily brew is set to rise
  •  Experts say: ‘It is highly likely the chaos of coronavirus will affect the everyday price of a cup of tea’
  • When a strike hit Darjeeling supplies two years ago, market prices went up from £30 per kilogram to £150 and suppliers fear a similar rise could occure
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

It’s the brew the nation always turns to in times of crisis – but now even the great British cuppa is coming under threat from the coronavirus. 

Lockdowns in the world’s biggest tea-producing regions are threatening global supplies, which means the cost of the daily brew is set to rise. 

Buyers are scrambling to secure stocks of tea leaves as the pandemic strikes plantations in Kenya, the UK’s largest tea supplier, and other African countries. It has already hit major producers in India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. 

Stock image of black tea in a cup and dried leaves on wooden background

Connoisseurs of premium teas such as Darjeeling face the biggest increases. Already the first harvest of those leaves has been missed, and prices for the fragrant ‘champagne of teas’ could quadruple.

 But industry sources say that even an everyday packet of 40 tea bags could rise in price from an average of £1.35 to £1.40 at the supermarket. 

When a strike hit Darjeeling supplies two years ago, market prices went up from £30 per kilogram to £150. ‘We would expect to see the same level of increase if corona­virus affects tea harvests in the coming months,’ one expert predicted. 

Richard Smith, owner of the Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, said: ‘This is a nervous time for the market. It is highly likely the chaos of coronavirus will affect the everyday price of a cup of tea.’ 

Dave Walsh, manager of Farrer’s tea and coffee merchants in Cumbria, added: ‘There has been some hysteria among traders and we are being watchful at the moment.’ 

And Jane Pettigrew, director of the UK Tea Academy, said: ‘If tea production is hit by coronavirus, it will affect everyone in the industry.’ 

Kenya, which exports more than 62,000 tons of tea a year to the UK, is currently in lockdown although shipments are still leaving the port of Mombasa. 

A farm worker harvests tea leaves using shears at a plantation in Kenya’s Kericho highlands, Kericho county, in Kenya

About 100million cups of tea are consumed in the UK each day and, after a sharp increase in sales since the lockdown, companies are anxious to keep up with demand. 

The effect of the latest price rise might be cushioned as many firms had already stockpiled before Brexit. Big brands tend to keep at least six months of stock while smaller firms work on a 16-week turnaround. 

Tetley said it did not envisage any short-term interruption to supply but was monitoring developments. Unilever, which owns PG Tips, Liptons and Twinings, did not respond to a request for comment. 

The warning comes ahead of a bid to set a world record for the largest virtual tea party on Tuesday to raise money for the Guide Dogs charity, backed by actor Martin Clunes. 

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