Tea has been on my mind. Mostly because I have spent the last few weeks drinking it guiltily.
Coffee, I am told, is better for our forests than tea. Two NCF
researchers I met in Valparai confirm this.
Tea cultivation essentially involves the clearing of large tracts of forest, leaving them bare and devoid of shade trees. Coffee, on the other hand, allows for shade trees and secondary cultivation. Tea offers nothing to grazing animals. It offers some shelter to birds, but nothing they won’t find elsewhere. Coffee berries may be eaten by monkeys, civets, some herbivores and even elephants. Since tea picking takes place year round, tea habitats are constantly disturbed. Coffee suffers only seasonal disturbance.
Two weeks ago, I was shocked to see how tea gardens in the High Wavy Hills and Valparai verged upon some of the last stands of inviolate evergreen forest in the Western Ghats. This increases greatly the possibility of human-animal conflict and leaves the environment vulnerable to invasion by exotic plant and animal species.
These are not exactly great times for tea the product, so managements are opening up tea gardens to tourists who, having fooled themselves sufficiently that acres and acres of countryside bejewelled with tea bushes are an authentic imitation of paradise, will pay to stay in a guest house and be pampered with a whiff of colonial nostalgia. Along with a little rum and water in the evenings to wash down any chance feelings of guilt that may have pricked their consciences.
I wonder what my friend God, who until recently lived on a tea estate and worked in a coffee plantation, would have to say about this quandary of the cuppa.
On a lighter note, for those like me who still love their tea, this much has to be said: there are green ways of making it.
Like our guide Devidutt did up at 7500 feet in the Himalaya.