Assam is getting hotter.
Warmer temperatures and changing rain patterns in Assam are affecting production and quality of the region’s tea. Temperatures are gradually rising above the norm, and this has caused an increase in the number of pests such as the helopeltis mosquito (which strips the bushes bare).
The resulting increase in the use of pesticides is causing a hike in production costs and worries about risks to human health. Meanwhile, rainfall is down by 20 cm a year and, whereas the rain used to be evenly distributed, it is now unpredictable. Dry weather causes low yields and if sprinkler systems and irrigation pipes have to be used, this again pushes costs up.
Too much rain means the bushes flush too fast and tea quality drops. In 2014, there was an 8% drop in tea exports and, although this is partially due to competition from Africa and Sri Lanka and stagnant tea prices, the extreme weather has also contributed to the problem.
Tea tasters say that climate change is affecting the full-bodied flavor and quality that Assam is so famous for and although scientists are trying to develop tea cultivars that can adapt to the hotter, dryer weather, research and trials take a long time and the work is still in the early stages.