I heard on radio last week that big names in the food industry were going for something that up to now for me was something more linked to cryptocurrency (yes I know it sounds horrible but I am sure you have heard of bitcoins) than to anything food related: the blockchain.
For those like me that don’t really know what it is, blockchain is a succession of encrypted blocks containing information on something and linked to the previous block in the chain and to the next one by small parts of code, securing the whole chain and most importantly the data within.
What is the use of it for people that have nothing to do with geeks? With a simple QR reader downloaded on your smartphone, you can have access to this whole information by just flashing the QR code.
You will probably ask what kind of information. The example I heard on radio was in the mashed potatoes industry. With this specific blockchain, they wanted the customer to be able to know which factory processed the potatoes and even which operators did it (or checked the machines used).
I am sure that by now you see some processes where the tea industry could use this blockchain. The first and foremost would be to track down where exactly the tea we are drinking comes from. This would help solve some “mysteries” or uncertainties regarding the place of origin of some teas. A second use would be to be able to know what happened to the tea during the fabrication process, just to be sure that everything is as it is supposed to be. A third use would be to be able to follow the tea from the plucking to the store, not only through space but also through time, meaning that there would be no question regarding the way, the means of transport, the freshness of a tea.
For example, people could buy fresh tea from Japan knowing that it was transported by cargo plane. Thanks to this, the consumer could act according to his principle and buy only products that follow his/her own sets of rules.
Obviously this blockchain thing only works if everyone along the chain (from producers to sellers) is playing the game but with enough pressure for the consumers, it should not be a problem as companies are more than willing and eager to be transparent regarding their products.. What is more problematic is the capacity to check the veracity of the information provided by the whole chain. As producers are spread in different countries and sometimes deep inside them, it might be difficult for them to invest time in blockchains or for third parties to check whether or not the provided information is the right one.
One solution could be in the use of trusted and independent middlemen in charge of checking the information related to tea or even bringing them in the blockchains. To ensure their total independence, they should not be funded by the sellers but by the customers. It might be a little bit costly (but I doubt it) but it would enable the move of the tea industry to another level of transparency and cooperation. The idea here is not to create a new “thing” (if I may quote de Gaulle) but a simple yet efficient tool that could be used across the whole tea industry to improve it through the sharing of information.
Don’t get me wrong, in spite of this rational approach focusing, I also do think that mysteries and myths are a part of the charm of tea. Quite an intriguing approach, isn’t it? Or to quote a man who is on our side: “The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.”