In India, until recently, tea production was something done on large tea estates, where tea was cultivated on vast tracts of land, at a large scale. In recent years, the small tea grower segment has become significant, now producing over 50% of Indian tea production. The small tea grower is defined as a farmer who cultivates tea on no more than 10 acres. Many of these small farmers lack the knowledge and inputs they need to cultivate tea that can fetch them prices that make farming economically viable.

This knowledge gap needs to be plugged. As a small tea grower focused brand, Iron Kettle has adopted agronomy interventions to bridge this gap. “No one has told these growers how to pluck or when to prune,” says Rituraj, our agronomy officer. “The Tea Board of India’s method if to measure Fine Leaf Count (FLC) which is a 1 leaf and bud or 2 leaves and bud plucking. With a Fine Leaf Count (FLC) of 60-69%, prices per kilo of green leaf can be about Rs 35-40. At 70% or higher FLC, the price will go above Rs 40. We are working with STGs to help them improve FLC, and in how plucking can help improve shoot density.”

We want to improve livelihoods of the small tea grower and recognize that this is possible only if we take the knowledge to them and help them improve how they grow and harvest tea.

For us, as a brand, working with small tea growers has some distinct advantages: since production is at a smaller scale than a large estate, tea is produced in microlots. These could be as small as 1 kilo. At this scale, we can pay particular attention to the quality of plucking and FLC, and at the factory, to the tea. Every invoice therefore has the complete attention of the team, to ensure top quality.

Because we work directly with the small tea growers, we are also able to ensure 100% traceability of the teas we offer our customers. An Iron Kettle field officer visits the tea growers and inputs all farm records on an app. Every microlot is tested in labs in Bangalore and in Europe for pesticide residue. This is usually a practice for teas exported from India, and has never been done for locally marketed teas, because it’s an additional expense to be borne by the marketer. However, we view this as critical to ensure food safety for our customers so that every tea we sell is assuredly safe, traceable, and the best we can make.