Posted in Kafevend Blog

Tea in a clay cup

We hope you've had a good Bank Holiday weekend. Incredibly, the weather has smiled upon us, which just goes to show that life is full of surprises and some of them nice! If you were out and about it stands a good chance that you called in somewhere for a cup of tea or coffee, and if you were on the move it's more than likely you had to rely on a disposable cup. Back at the beginning of the month we mentioned TV chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's #Wastenot campaign. It turns out that disposable cups are not as recyclable as we'd like to believe. Today's blog delves into an interesting alternative in another part of the world...

India's clay alternative

In fact, we're off to the Indian subcontinent and in particular to Kolkata. Although India and tea would appear to be as synonymous with each other as Britain and tea, the nation's attachment to drinking tea doesn't go back nearly as far as its cultivation of the tea plant. Nevertheless, once India had gained its independence in 1947 and formerly British owned tea estates passed into local ownership, tea became hugely popular with all sections of society, both at home and while out and about.

Chai wallahs (tea vendors) use disposable cups like tea and coffee chains anywhere else in the world, but rather than rely on plastic, Styrofoam or paper cups, clay cups have been the norm. While clay cups of a variety of shapes and sizes are still used throughout India to a certain extent, plastic cups have become increasingly popular. In Kolkata though, the clay cup continues to hold its ground.

The men who make the cups are known as bhar wallahs. Living in the environs of the Hooghly River, they use clay from the river bed to make their wares. So well versed are they in their skill that they can produce several of the little cups per minute. The cups are then fired but not glazed, meaning that once a customer has finished their chai they can just throw the cup to the ground, where it shatters and in time is absorbed back into the earth. So much more ecologically sound than plastic, or even paper cups, fashioned from locally sourced clay and disintegrating back into the soil, they also lend the chai a distinctive earthy taste.

UK solution

So, what's happening with the disposable cup scene back in the UK? Entrepreneurial engineer, Martin Myerscough, has developed a product he calls the Frugalpac cup. No so-called paper cup is ever just paper- the hot drink would make it go instantly soggy. However, the Frugalpac version contains a thin film layer specially designed to easily separate from the paper, enabling a far higher rate of recycling to be achieved than is currently the case. Starbucks are currently trialling the cup and it is hoped that other companies will follow. In the absence of a ready supply of clay and potters, let's hope this will provide a solution and remember there's always the option to buy your own reusable cup to take along with you!


Kolkata's clay cups
Traditional tea

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