Tygh Walters (Piedmont Tea Co.) Interviews Nigel Melican (Teacraft Ltd.)

By Tygh Walters | Uncategorized

May 04

On the eve of the World Tea Expo in Long Beach, CA., it is our pleasure to share with you our interview with international tea consultant, expert, and US League of Tea Growers founding member, Nigel Melican. Nigel gives us his take on the future of US-grown tea and talks about some of the keys to success for US tea farmers..

Show Notes:

Nigel Melican

email: nigel@teacraft.com

Nothing But Tea Ltd. http://www.nbtea.co.uk

Tea Craft Ltd. http://teacraft.com

US League of Tea Growers

http://usteagrowers.com

Become a member of the USLTG: https://usleagueofteagrowers.wildapricot.org/widget/join-us

Tocklai Tea Research Association
http://www.tocklai.net

World Tea Expo
http://www.worldteaexpo.com

The Great Mississippi Tea Company
http://www.greatmsteacompany.com

Follow our progress and subscribe to the Piedmont Tea Co.’s email newsletter…

Interview Transcription

PTC: How’s it going everybody, today is May 1st, 2015, and this is Tygh Walters of the Piedmont Tea Company.

What you’re about to hear is a short interview with Nigel Melican, an experienced international tea consultant and one of the numerous founding members of the US League of Tea Growers, a non-profit organization striving to support, advance, and connect aspiring US-tea growers.

I first met Nigel at the “tea growers roundup”, a meeting of Tea Growers, retailers, supporters, and enthusiasts hosted by Jason McDonald of the Great Mississippi Tea Company earlier this year in February 2015.

If you’re interested in making your bold mark in the tea story of the United States, then join us, and show your support by becoming a member of the US League of Tea Growers. You can find links to become a member in the show notes, or just go to usteagrowers.com

The United States League of Tea Growers strives to connect the increasing number of US tea growers while collaboratively sharing resources, research and information regarding.   By working together, we hope to achieve:

  • Plant husbandry knowledge
  • Development of “best  practices” know how
  • Development of appropriate automation
  • Product and process innovation
  • Research trials of US conditions
  • Gain/Create access to cultivars specific to US requirements
  • Promotion of US grown teas
  • Development/Promotion of agri-tourism
We encourage you to be a part of our information sharing efforts and welcome your feedback and questions as a valued member of the US League of Tea Growers!

If you’d like to learn more about the Piedmont Tea Company, go to  PiedmontTea.com and opt-in to our email list to follow along in our progress, or you can like our page on Facebook.

Finally, if you’re planning to attend the 2015 World Tea Expo, in Long Beach, California, you have the opportunity to hear Nigel give two presentations. His first presentation is Thursday, May 7th from 12:30 TO 1:30 PM, titled “Tea’s Dynamic Duo, Caffeine and Theanine.” Nigel’s second presentation will be Friday. May 8th, titled, “Growing Tea Commercially in the USA.”

Again, you can find links to all of this information in the show notes, and/or go to usteagrowers.com. Thank you so much for listening, and now please enjoy your interview with Nigel Melican of Nothing But Tea, Ltd.

Nigel Melican: Artisanal cheese company, because I made cheese in my spare time, or a sandwich company because that was a growing trend at the time, like Subway really, but um, supplying suppliers, or tea, which I knew something about, I didn’t know much about sandwiches, but I just thought it would be interesting thing to work on something which was trending, as it happened, specialty tea trended half way though Teacraft’s life so we setup Nothing But Tea because we were following that trend, specialty tea trend.

PTC: “What is specialty tea, specifically?”

Nigel Melican: It’s a different thing to different people, that may be its strength and its weakness. To me specialty tea is, if you want a short definition, anything that’s not sold in supermarket. I think if you make sufficient of your teas an sell it in the supermarket, it’s no longer really special, but I don’t think a tea connoisseur would perhaps take that as a definition. I suppose it’s premium teas, it’s teas which are unusual, it’s teas which have a level of quality that you just don’t get normally.

PTC: And you’d mentioned that the, one of the keys to the US tea market is the specialty tea, and that was key to its ability to survive and thrive, can you speak more on that?

Nigel: It’s certainly burgeoned in the US market, but when I made that comment it was really saying that the growth of the US-grown tea is predicated upon having a high-value tea because of the cost of production in the States and supermarket teas, iced teas are not going to give you that margin that you can cover the cost of production, whereas specialty teas, where people will pay a great deal more for them because they are something they really desire as opposed to just drink because its breakfast time or tea time, give you the margin that you can afford to produce tea in the States and all previous attempts to produce tea in the States right way back to the 1800’s have failed, eventually failed, they’ve come and they’ve gone, because they were trying to make commodity tea and compete with imported tea, well, you’re never going to compete with imported tea at the dollar, cost of production: $1.50/kilo, in the States, it’s not possible, so you need to be, to cover your cost of production here, which might be $20-$25/kilo, yo’ve got to be selling at $35-$40, and that’s not the commodity tea area, that’s the specialty tea area and looking back, that’s why its generally failed in the States, so far…

PTC: OK, because it did’t have that specialty tea market.
Nigel Melican: Yeah, the growth of that specialty tea market was’t there 20 years ago.
PTC: I’m going to do a quick introduction, that’s good, we can use that, and I’m going to get into the first scripted question here, so thank you for joining us this morning, Nigel, I’m going to give a quick background or summary of your experiences, you started off early in botany, then as a Unilever researcher doing tea research for Lipon, which is a brand Under Unilever, eventually you started a family business called Teacraft, which is a technical consultancy for international tea producers, and so far you have consulted with tea-growing operations in 26 countries and you have 33 years practical hands-on working experience in all aspects of the tea industry. You’ve talked recently about your chair research position at the tea Research Association in India at Tocklai. And recently, you’ve worked with aspiring USA tea producers to establish new tea farms in Alabama and Mississippi. You’ve authored a series of articles about tea, including a 4-part series titled, “Can I grow tea here?”, and those articles are located on the US League of Tea Growers blog at usgrowntea.wordpress.com.
And, in the short time that I’ve spent with you, I’ve come to know you as a passionate, discerning, skeptical researcher, everyone really respects your opinion and your advice and really listens to you when you speak, and right now, you seem to be a major driving force behind the revisitation of tea growing in the United States, at least for everyone here at the meeting, I think they’re very excited about that, to have your expertise contributing to that success. So this could be considered a formative time for tea growing in the United States.
Really briefly, how did you become involved with the US League of Tea Growers?
Nigel Melican:
Yeah, it’s not the normal direction for a tea man to go in, it’s swimming against the tide. Two things really, or maybe three. Firstly, I saw the growth of specialty teas which was really started in the United States and spearheaded by Norwood-Pratt. At the beginning, no one knew where it was going, at the time it just started to come up, I was doing work in Kenya for the, our big organization of small holder growers, they have more than half a million small hold farmers, and we were doing work on value-addition there, and we were, because we were doing work on value addition–how can you make their tea more special, rather than selling it anonymously at the auction. We looked around at what was happening in tea and we saw the specialty tea trend coming on in the States and I plunged in and setup another company, Nothing But Tea which actually took advantage of that trend, selling 200 different specialty teas, so I was committed to American specialty tea trend. I quite serendipitously came across Jason McDonald saying that he intended to grow tea in the States, now I’d always looked at the Southern States and looked at Assam, the temperature conditions there, the humidity, and thought- it must be possible. And I worked for Lipton and they had the research station at Charleston, up till 1984-85, and I’d worked there as well, so I knew what Southern conditions were like.

So I had a sneaky feeling that Jason McDonald was looking at the right thing at the right time, but what I thought he lacked was the experience, the guidance to do it. So as soon as he posted a blog article on what he was going to do, I got in touch with him and within three weeks I was his consultant, with social media you can do it that fast, not like that in the past, but it is now.

So that’s the second reason I’m interested. The third reason I’m interested is you mentioned in the introduction that I have a research chair at Tocklai in Assam, premier tea research institute in the world, and I’m very honored to have that research chair there, and what I see there is that unlike what people think about tea- thousands of pluckers toiling away in the fields- is actually very difficult to get people to toil away in the fields, even in India, even in China, and potentially even in Africa. There not going to want- already they don’t want their children to do it, they’re prepared to do it themselves, but they’re not prepared for the children to do it. People are drifting to the cities, because they want to earn more money, they want better conditions, so mechanization is coming in, now, to mechanize the tea industry which produces close on 5 million tons a year which I think is 13 trillion tea cups a year, to mechanize that is difficult, particularly when you doing it in developing countries, and I thought working in America, where we have to crack the nut, we have to work out the systems, it’s going to be easier to do it in America than it is to do it in India, so what we prove, and the methods and the models we prove in the States are going to be easily transferable to the developing world.
So I’ve got various reasons for being in America, and starting up the US Tea League I’ve found there was disparate growers all over the States, tea growing in 14 states at the moment, were not talking with each other, weren’t in touch with each other, weren’t sharing with each other, sharing their successes, sharing their failures, and Jason is so good at sharing his failures that I thought, you know, what we really need is a forum where we can get together and swap ideas and swap resources, so I became very committed to that, and as you heard at the meeting, although I can’t be a grower in the States, I certainly can do everything I can do to enable growers and enable us to make systems to for them to grow successfully.

PTC- Yes, and as a founding member now of the US League of Tea Growers, that’s proven your dedication to that cause, and your comment on becoming open and transparent about the different processes and methods that maybe ought to be used in the United States, I think that’s very valuable. Another thing we’ve touched on during the last four days of this meeting and had exposure to, was the University system, in particular, the extension service that is offered through many land grant universities, thought the whole, entire country. Can you explain a little bit about how US growers might be at an advantage in that sense, or have a resource that others might not.

Nigel Melican: Yeah, I think the system you have here is without parallel anywhere in the world, providing growers take advantage of it. And I think when we hear from the county agents, not so much from the researchers because they’re backed by the county agents, they’re right on the front line, you know, they sometimes worry that people just don’t take advantage of those resources, but they are unbelievably good. The US farmer, if he takes advantage really has a real advantage over people in other places. To have, for instance, soil tests at $6 a time when other people around the world are paying, if they can afford it, up to $100 per time is quite an advantage.

PTC: Wow- on that note too, I assume many extension agents would not be familiar with tea, or Camellia sinensis, but through our meetings we’ve touched on a couple times, the similarities between blueberries and tea, it seems like blueberries would be a good corrolary to not only the growing but the production and different timelines for those processes. Can you talk a little bit more about that topic?

Nigel Melican: Yea well I think everywhere you’re starting a new crop or a new process or a new idea, it helps you if you know someone somewhere has done something similar. It gives you confidence, and there’s not a great deal of tea growing in the States but there is quite a bit of blueberry growing especially in the South, and taking that as a model, why it’s the closest model I’ve found to tea growing because it’s a crop which takes three years to come to maturity, it needs, specifically needs acid soil, it’s raised in a nursery, all these are in parallel with tea, and the blueberry grower knows that he’s not going to get a return immediately like a tobacco grower or annual crop grower. So we take blueberries as an example that people can understand, whereas if we talked afresh about tea to someone, he hasn’t got a concept of it, whereas if we say, it’s very much like blueberries but has advantages over blueberries because blueberries you only get one crop a year and it really is touch and go if you’re going to get frost on that crop, it’s going to be damaged, whereas with tea, you’re cropping through the year, so, right away through the season, so every fortnight you come back and cut the same bush, you harvest the same bush, so if you get frost in April, it’s not the end of the world.

PTC: Exactly, and I think that’s a very valuable example for people to use, especially in the South where blueberry growing is so popular and almost everywhere.

Nigel: Yeah, and I’d say think back to 20 years to when blueberries weren’t being grown here on that scale and see how it grew, and I think tea, with guidance, can have that same sort of impact on the agricultural and the rural economy.

PTC: Excellent, I think I asked you last night about this, and I want to touch on it again, you had mentioned maybe that one of your greatest strengths as a researcher and a consultant was the diversity of your knowledge and, so how does having a broad knowledge base, rather than a very deep, narrow one, help you to be an effective tea consultant?

Nigel Melican: Well, consultants have to have, I suppose they don’t have to have, but it’s much better business if they do have, clients all over the world because if you have, well I’ll tell you, that in the recession I lost three clients in one month and all those clients were in America, so it’s good to have a spread, I had clients in other countries as well so it wasn’t such an impact on my business, but if you have a client base which is across the world, you have problems which are very different in different countries, and to be able to solve all those problems on a diverse basis, you need a broad knowledge rather than great depth in one thing.

And what we do as a consultancy is we bring associates in with specific knowledge if we need it, so if I need, for instance, more knowledge in artisanal hand tea making for instance, I have got an associate who we’ve taught to make tea in Sri Lanka and she in a short time, in two years, from my first meeting her, was selling tea to Fortnum and Mason, so I taught her, she taught her girls. I couldn’t have taught her girls, I passed on the knowledge, she developed the knowledge and now I use her as an associate. I have an associate engineer in India. Now, I can’t do heavy machinery consultancy, it’s outside my remit, I appreciate what they can do, I appreciate the need, I can design the concepts, but putting the nuts and bolts together, I need a man who’s actually done it before. So I am the broad knowledge, I can bring, I think in science it’s called a gatekeeper, you know, I’m in touch with all the people that have the deep knowledge, and I am the ringmaster of the circus.

PTC: It’s all about who you know and it’s good to have a broad and dense network of connections.

Nigel Melican: In 35 years you get that.

PTC: Excellent, well, a couple more minutes here. One thing that you’ve said recently was something along the lines of either “perpetrating anecdotes” or “perpetuating anecdotes” I’m not sure which one it was, but it was in regard to the, maybe the common understanding whether it’s correct or not, that tea ought to be stored in the dark, when you had kind of indicated maybe it’s otherwise. Can you talk maybe more about that example specifically or maybe other examples whereas there might not be any scientific understanding behind the things we do.

Nigel Melican: Well, to clear it up on tea in the dark, what I was saying was, I know that tea should be stored in the dark therefore do I know that it shouldn’t be stored in the light? And what, if that’s true is the light doing to it? And everyone says, “Well, it’s photo degradation.” but they don’t go any further. To my knowledge no one has actually done the experiments to say- Does light at this wavelength cause degradation?- and if it does, in what time? And no one has really researched it, but everyone knows it’s true.
Now, I have somewhat of a reputation for taking tea myths and busting them. Caffeine was one of my big things because when it came to the internet- The internet is a wonderful thing but It does allow people to perpetrate myths very quickly. When I looked, when I came to the internet, I really started using the internet as a tool, ten twelve years ago, I came to a lot of people saying that it was very easy to decaffeinate tea by steeping it in hot water for 30 seconds, throwing that steep away, then and then it would be variously, 50, 80, 90% decaffeinated and this was one of my big “bugbears” because I just did not believe it, as a scientist I didn’t believe it. I had no evidence for that anymore than they had evidence for saying the reverse. So I started looking in the literature to see what we could find in the literature and interesting people to do work in it, and various people have done actual lab work and demonstrated that no, it doesn’t work. And if you look at it logically, it can’t work because if it did work, then Lipton and other big companies would not be spending mega bucks on very complex decaffeination systems if a simple hot water steep worked. They just, why would they do it?
So I, in fact I spoke at World Tea Expo about five years ago, I gave a class on busting tea myths, and we went through Caffeine, and “Caffeine dehydrates” and all the old myths, but I think it’s interesting that people are interested enough in tea to even create these myths.

PTC: That’s a great point, just a final question here, what excites you the most about the future of tea?

Nigel Melican: Well, I’ll tell you what depresses me most about the future of tea, is that I won’t be around to see it because it’s constantly evolving, and I’ve seen a huge amount of change. I went into research in the 60’s, the early 60’s, and the differences- the lab we went into yesterday with all the equipment for genetic sequencing and such skilled, manipulative breeding just didn’t exist, not only didn’t exist, the idea that it might happen one day didn’t even exist. So all those coming along many fronts and that’s really exciting, and that still excites me, well past retirement age, and it still excites me, and I’ll be sorry to miss all that, but I’m unbelievably happy that it will happen and that people will benefit from it.

PTC: Ah yes, that’s great news for the future, and already your influence all over the world has affected tea growing and tea producing and that will for surely live on and has helped the tea industry along so far, so.

Nigel: That’s very kind of you to say so but there are many people like me.

PTC: Alright, well, that about brings us to the end, thank you very much, Nigel, for doing this interview with me, if people would like to learn more about you, or more about your companies, how can they get in contact with you?

Nigel Melican: I have a very simple email, it’s nigel@teacraft.com and although when I’m traveling I’m not always within email reach but I enjoy getting emails form people and mostly I reply if it’s something I can help with, I reply if I can, so I welcome people to contact me just to talk about tea or things they believe about tea or things they want to do in tea, particularly things they want to do, I like pointing people in the right direction.
PTC: OK, excellent, and just a final note, today is February, 22nd 2015. Later this year you will be speaking about tea or holding a class in Long Beach, California [World Tea Expo]?

Nigel Melican: Two classes, one class very appropriately is called “Can I Grow Tea Commercially in the USA”, and the second class is “Caffeine and Theanine, Tea’s Dynamic Duo.”

PTC: Excellent, very interesting I hope to attend those, well, thank you very much, Nigel.

Nigel Melican: Thank you, Tygh.
PTC: Thanks agin for listening , if you’d like to checkout the show notes or the transcription for this interview go to PiedmontTea.com/Nigel. Cheers, and happy tea growing!

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May 04

On the eve of the World Tea Expo in Long Beach, CA., it is our pleasure to share with you our interview with international tea consultant, expert, and US League of Tea Growers founding member, Nigel Melican. Nigel gives us his take on the future of US-grown tea and talks about some of the keys to success for US tea farmers..

Show Notes:

Nigel Melican

email: nigel@teacraft.com

Nothing But Tea Ltd. http://www.nbtea.co.uk

Tea Craft Ltd. http://teacraft.com

US League of Tea Growers

http://usteagrowers.com

Become a member of the USLTG: https://usleagueofteagrowers.wildapricot.org/widget/join-us

Tocklai Tea Research Association
http://www.tocklai.net

World Tea Expo
http://www.worldteaexpo.com

The Great Mississippi Tea Company
http://www.greatmsteacompany.com

Follow our progress and subscribe to the Piedmont Tea Co.’s email newsletter…

Interview Transcription

PTC: How’s it going everybody, today is May 1st, 2015, and this is Tygh Walters of the Piedmont Tea Company.

What you’re about to hear is a short interview with Nigel Melican, an experienced international tea consultant and one of the numerous founding members of the US League of Tea Growers, a non-profit organization striving to support, advance, and connect aspiring US-tea growers.

I first met Nigel at the “tea growers roundup”, a meeting of Tea Growers, retailers, supporters, and enthusiasts hosted by Jason McDonald of the Great Mississippi Tea Company earlier this year in February 2015.

If you’re interested in making your bold mark in the tea story of the United States, then join us, and show your support by becoming a member of the US League of Tea Growers. You can find links to become a member in the show notes, or just go to usteagrowers.com

The United States League of Tea Growers strives to connect the increasing number of US tea growers while collaboratively sharing resources, research and information regarding.   By working together, we hope to achieve:

  • Plant husbandry knowledge
  • Development of “best  practices” know how
  • Development of appropriate automation
  • Product and process innovation
  • Research trials of US conditions
  • Gain/Create access to cultivars specific to US requirements
  • Promotion of US grown teas
  • Development/Promotion of agri-tourism
We encourage you to be a part of our information sharing efforts and welcome your feedback and questions as a valued member of the US League of Tea Growers!

If you’d like to learn more about the Piedmont Tea Company, go to  PiedmontTea.com and opt-in to our email list to follow along in our progress, or you can like our page on Facebook.

Finally, if you’re planning to attend the 2015 World Tea Expo, in Long Beach, California, you have the opportunity to hear Nigel give two presentations. His first presentation is Thursday, May 7th from 12:30 TO 1:30 PM, titled “Tea’s Dynamic Duo, Caffeine and Theanine.” Nigel’s second presentation will be Friday. May 8th, titled, “Growing Tea Commercially in the USA.”

Again, you can find links to all of this information in the show notes, and/or go to usteagrowers.com. Thank you so much for listening, and now please enjoy your interview with Nigel Melican of Nothing But Tea, Ltd.

Nigel Melican: Artisanal cheese company, because I made cheese in my spare time, or a sandwich company because that was a growing trend at the time, like Subway really, but um, supplying suppliers, or tea, which I knew something about, I didn’t know much about sandwiches, but I just thought it would be interesting thing to work on something which was trending, as it happened, specialty tea trended half way though Teacraft’s life so we setup Nothing But Tea because we were following that trend, specialty tea trend.

PTC: “What is specialty tea, specifically?”

Nigel Melican: It’s a different thing to different people, that may be its strength and its weakness. To me specialty tea is, if you want a short definition, anything that’s not sold in supermarket. I think if you make sufficient of your teas an sell it in the supermarket, it’s no longer really special, but I don’t think a tea connoisseur would perhaps take that as a definition. I suppose it’s premium teas, it’s teas which are unusual, it’s teas which have a level of quality that you just don’t get normally.

PTC: And you’d mentioned that the, one of the keys to the US tea market is the specialty tea, and that was key to its ability to survive and thrive, can you speak more on that?

Nigel: It’s certainly burgeoned in the US market, but when I made that comment it was really saying that the growth of the US-grown tea is predicated upon having a high-value tea because of the cost of production in the States and supermarket teas, iced teas are not going to give you that margin that you can cover the cost of production, whereas specialty teas, where people will pay a great deal more for them because they are something they really desire as opposed to just drink because its breakfast time or tea time, give you the margin that you can afford to produce tea in the States and all previous attempts to produce tea in the States right way back to the 1800’s have failed, eventually failed, they’ve come and they’ve gone, because they were trying to make commodity tea and compete with imported tea, well, you’re never going to compete with imported tea at the dollar, cost of production: $1.50/kilo, in the States, it’s not possible, so you need to be, to cover your cost of production here, which might be $20-$25/kilo, yo’ve got to be selling at $35-$40, and that’s not the commodity tea area, that’s the specialty tea area and looking back, that’s why its generally failed in the States, so far…

PTC: OK, because it did’t have that specialty tea market.
Nigel Melican: Yeah, the growth of that specialty tea market was’t there 20 years ago.
PTC: I’m going to do a quick introduction, that’s good, we can use that, and I’m going to get into the first scripted question here, so thank you for joining us this morning, Nigel, I’m going to give a quick background or summary of your experiences, you started off early in botany, then as a Unilever researcher doing tea research for Lipon, which is a brand Under Unilever, eventually you started a family business called Teacraft, which is a technical consultancy for international tea producers, and so far you have consulted with tea-growing operations in 26 countries and you have 33 years practical hands-on working experience in all aspects of the tea industry. You’ve talked recently about your chair research position at the tea Research Association in India at Tocklai. And recently, you’ve worked with aspiring USA tea producers to establish new tea farms in Alabama and Mississippi. You’ve authored a series of articles about tea, including a 4-part series titled, “Can I grow tea here?”, and those articles are located on the US League of Tea Growers blog at usgrowntea.wordpress.com.
And, in the short time that I’ve spent with you, I’ve come to know you as a passionate, discerning, skeptical researcher, everyone really respects your opinion and your advice and really listens to you when you speak, and right now, you seem to be a major driving force behind the revisitation of tea growing in the United States, at least for everyone here at the meeting, I think they’re very excited about that, to have your expertise contributing to that success. So this could be considered a formative time for tea growing in the United States.
Really briefly, how did you become involved with the US League of Tea Growers?
Nigel Melican:
Yeah, it’s not the normal direction for a tea man to go in, it’s swimming against the tide. Two things really, or maybe three. Firstly, I saw the growth of specialty teas which was really started in the United States and spearheaded by Norwood-Pratt. At the beginning, no one knew where it was going, at the time it just started to come up, I was doing work in Kenya for the, our big organization of small holder growers, they have more than half a million small hold farmers, and we were doing work on value-addition there, and we were, because we were doing work on value addition–how can you make their tea more special, rather than selling it anonymously at the auction. We looked around at what was happening in tea and we saw the specialty tea trend coming on in the States and I plunged in and setup another company, Nothing But Tea which actually took advantage of that trend, selling 200 different specialty teas, so I was committed to American specialty tea trend. I quite serendipitously came across Jason McDonald saying that he intended to grow tea in the States, now I’d always looked at the Southern States and looked at Assam, the temperature conditions there, the humidity, and thought- it must be possible. And I worked for Lipton and they had the research station at Charleston, up till 1984-85, and I’d worked there as well, so I knew what Southern conditions were like.

So I had a sneaky feeling that Jason McDonald was looking at the right thing at the right time, but what I thought he lacked was the experience, the guidance to do it. So as soon as he posted a blog article on what he was going to do, I got in touch with him and within three weeks I was his consultant, with social media you can do it that fast, not like that in the past, but it is now.

So that’s the second reason I’m interested. The third reason I’m interested is you mentioned in the introduction that I have a research chair at Tocklai in Assam, premier tea research institute in the world, and I’m very honored to have that research chair there, and what I see there is that unlike what people think about tea- thousands of pluckers toiling away in the fields- is actually very difficult to get people to toil away in the fields, even in India, even in China, and potentially even in Africa. There not going to want- already they don’t want their children to do it, they’re prepared to do it themselves, but they’re not prepared for the children to do it. People are drifting to the cities, because they want to earn more money, they want better conditions, so mechanization is coming in, now, to mechanize the tea industry which produces close on 5 million tons a year which I think is 13 trillion tea cups a year, to mechanize that is difficult, particularly when you doing it in developing countries, and I thought working in America, where we have to crack the nut, we have to work out the systems, it’s going to be easier to do it in America than it is to do it in India, so what we prove, and the methods and the models we prove in the States are going to be easily transferable to the developing world.
So I’ve got various reasons for being in America, and starting up the US Tea League I’ve found there was disparate growers all over the States, tea growing in 14 states at the moment, were not talking with each other, weren’t in touch with each other, weren’t sharing with each other, sharing their successes, sharing their failures, and Jason is so good at sharing his failures that I thought, you know, what we really need is a forum where we can get together and swap ideas and swap resources, so I became very committed to that, and as you heard at the meeting, although I can’t be a grower in the States, I certainly can do everything I can do to enable growers and enable us to make systems to for them to grow successfully.

PTC- Yes, and as a founding member now of the US League of Tea Growers, that’s proven your dedication to that cause, and your comment on becoming open and transparent about the different processes and methods that maybe ought to be used in the United States, I think that’s very valuable. Another thing we’ve touched on during the last four days of this meeting and had exposure to, was the University system, in particular, the extension service that is offered through many land grant universities, thought the whole, entire country. Can you explain a little bit about how US growers might be at an advantage in that sense, or have a resource that others might not.

Nigel Melican: Yeah, I think the system you have here is without parallel anywhere in the world, providing growers take advantage of it. And I think when we hear from the county agents, not so much from the researchers because they’re backed by the county agents, they’re right on the front line, you know, they sometimes worry that people just don’t take advantage of those resources, but they are unbelievably good. The US farmer, if he takes advantage really has a real advantage over people in other places. To have, for instance, soil tests at $6 a time when other people around the world are paying, if they can afford it, up to $100 per time is quite an advantage.

PTC: Wow- on that note too, I assume many extension agents would not be familiar with tea, or Camellia sinensis, but through our meetings we’ve touched on a couple times, the similarities between blueberries and tea, it seems like blueberries would be a good corrolary to not only the growing but the production and different timelines for those processes. Can you talk a little bit more about that topic?

Nigel Melican: Yea well I think everywhere you’re starting a new crop or a new process or a new idea, it helps you if you know someone somewhere has done something similar. It gives you confidence, and there’s not a great deal of tea growing in the States but there is quite a bit of blueberry growing especially in the South, and taking that as a model, why it’s the closest model I’ve found to tea growing because it’s a crop which takes three years to come to maturity, it needs, specifically needs acid soil, it’s raised in a nursery, all these are in parallel with tea, and the blueberry grower knows that he’s not going to get a return immediately like a tobacco grower or annual crop grower. So we take blueberries as an example that people can understand, whereas if we talked afresh about tea to someone, he hasn’t got a concept of it, whereas if we say, it’s very much like blueberries but has advantages over blueberries because blueberries you only get one crop a year and it really is touch and go if you’re going to get frost on that crop, it’s going to be damaged, whereas with tea, you’re cropping through the year, so, right away through the season, so every fortnight you come back and cut the same bush, you harvest the same bush, so if you get frost in April, it’s not the end of the world.

PTC: Exactly, and I think that’s a very valuable example for people to use, especially in the South where blueberry growing is so popular and almost everywhere.

Nigel: Yeah, and I’d say think back to 20 years to when blueberries weren’t being grown here on that scale and see how it grew, and I think tea, with guidance, can have that same sort of impact on the agricultural and the rural economy.

PTC: Excellent, I think I asked you last night about this, and I want to touch on it again, you had mentioned maybe that one of your greatest strengths as a researcher and a consultant was the diversity of your knowledge and, so how does having a broad knowledge base, rather than a very deep, narrow one, help you to be an effective tea consultant?

Nigel Melican: Well, consultants have to have, I suppose they don’t have to have, but it’s much better business if they do have, clients all over the world because if you have, well I’ll tell you, that in the recession I lost three clients in one month and all those clients were in America, so it’s good to have a spread, I had clients in other countries as well so it wasn’t such an impact on my business, but if you have a client base which is across the world, you have problems which are very different in different countries, and to be able to solve all those problems on a diverse basis, you need a broad knowledge rather than great depth in one thing.

And what we do as a consultancy is we bring associates in with specific knowledge if we need it, so if I need, for instance, more knowledge in artisanal hand tea making for instance, I have got an associate who we’ve taught to make tea in Sri Lanka and she in a short time, in two years, from my first meeting her, was selling tea to Fortnum and Mason, so I taught her, she taught her girls. I couldn’t have taught her girls, I passed on the knowledge, she developed the knowledge and now I use her as an associate. I have an associate engineer in India. Now, I can’t do heavy machinery consultancy, it’s outside my remit, I appreciate what they can do, I appreciate the need, I can design the concepts, but putting the nuts and bolts together, I need a man who’s actually done it before. So I am the broad knowledge, I can bring, I think in science it’s called a gatekeeper, you know, I’m in touch with all the people that have the deep knowledge, and I am the ringmaster of the circus.

PTC: It’s all about who you know and it’s good to have a broad and dense network of connections.

Nigel Melican: In 35 years you get that.

PTC: Excellent, well, a couple more minutes here. One thing that you’ve said recently was something along the lines of either “perpetrating anecdotes” or “perpetuating anecdotes” I’m not sure which one it was, but it was in regard to the, maybe the common understanding whether it’s correct or not, that tea ought to be stored in the dark, when you had kind of indicated maybe it’s otherwise. Can you talk maybe more about that example specifically or maybe other examples whereas there might not be any scientific understanding behind the things we do.

Nigel Melican: Well, to clear it up on tea in the dark, what I was saying was, I know that tea should be stored in the dark therefore do I know that it shouldn’t be stored in the light? And what, if that’s true is the light doing to it? And everyone says, “Well, it’s photo degradation.” but they don’t go any further. To my knowledge no one has actually done the experiments to say- Does light at this wavelength cause degradation?- and if it does, in what time? And no one has really researched it, but everyone knows it’s true.
Now, I have somewhat of a reputation for taking tea myths and busting them. Caffeine was one of my big things because when it came to the internet- The internet is a wonderful thing but It does allow people to perpetrate myths very quickly. When I looked, when I came to the internet, I really started using the internet as a tool, ten twelve years ago, I came to a lot of people saying that it was very easy to decaffeinate tea by steeping it in hot water for 30 seconds, throwing that steep away, then and then it would be variously, 50, 80, 90% decaffeinated and this was one of my big “bugbears” because I just did not believe it, as a scientist I didn’t believe it. I had no evidence for that anymore than they had evidence for saying the reverse. So I started looking in the literature to see what we could find in the literature and interesting people to do work in it, and various people have done actual lab work and demonstrated that no, it doesn’t work. And if you look at it logically, it can’t work because if it did work, then Lipton and other big companies would not be spending mega bucks on very complex decaffeination systems if a simple hot water steep worked. They just, why would they do it?
So I, in fact I spoke at World Tea Expo about five years ago, I gave a class on busting tea myths, and we went through Caffeine, and “Caffeine dehydrates” and all the old myths, but I think it’s interesting that people are interested enough in tea to even create these myths.

PTC: That’s a great point, just a final question here, what excites you the most about the future of tea?

Nigel Melican: Well, I’ll tell you what depresses me most about the future of tea, is that I won’t be around to see it because it’s constantly evolving, and I’ve seen a huge amount of change. I went into research in the 60’s, the early 60’s, and the differences- the lab we went into yesterday with all the equipment for genetic sequencing and such skilled, manipulative breeding just didn’t exist, not only didn’t exist, the idea that it might happen one day didn’t even exist. So all those coming along many fronts and that’s really exciting, and that still excites me, well past retirement age, and it still excites me, and I’ll be sorry to miss all that, but I’m unbelievably happy that it will happen and that people will benefit from it.

PTC: Ah yes, that’s great news for the future, and already your influence all over the world has affected tea growing and tea producing and that will for surely live on and has helped the tea industry along so far, so.

Nigel: That’s very kind of you to say so but there are many people like me.

PTC: Alright, well, that about brings us to the end, thank you very much, Nigel, for doing this interview with me, if people would like to learn more about you, or more about your companies, how can they get in contact with you?

Nigel Melican: I have a very simple email, it’s nigel@teacraft.com and although when I’m traveling I’m not always within email reach but I enjoy getting emails form people and mostly I reply if it’s something I can help with, I reply if I can, so I welcome people to contact me just to talk about tea or things they believe about tea or things they want to do in tea, particularly things they want to do, I like pointing people in the right direction.
PTC: OK, excellent, and just a final note, today is February, 22nd 2015. Later this year you will be speaking about tea or holding a class in Long Beach, California [World Tea Expo]?

Nigel Melican: Two classes, one class very appropriately is called “Can I Grow Tea Commercially in the USA”, and the second class is “Caffeine and Theanine, Tea’s Dynamic Duo.”

PTC: Excellent, very interesting I hope to attend those, well, thank you very much, Nigel.

Nigel Melican: Thank you, Tygh.
PTC: Thanks agin for listening , if you’d like to checkout the show notes or the transcription for this interview go to PiedmontTea.com/Nigel. Cheers, and happy tea growing!

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