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Tea production threatened by climate change

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Dec6,2023

Due to global warming, the growth of certain Taiwanese oolong tea trees, considered one of the best in the world, has slowed and producers are worried about their future . The quality and quantity of tea leaves grown are under threat.

Tea production threatened by climate change

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The Alishan Mountains produce some of the best tea in the world.

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On an exceptionally hot day in November, the sun hangs over the mountains and tea fields as far as the eye can see in the Alishan region, in the middle of the island of Taiwan. Three scientists wearing backpacks make their way through the shrubs.

National Taiwan University geography professor Choy Huang and his team go on a scientific expedition to the heart of the Alishan Mountains every two months. It is there, at an altitude of 1000 meters, that one of the best teas in the world grows, with a unique taste due to the climate: oolong tea.

Choy Huang's team installed 15 weather stations in the region three years ago to study the effects of climate change on production of tea, the most popular drink on the planet.

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The team of Professor Choy Huang studies the impact of global warming on tea cultivation in Taiwan.

We have sensors to measure several data: solar radiation, the level of precipitation, the humidity level and also the strength of the winds, explains Choy Huang. This data can be relayed and recorded in real time at the university.

When he launched his project funded by the National Science Foundation of Taiwan , he had no idea that in just three years, he would have documented significant changes.

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Threat of Taiwanese oolong tea cultivation


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Surprisingly, in the last three years we have experienced two spring droughts and a winter drought, he said.

In fact, during his visit to the Alishan Mountains in mid-November, the temperature exceeded 20 degrees Celsius, almost 10 degrees higher than the seasonal norm.

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According to Taiwan's government meteorological agency, the temperature on the island has increased by 0.29 degrees Celsius per decade since 1991, while the global average is 0.21 degrees.

As a result of these high temperatures and droughts in the Alishan mountains, although renowned for their beneficial daily mist, the harvests are less abundant and the leaves, less quality.

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In the heart of the Alishan mountains, tea is grown at more than 1000 meters above sea level.

The ideal temperature for growing tea is between 18 and 25 degrees. The shrubs require about 100 millimeters of rain on average per month.

Producers can, however, adjust by watering more and manipulating the tea to extract the best aromas. The great producers and tea masters make it a point of honor to succeed in producing good vintages despite everything.

But there are limits to what we can do, warns producer Wang Jia-Yu. We cannot completely combat the effects of climate.

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Wang Jia-Yu is a Taiwanese tea producer.

One ​​of the meteorological research stations is also installed on its land. He already fears predictions about the drop in production caused by climate change.

Wang Jia-Yu was already interested in the different elements that influence the quality of tea and he had personally noticed a warming in recent years.

My father grew tea and I wanted to return to this art, so that’s what I did, he says. But I don't rely solely on tea to make a living. It's unstable now. I made sure to diversify my income. I grow a little coffee and I run a very busy guest house in the summer.

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In addition to tea, some producers will also grow coffee plants.

Researcher Choy Huang also wants to help producers like him adapt their practices, such as abandoning the traditional farmers' calendar, a guide that has been used for ages.

We really want to adapt to this changing environment and encourage producers to try using a different approach to brewing high quality tea by relying to scientific data, he says.

From Taiwan to India, China and Kenya, tea producers all over the world are sounding the alarm. A Christian Aid report last year warned that in some places almost a quarter of production could disappear by 2050.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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