Archive for the ‘Tea’ Category

Steenbergs: progress at 11 Hallikeld Close

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Progress on Steenbergs’ new factory is moving along decently since April.  The joists have been put in for the second floor and most of the flooring.

The building work has created a mass of extra space that can be used to store our tea.  Building control have agreed the structural calculations, standards for fire rating and the shape and positioning of the staircase to the second floor.

We should get delivery this week of a new labelling machine from Norpak in Bradford to help with the growth in demand for our organic spices and seasonings – especially the mini jars that are going well in Abel & Cole’s recipe boxes and for gifts sets.  A new packing machine is also being built for us at Gainsborough Engineering in Lincolnshire which should help underpin interest in Steenbergs loose leaf teas and herbal teas.

A couple of photos are below:

How Steenbergs Tests For Allergens And Other Nasties

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Steenbergs’ story is one of hunting for the best quality, cleanest cooking flavours you can find, from all round the world bought in the most respectful way possible”.

For us, this means organically farmed, fairly traded and from suppliers that have been certified by food safety and quality schemes (ideally, BRC or ISO 22000), and food that respects your desire for junk-free ingredients – no allergens, no chemicals, no harm to nature, no “heads or tails”, no messing with employees, no disrespect of suppliers and no lies.

That’s all a given.  We test for microbial contaminants and chemicals from microbial chemicals or other contamination – mycotoxins, ochratoxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,  chlorates and perchlorates.  Today, for example, I have been testing a sample of packed products for water activity levels to check these are in the expected range.

But most enquiries that we get are about allergens.  That’s a more complicated answer.

Firstly, we process and store allergens separately from standard ingredients, using clean and dedicated equipment for allergens.

Secondly, we buy from suppliers who say that they follow allergen segregation procedures, and are BRC or ISO 22000 (as above).

Thirdly, we have internal and external testing programmes that check for: the presence of allergens on our equipment or in the building; and the presence of allergens in our packed products.  We use test kits for gluten (GlutenTox Pro) and for mustard, peanuts, sesame, treenuts and (less regularly) milk and soy (Neogen).  External testing of packed products and (also) of our equipment for allergen proteins or DNA is done by Eurofins and Neogen Laboratories.

Unfortunately because of the way of our products are grown, it is simply not possible to be absolutely certain that allergens don’t get into the supply chain somewhere, somehow – whether  growing alongside our spices and herbs or processed in the same factories at origin.  So we don’t pretend that they could never be there, but we do our best to make sure our products are as clean as possible for you.

We also get asked about potential other contaminants – agrochemicals, colours and radiation.

Almost all our ingredients are organic and so there’s a legal chain of custody that proves our spices to be organic.  For both organic and non-organic products, we then get pesticide residue tests of the raw materials to check they meet EU requirements.  Then, we have a testing programme for packed products covering: heavy metals (arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury), illegal colours, pesticides and radiation.

We accept it’s not fool-proof but we’re getting there.

Overall, we take the integrity of our ingredients very seriously indeed and are constantly fussing about how to prove to ourselves that our products are as pure as pure can be, and that no one in our supply chain is duping us.

Notes (for those who want more detail):

Here’s a detailed overview of our testing programme:

Allergen, chemical and physical contaminant testing procedures

Test Provider Rationale
Internal tests Done on randomly selected packed products regularly throughout year
Gluten GlutenTox Pro Breadcrumbs: cross-contamination because of poor segregation and clean-down procedures
Internal tests Monthly programme of environmental swabs to test for contaminants in production and changing areas
Allergens 3M Clean-Trace (Allergen) Swabs Cleaning: checks efficiency of clean down for down to 3µg of protein on surfaces
Gluten GlutenTox Pro gliadin swabs Breadcrumbs: cross-contamination because of poor segregation and clean-down procedures
Milk Neogen lateral flow test kits Not onsite: cross-contamination from outside
Mustard Neogen lateral flow test kits Mustard: cross-contamination because of poor segregation and clean-down procedures
Peanut Neogen lateral flow test kits Not onsite: cross-contamination from outside
Sesame Neogen lateral flow test kits Sesame, zaatar: cross-contamination because of poor segregation and clean-down procedures
Soy Neogen lateral flow test kits Not onsite: cross-contamination from outside
Treenuts (Almond, cashew, hazelnut, pecan, pistachio, walnut) Neogen lateral flow test kits Not onsite: cross-contamination from outside
External tests Done on randomly selected packed products throughout year
Allergens (Elisa) Intertek Stoke; Neogen Foodsafe, labelling, authenticity (incl. vegetarian)
Allergens (DNA) Eurofins Foodsafe, labelling, authenticity
Chlorates; perchlorates Eurofins Foodsafe, authenticity (organic)
Colours (Illegal dyes) Eurofins; Northern Hygiene (Staffordshire Scientific Services) Authenticity (organic), foodsafe
Ethylene oxide Northern Hygiene (Staffordshire Scientific Services) Foodsafe, authenticity (organic)
Heavy metals Northern Hygiene (Staffordshire Scientific Services) Foodsafe
Fish and meat Eurofins (DNA); Neogen Authenticity (halal, kosher, vegetarian)
Mycotoxins Northern Hygiene (Staffordshire Scientific Services) Foodsafe
PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) Eurofins Foodsafe
Pesticides Eurofins; Northern Hygiene (Staffordshire Scientific Services) Authenticity (organic), foodsafe
Radiation Eurofins Authenticity (organic)


Steenbergs Update on 11 Hallikeld Close

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Developments at Steenbergs new unit have been in fits and starts.

First coats of paint have been done and meeting room finished, copper for phones and optical fibre (80Mbit/s download, 20Mbit/s upload) connected to building then internal fibre to broadband hub point all in, plus computer cabling and electrical wiring all in.

But studio kitchen just started yesterday, smaller kitchen not yet begun, and the structural engineer is still to come on site to look at building.  Slow progress but we’ll get there.

Studio kitchen started

Studio kitchen started


Time for Tea with Henrietta Inman

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Time for Tea – our regular chat with a fellow foodie.

This month we’re delighted to chat to Henrietta Inman, who celebrates the publishing of her fabulous new cookbook Clean Cakes on Thursday 18th February. For some of her delicious recipes try her Chocolate & Hazelnut Torte with Honey Praline Ganache or the Rhubarb & Orange Polenta Cupcakes – all free from gluten, dairy & refined sugar.

  1. What is your favourite tea to set you up for the day first thing in the morning?

detox-herbal-tea-loose-leaf-infusionFirst thing in the morning, even before tea, I have a glass of water to rehydrate and mug of hot water with lemon, a little apple cider vinegar, a pinch of cayenne and a little turmeric to cleanse my system and wake me up, I love it. With my breakfast, I love having warm water with some slices of fresh lemon, ginger and turmeric. If I have tea, I love Steenbergs’ Detox tea, a beautiful blend of dandelion leaves, fennel, peppermint, red clover and nettle.

  1.  What is your favourite tea to relax you in the afternoon?matcha tea open

I love Matcha green tea in the afternoon. It relaxes me but also gives a great energy boost to push me through to the end of the working day.

  1. What do you like best about Steenbergs teas?

I adore Steenbergs teas because you have such an amazing array of them and your herbal infusions are like no other I have ever tasted. In supermarkets, one often finds quite similar blends of herbal teas, but Steenbergs are all so original and always contain those extra special ingredients; take Happiness, for example, you open the packet and you are hit by the most beautiful bright yellow marigold petals, gleaming red pieces of rosehip and shades of green from peppermint, lemon verbena and spearmint… it looks so pretty when it’s being brewed too and it tastes incredible with a delicate and soft floral flavour; it’s very calming and makes me smile as I drink it. One often finds digestive blends with peppermint and liquorice, but Steenbergs add anise seed and orange peel to their Digestive Delight making it so original and very good indeed… they all do what they say on the tin, so to speak, and that’s what I like best about them!

  1. Which Steenbergs tea would you most like to try and why?

New Herbal Tea selection HRWith my book coming out on Thursday 18th February, I’ve had a lot of work on over the last few months with promoting it and building up a buzz. It’s been great and I’m so excited about its release, but after all this work during the day, as well as regular cake orders, I find it quite hard to switch off in the evenings and sometimes when my head hits the pillow it’s still buzzing with thoughts. So I’d love to try Steenbergs’ Dreamtime to help me sleep. As soon as I read the ingredients out to my mother who knows a lot about plants, she said, ‘That will knock you out!’, with St John’s wort, valerian, skullcap and oatstraw to name just a few of the sleep-inducing ingredients! How lovely!

  1. Who would you most like to have a cup of tea with and why?

My granny because she didn’t get to see my book before it was Tortepublished. I’d like to have a cup of tea with her, I’d make her my hazelnut and chocolate torte, she loved chocolate cakes, and we’d sit, drink, eat and read my book together for the most wonderful afternoon tea party a deux.

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Ancient Roots with Modern Benefits – Steenbergs’ Top 10 Superfoods Selection

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

With Gwyneth Paltrow extolling the virtues of Matcha Tea and Victoria Beckham tweeting about the benefits of Bee Pollen, superfoods have never been more on trend.  Now through partnerships with like-minded artisan producers, Steenbergs offers a full complement of powders, seeds and teas to boost the body and get you set for 2016.

Greens Organic Smoothie with Bee Pollen

Greens Organic Smoothie with Bee Pollen

With the rise in popularity of smoothies and juices as foods on the go, as well as the increase in vegan and special dietary regimes, there is now, more than ever, a need to make sure that our bodies are getting enough of the right minerals, vitamins and proteins. Superfoods, especially in powder or seed form, are a quick and easy way of adding those much-needed nutrients.

Greens Organic owners Morris & Nicky, who have been vegetarian for most of their lives, take superfoods to boost the vitamins and minerals in their diet.  “All the superfoods we stock we take ourselves, so we know each of the products inside out…and our favourite has always been the Spanish organic bee pollen.”

Axel, who set up Steenbergs in 2003 with his wife Sophie, drink a cup of matcha tea to kick start the day and often make a turmeric tea to ward off colds.  Axel also uses maca and baobab to boost his morning smoothies. “The baobab has an unusual tart tropical flavour which is delicious when blended with other fruits.”

Here are Axel’s current Top 10 favourite superfoods:

  1. Chlorella – a blue-green algae that has the highest content of chlorophyll of any food on the planet! Chlorella is an easy way to get your ‘Super Green’ boost each day.

Greens Organic organic Chlorella Powder: £18.99 for 250g

  1. Bee Pollen – Greens Organic organic bee pollen comes from the unspoilt mountainous regions of north western Spain, using natural, organic bee-keeping methods to ensure the health of the bees and the purity of their pollen. Organic bee pollen contains high amounts of Vitamin B1, which contributes to the maintenance of normal skin.

Greens Organic Raw Bee Pollen: £13.99 for 250g

  1. Spirulina – a blue-green algae that’s over 3 billion years old, and one of the most nutritious superfoods on the planet.

Naturya organic Spirulina Powder: £11.99 for 200g

  1. Moringa – made from the naturally dried leaf of the moringa tree (or Miracle Tree), Moringa is a rich source of plant protein and is high in 10 essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus -all of which are great for normal energy release.

Aduna organic Moringa Powder: £7.99 for 100g

  1. Chia – Chia seeds are an ancient South American superfood. Their very subtle nutty taste allows you to add them to absolutely anything that you eat or drink – helping to boost your nutritional, antioxidants and Omega 3 intake. Sprinkle Chia seeds on salads, cereals, yogurt, even soup, or add a sprinkling in your baking – great in bread, cakes, cookies and biscuits.

Raw Chia Seeds: £6.99 for 230g

  1. Baobab – Organic Baobab fruit pulp and seed powder is harvested from the inside of the coconut-like fruit of the mythical African Baobab tree. This fine powder is full of essential nutrients and packed with vitamins & minerals. It has an exceptionally high level of fibre (45g), and recent research has shown that baobab has a very high antioxidant level. It’s delicious as a flavouring in smoothies, yoghurts, cereals and even jam.

Of The Earth Superfoods Raw Organic Baobab: £9.99 for 150g

  1. Maca – is a source of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, zinc and iron which all contribute to normal energy-yielding metabolism. Add to baking for a smooth malty flavour, or smoothies for a tangy taste of Peru. Enjoy as a part of a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet.

Naturya Organic Maca Root Powder: £19.99 for 300g

  1. Turmeric – Used in Chinese and Indian medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to reduce infection, turmeric isturmeric-powder-organic-fairtrade-40g high in anti-oxidants. Grown as an annual, it looks similar to ginger and galangal, with the powdered organic Fairtrade turmeric being a bright yellow with a distinct earthy aroma and a pleasing, sharp, bitter, spicy and lingering depth of flavour. Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Turmeric comes from an organic and Fairtrade co-operative in the Kandy region of Sri Lanka.

Steenbergs organic Fairtrade Turmeric: £2.60 for 40g;

  1. Matcha Tea – Steenbergs Organic Matcha Tea is highly matcha tea openregarded for its health properties due to its relatively high levels of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and nutrients. Grown in the Nishio area of Japan, where Japanese Zen Buddhist monks and the Japanese Imperial Family have drunk it for hundreds of years, the leaves are grown in a way that produces extra amounts of chlorphyll and natural amino acids and are then ground down to a bright green fine powder.

Steenbergs organic Matcha Tea: £16.75 for 30g;

  1. Organic White Tea –although harvested from torganic-white-tea-loose-leaf-bai-mu-dan-caddyhe same plant, white tea has higher anti-oxidant levels and less caffeine than green tea, due to minimal processing, helping to promote overall health and wellbeing. Steenbergs Organic White Tea is an Organic Bai Mu Dan – literally White Peony – an organic white tea from the Fujian Province of China.

Steenbergs organic White Tea: £5.65 for 50g;

All products listed above are available at  To view the full range of health boosting superfoods available at Steenbergs, please visit:

We wish you a healthy and energy-filled 2016!


Monday, November 30th, 2015

Steenbergs organic Happy Hippy Herbal Tea

Steenbergs Rose & Bergamot Black Tea (Persian Style)

This time around our tea tasters had the joy of sampling two very different teas: one of our newly packaged herbal teas, Happy Hippy, to uplift and destress and one of our flavoured black teas Rose & Bergamot, a light brewing floral tea.


organic-happy-hippy-herbal-tea-loose-leafSteenbergs organic Happy Hippy Herbal Tea is an uplifting and stress busting blend of rose, chamomile and mint designed to lift flagging spirits and fight those wintry blues or mid-afternoon blues.  The rose petals smell and taste like a cupful of roses, uplifting for your nerves and spirit, the chamomile is light, mildly bitter and herbal (with hints of apples) and is calming, while the mints are soothing and refreshing.

One of Steenbergs’ organic teas, it contains organic chamomile flowers, organic rose petals, organic peppermint and organic spearmint.

Sophie comments: “This is one of my favourite teas. It looks beautiful with the chamomile and rose flowers but is also a delicious relaxing caffeine free herbal tea which we all drink in the evening.”

This tea was also a favourite with our taster panel, with 80% saying that they really liked at and 67% saying that they would drink it again.  One taster described it as ‘all of my favourite teas in one – awesomeness!’ Many commented that they loved the beautiful smell and colourful appearance of the tea, and with the new see-through panel on the packaging, we hope customers will be equally impressed.

The name of the tea was cause for comment with the majority of our panel (70%) really enjoying the uplifting and fun element to it.

Chamomile was one of the strong flavours picked out, along with rose and mint although strong hints of meadows, flowers and hay came though.  This was then reflected in where people imagined themselves to be with eyes closed, as 57% imagined themselves outside in a garden or meadow.

Overall 90% of our tea tasters really enjoyed the tea, with 90% describing it as ‘delicious’ (47%) or ‘pleasant’.  Drinking the tea also made 89% of our panellists feel relaxed and contented – so it seems to be doing its job!

Happy Hippy Tea



rose-and-bergamot-black-tea-125g-persian-styleSteenbergs Rose & Bergamot Black Tea is a light brewing beautiful floral tea made with Ceylon and Chinese teas, which is ideal for the afternoon or evening.  Axel’s idea behind this tea was to make something evocative of classical Persia – tea and damask rose with hints of orange blossom.  “I imagine fun walking in gardens with tinkling fountains and peacocks strutting their fancy stuff.  So I have devised this recipe that uses light black teas, plenty of rose petals, cornflower petals and orange blossom, then added some cardamom and bergamot for that orange and sweet cardamom taste.  Relax and enjoy life with pleasant dreams.”

This was a very popular tea with our panel with over 90% really enjoying it, describing it as ‘a lovely afternoon brew’; ‘really very good and pretty’; ‘perfume is amazing’.  Interestingly only 58% of our panel were regular drinkers of flavoured black tea so maybe we have some converts!

It was definitely seen as an afternoon (53%) or evening drink (18%), with only 8% drinking it in the mornings.

When asked to highlight words that they felt best described this Persian style black tea, the favourite description was ‘floral’ (24%), with ‘delicious’ (21%) close behind. ‘Mellow’, ‘exotic’, ‘refreshing’ and ‘light’ all featured highly as well.

Regarding the flavours and aroma, rose and bergamot were predominant tastes and smells but cardamom also ranked high up on everyone’s taste buds.  Some of you did find that a bit strong but the majority could be summed up by this comment: ‘The balance of flavours is spot on. I don’t like Earl Grey but I love this’.


STEENBERGS TEA TASTER PANEL Morning Brew herbal tea & organic Fairtrade Earl Grey Tea

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Our tea taster panel had a delicious choice of teas this time, with a delicate organic Fairtrade Earl Grey and one of our new herbal tea blends, Morning Brew.  We had some great comments on both teas, although 63% of you did prefer the Earl Grey.  Read on to find out more…


About Morning Brew:

morning brewSteenbergs Organic Morning Brew Herbal tea is an organic caffeine-free herbal blend created for Sophie as a decaff morning herbal brew. It is hand crafted and packed by us to Axel’s special recipe from organic redbush, organic oatstraw, organic ginger, organic cardamom, organic cinnamon and organic orange peel. The redbush provides the body, the oatstraw is uplifting and the spices add a zing and a spring to your step.

“I start every day with a mug of this tasty morning brew without milk – it starts my day perfectly,” says

Since we sent out the samples to our lovely tea taste panel, we have made a couple of changes to our Morning Brew.  Firstly we have managed to find organic oatstraw so we can make Morning Brew completely organic – hooray!  Secondly, we have relaunched our herbal teas in brand new practical packaging to make it easier to see the delicious blends.  We’d love to know what you think…

What did you think of Morning Brew?

Given the name ‘Morning’ Brew and the blend of uplifting herbs, it was interesting to see that only 29% would drink it just in the morning, with the majority happy to drink it at any time of the day (56%) and 9% in the evening.  Only a tiny minority didn’t like the blend.

morning brew worditout

The vast majority of our tea tasters enjoy herbal tea on a regular basis (88%), with 77% rating it excellent or good. When asked to describe how it made you feel we were delighted to find that ‘refreshed’, ‘invigorating’ and ‘energised’ were frequent words, as though was ‘relaxed’ – how good to feel both at the same time!

morning brew descriptions

Although very positive about the tea, it wouldn’t be the majority of our panel’s first drink of the day, many of you preferring a caffeinated drink such as coffee or black tea to give you that much-needed kick start.  Maybe it doesn’t go well with toast which it what the majority of our panel have for breakfast.  We particularly liked the sound of ‘toast with a savoury topping – goats cheese & honey or peanut butter & black pepper’ – delicious!


About Steenbergs Earl Grey:

organic-fairtrade-earl-grey-tea-loose-leaf-125g-tiSteenbergs Organic Fairtrade Earl Grey Tea is a deliciously light and fragrant classically scented organic black tea.  It comes from the Greenfield organic Tea Estate which lies between 5000ft and 6000ft above sea level in the Uva Highlands in central Sri Lanka. We pay a premium for the social welfare of the 770 people on this Greenfield Tea Estate. Visit our About FAIRTRADE  page for more information.

Sri Lanka is a jewel of a tropical island, located just above the equator with perfect growing conditions for organic Fairtrade tea, the climate is temperate, but rainy. Uva tea is regarded by the Japanese as the best of all Ceylon teas and we tend to agree. It produces a pale liquor with a slightly astringent taste that works very well with the flowery Bergamot flavour.

We use Greenfield organic Fairtrade Orange Pekoe grade tea leaves as its base, which compliments the sweet, citrus flavour of bergamot oil. We only use 100% organic bergamot oil for flavouring. The story is that in 1830 the second Earl Grey was presented with the recipe for this tea during a diplomatic mission to China.

What did you think of our Earl Grey?

With 78% of our panel rating the tea either Excellent or Good, here were some of the lovely comments you gave us on our Earl Grey:


“Earl grey is a winner in my books, again down to the taste but I loved it!

“Even the last cup from the pot is lovely.” “It hits the spot.”

“Rarely drink Earl Grey – but this is amazing! Love the large tea leaves.”

However some of you were less enamoured and felt that the tea was not as intense or flavoursome as you would have liked.

Here are some of the flavour and aroma descriptions that you came up with.  It’s interesting to see that both ‘strong’ and ‘mild’ featured heavily, although ‘delicate’, ‘light’ and ‘citrus’ were definitely the main adjectives used.

Earl grey worditout

Of our taster panel, 59% were already regular Earl Grey drinkers, enjoying Steenbergs but also several other brands.  Over half of our panel drank the Earl Grey without milk and of those, 26% drank their black tea with lemon, with a small handful added sugar or honey to their tea.  If milk was added is was most likely to be cows milk (76%) although a variety of other milks were drunk including soya, almond & goat’s; although of those who drank both, several preferred cow’s milk in their tea but non dairy on cereal.

It was interesting to see that the vast majority of our panel enjoy their tea from a tea pot, with 72% feeling it is a ‘must’ for an enjoyable tea experience.  A tea bag versus loose leaf tea was another interesting debate and really boiled down to time.  54% definitely prefer loose leaf, with 20% preferring bags and 26% using either depending no how much time they had.

58% of our panel also enjoyed tea as their evening drink of choice, although 76% of those chose a decaffeinated herbal tea to wind down.  14% though felt that a glass of wine or a G&T was a much better way to spend an evening and 12% chose a soothing milky drink.

In conclusion, loose leaf tea in a lovely tea pot at the weekend with friends, or whilst reading or watching TV, was agreed to be a very relaxing way to enjoy a cuppa!

My Thoughts on Wages of Tea Pickers in India

Saturday, September 26th, 2015
Tea Picking In Darjeeling

Tea Plucker in Darjeeling, India

I have prevaricated about writing about the recent BBC investigation into conditions on some Assam tea estates, but felt that I really had to write something.  I did give a 2 minute response on BBC Radio York, but that was a tongue-tied minute or two.

I was dismayed by the conditions and experiences of tea workers shown in File on Four’s investigation.  But I was not surprised.  We (that’s everybody) all know, deep down, that tea is a product founded during colonialism and continued under unequal power relations.

Isn’t that why Fairtrade was started in the first place? Isn’t that part of the rationale behind the Ethical Tea Partnership, Tea2030 and the Rainforest Alliance?  Doesn’t Oxfam campaign on policies of unfair pay, unequal power and poor conditions within the tea industry all the time?

Yet tea remains an industry dominated by multi-national corporations, many with their own plantations – Twinings and Fortnum & Mason by the Weston Family; Lipton and PG Tips by Unilever; and Tea Pigs and Tetley Tea by Tata and so on.

However, while Oxfam released a report on wages in the tea industry in 2013, not much seems to have happened since.  Tea workers in Assam earned INR 115 versus a minimum wage of INR 177 (BBC, 2015), as against INR 89 and INR 159 respectively in 2012 (Ethical Consumer, 2013).  I think the ideas of the tea industry are sensible but far too gently paced, and the tea majors could work much quicker to transform the social conditions of the tea industry.  Tea2030 includes all the key UK players, so it is not as if they don’t have the power nor the management know-how to undertake change?

I must admit to a feeling of powerlessness ourselves . Firstly, as a micro-tea business, we sell less tea than your average Starbucks outlet.  So we must rely on the social standards set by outside agencies when buying our teas – Fairtrade, Organic and UTZ.  And I did naively think that by buying mainly Fairtrade teas we would be automatically protected from low wages, but this only requires a minimum wage to be paid with the commitment to move towards a living wage.  But what we don’t want, or expect to be providing, is certified poverty through Steenbergs-branded products.

So I have double-checked wages, conditions and child labour at the main suppliers of the teas we buy tea; these are summarised below.  We have been assured that no children are employed in any of the plantations, and that Indian law requires that no-one under 18 years old can be employed on plantations.

Tables on (i) Wages at Tea Plantations from which Steenbergs sources its main teas; (ii) Social conditions at those tea plantations

Analysis of Daily Pay Rates At Indian And Sri Lankan Tea Estates In 2015

Table describing social and environmental conditions at certian tea estates in India and Sri Lanka

It is up to us to address these issues by how we (in Britain, Europe and the USA) trade.  We must be mindful of that the rules and laws in India, for example, are for them to determine rather than for us to seek to impose any neo-colonial views onto them from outside.Which begs the questions: (i) why were 14 year olds working on Assam tea plantations if the law is no-one below 18 years old can work.  I accept that extreme poverty was the underlying reason given, which relates back to the inadequacy of wages paid and insufficient safety nets when wage-earners become ill or incapacitated; (ii) how are wages calculated?; (iii) where are the unions to protect the workers on  the tea estates in the BBC report?

My suspicions are as follows:

  • Minimum wages for plantation workers are lower than normal workers because they are meant to be provided with housing and ancillary housing-related and social benefits. However, these social benefits are expected to be on top of the minimum wage rather than deducted from it.  This means that some workers are being hit twice, i.e. by a lower minimum wage then having benefits-in-kind deducted, meaning very little cash is actually earned.
  • Many of the workers are regarded as itinerant, casual or whatever you wish to call them, so perhaps they do not have the benefit of trade union representation. Perhaps worryingly pickers are so poor that they cannot pay the unions anything, so fall even outside their interests.  It really would be worrying if workers could be regarded so poor that they were not getting union representation on a pro bono basis.  Unions are important to act as a bulwark against potentially stronger interests of the tea owners.
  • There is no living wage calculated for tea workers. While I accept that Britain is only just moving to a living wage in 2016, why has neither Fairtrade nor the Ethical Tea Partnership come up with a figure for a living wage?  This would at least underpin any criticism of pay in the sector.  Even saying that all pluckers must be paid the minimum wage in cash without deductions and all benefits to be on top would be a big protection.  Much of the issue seems to lie with how the benefits are valued – so a house is worth so many rupees, but who values it? and what value does it have without a working toilet, no potable water and a leaking roof – little or none?
  • Perhaps we are all guilty of normalising the status quo. Quaint, picturesque pictures of pluckers in local dress are good photos (as above), but like farmers in Africa or Eastern Europe these pretty images hide the poverty and hardship of actually toiling on the land.  Perhaps we feel this is how it is and feel powerless to change the system.  Perhaps we feel disconnected from the pluckers in India, Sri Lanka and Kenya, yet we are connected directly to them through what we pay for the tea on retailers’ shelves.  Should we just accept we pay too little for our cuppa?

Overall, I know this is a very complex area, with many nuances, but we should all feel more responsible for how we spend our money and the impacts our purchases can have on those who make the products in China, India and the UK.  We cannot always shrug our shoulders and say it is someone else’s problem.

What we will do in the short term is make sure we ask the right questions of our suppliers, which I admit we have naively not been doing.

So it will not just be questions about the environment, but also about pay, working conditions and union representation, because even if Steenbergs is a relatively powerless micro-business we can at least make do better in making sure our tea comes from sources that seem to be addressing wages and treating their people humanely, seriously and responsibly.

Top 5 tea picks – chosen by Axel Steenberg

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Axel’s top 5 tea picks – loose leaf

We (Sophie and I) both drink a lot of tea – all loose leaf and Steenbergs. We take our current favourites away with us on holiday and when we are away for the weekend. (Although depending where we are going we also may take the odd loose leaf tea infuser). What we drink varies on the day, how the day is going, the time of day and who we are with.

Axel’s top picks for tea at the moment are:

Organic English Breakfast tea – I start the morning early with a large pot of our organic and Fairtrade English Breakfast tea. It sets me up for the day

Organic Gunpowder green tea – a traditional Chinese green tea – whose leaves look like little shots of gunpowder before they are immersed in water. You only need a few grains to make a wonderfully refreshing cup of tea. I drink this for a large part of the day, along with jasmine tea.

Organic Jasmine green tea – another traditional Chinese green tea – this time flavoured with jasmine. Again, you don’t need much of the leaf to create a wonderful infusion. I can drink this all day long, along with the gunpowder tea.

Organic 1st Flush Darjeeling Puttabong tea – It’s one of the most delicious Darjeeling I’ve tasted for a couple of years and is a real treat.

Chillax infusion – a calming herbal tea we designed to dissipate life’s stresses. We developed its unique relaxing herbal blend with oatstraw, St John’s wort, lime flower, skullcap, chamomile, red clover, catnip and lemon balm. Lemon balm, oatstraw and St John’s wort lifts your flagging spirits, while the catnip, chamomile, lime, red clover and skullcap soothe those angsty nerves.

For more views on teas, look at the Steenbergs Time for Tea columns, where we talk to people about what they love most about tea. Alternatively we also have the feedback from the Steenbergs tea panels – where customers are asked for their views on different teas throughout the year.

Matcha Chai Smoothie – A Morning Pick-Me-Up

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

I was feeling a bit jaded this morning, so I needed a pick-me-up to kick start the morning.

Rather than making myself a strong black tea, I reckoned on tweaking my Cacao Smoothie Recipe and came up with this Matcha Chai Smoothie.  It could easily have been called a M+M smoothie for Matcha and Maca but it might have disappointed those hoping for a really sweet candy drink.

Matcha Green Tea Smoothie, great for a healthy morning pick-me-up

Matcha Green Tea Smoothie, great for a healthy morning pick-me-up

This is an adult smoothie, and not something that everyone will go for; but it did the trick for me.

I used the same core of almond and coconut milk for a dairy-free base, with banana, almond butter and flax seeds for the carbohydrate and protein body.

To these, I flavoured with some maca root powder and 1 teaspoon of organic matcha tea.  You can double or halve the matcha, depending on how much you like its slightly marine-like flavour.

I used a bit more maple syrup than usual.  This toned down the matcha flavour.  You’re welcome to reduce that, or switch to a honey sweetener.  You could use agave, but I am not so keen on agave – it’s very sweet and more processed than I like.

For a sugar free version, I removed the maple syrup/honey and replaced it with half a teaspoon of vanilla powder.  This was really tasty and a good alternative if you’re trying to cut out sugar from your diet.

Matcha chai smoothie

100ml almond milk
100ml coconut milk
1 chopped banana
1 tbsp almond butter
1 tbsp flax seeds
½ tsp chai masala spices
1 tsp maca powder
1½ tsp matcha tea
2 tsp maple syrup or honey

Simple combine all the ingredients into a blender.  Whizz until smooth, then enjoy.

Sugar-free matcha chai smoothie

100ml almond milk
100ml coconut milk
1 chopped banana
1 tbsp almond butter
1 tbsp flax seeds
½ tsp chai masala spices
1 tsp maca powder
1½ tsp matcha tea
½-1 tsp vanilla powder

Simple combine all the ingredients into a blender.  Whizz until smooth, then enjoy.