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Tea Trade

Until the 1840s, when the clipper ships were built, it took between 15 and 18 months to sail stocks of tea from China and Java back to London. The great clipper tea races attracted huge publicity and added excitement and color to a very everyday commodity. Today, consumer far less glamorously, in vast containers that are filled in the producing country (sometimes at the estates but more often in the docks), loaded onto container ships, and sailed to consumer countries. Careful handling and dry, secure storage are still crucial in the transportation of bulk tea, and improvements are being made all the time at all levels - from estate and factory to bulk shipping and warehousing companies.

In the early days, all tea was sold to merchant shippers who transported the tea home and offered it for sale by auction. England’s earliest recorded sale took place in London on March 11,1679, and by the mideighteenth century, quarterly auctions of China tea were being held. In 1861, the first Indian auctions were held in Calcutta and since then, auction centers have been established in most countries of origin — Colombo in 1883, Chittagong in 1949, Nairobi in 1957, etc. Offshore auctions were introduced in 1982 and helped solve the problem involved in the landed auctions, of long delays in transferring money from purchaser to broker.

Today, approximately 50 percent of the world's tea production is sold through public auction - China teas being the only ones not offered in this way. Prior to an auction, a small hole is bored in each tea chest or sack and samples are sent to the world’s leading tea buyers. If a buyer likes the sample he has tasted, he will bid for it at the auction. Sometimes, as many as 50,000 chests(5,000,000 pounds) of tea are sold in one day in this way. The highest bidder then either ships the tea he has bought to fill an order, or he sends samples to importers around the world. Eventually, the shipments travel from the country of origin to the importing countries. Modern changes in the trade may eventually lead to the introduction of electronic on-screen auctions whereby buyers will be able to "attend" direct from their offices all over the world instead of having to be personally present in the auction room.