Venk Shenoi



January 15 2014

Venk Shenoi's  thoughts

As someone familiar with materials handling, and process plant – the variables
at every stage of production are too many to be over-simplified. Plantation
practices and processing have evolved over time by trial and error, and the main
determinant has always been  what the customer wants and will sell.

Investing in tea machinery and factory processes is a capital and time intensive
process,not something you keep cutting and changing too often. Process
machinery makers have developed their machines not just for tea but also
processing other materials – both agricultural and mineral. Some of these
machines are tweaked for this or that material and markets.

Tea processing has not been taken up by the Universities as such but food
processing is getting quite a lot of attention in India. Although Mr Bedi is
trying to simplify the questions – each stage or function needs to be
researched in depth to identify sensitivitiesto various process variables and
their interrelationships.

Unless a large tea processor or machinery manufacturer sees some profit
in embarking upon serious research and development, tea industry will carry
on practices that have worked before and produced profits. It is not just
different types of machinery but controlling process chemistry, temperature,
residence periods,  etc, etc, and correlating  the results with characteristics
of the final product and customer satisfaction, at the same reducing time, cost,
labour, energy use, etc.

I am not sure whether individual plantation or a group of plantations will have the
expertise to develop processing in a systematic manner to test all the variables.
Any process will also need to be tested at different plantations to check sensitivity
to soil  and cultural practices at the location.

Mr Bedi should approach large Tea firms such a Tata Tea who can afford to
finance research and development programmes at one of their larger plantations,
appoint competent scientists and engineers, install small-scale pilot plant to
test process combinations, etc.

The Tata Group have extensive expertise in all branches of science and
engineering to be able to make test equipment and small-scale production
plant as necessary.

Ultimately if they learn more about the process variables, would benefit in terms
reduced costs and better product meeting market demand. Tatas also have the
capability to research into the whole process from field practice to process
machinery, controls, etc.

Consumers ultimately determine the characteristics they want in their cuppa.
Blendersof the old appeared to know what they wanted to buy – a little hit
and miss but it worked. India has a huge internal market for tea now and
any new research should first establish the characteristics the market
wants now.