Pesticides: Are Chinese and Indian teas safe to drink?

swordofmytriumph
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 2:35 am

lUKAV28 wrote:
Wed Feb 19, 2020 2:17 am
Not having the label “organic” doesn’t mean it’s not produced in an organic way. The label organic is usually very expensive to purchase and for quality producers not even necessary as the quality product sells itself.
This right here. Given the choice between choosing "organic" tea and tea where the vendor says it isn't organic but made in an organic manner and describes how it is grown , I'll choose the latter every time. Some places I have bought from include pictures as well.
mbanu
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 3:11 am

doomslayer wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:31 pm
Like, sure, there are reputable tea sources out there but it’s not like they babysit and watch farmers every minute.
This is actually a big strength of the plantation-model. Since all the tea is being grown in one centralized area, it is actually much easier to assess what is going on with the tea growing.

Each model has its own advantages and disadvantages, but I think a good first step is to understand which models are most common and where.

In China, the most common (I think) is still the maocha model; this is where small-scale farmers do all the growing and partial processing themselves, and then sell to the factory for refining, export firing, and packing. This one is the hardest to track because the tea is coming to the factory essentially already made. I think there are also still tea cooperatives, though, state-run (and privately run?) plantations, and prison tea farms; would love more info on the non-maocha tea production models in China.

In India, there are the plantation model and the bought-leaf model. The bought-leaf model is a bit like the maocha model, except that the leaves are not processed in any way, they are just plucked and carried to the factory. Usually you will have several factories that are each surrounded by family farms within a reasonable travel time, as fresh leave does not keep. This one is probably the second-hardest to track, as while the farms will be nearby and the leaf has not been modified, it is still arriving at the factory from multiple sources with no good info on how it was grown other than the condition of the leaf itself and whatever hints can be drawn from this.

In the plantation model, the processing factory is vertically integrated with the tea fields. With this it is easiest to track, because there is often a supervisor who has been formally trained in responsible pesticide use. They may intentionally decide to go against best practices, but it is also easier for them to be caught by third parties who have some of the same advantages from the centralized tea fields as the supervisors. (This is not foolproof, of course, as many plantations are in very rural areas where it is difficult to drop by unexpected.)
Vanenbw wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 8:13 pm
I thought I read somewhere that even conventional Japanese green tea has pretty high standards, and the pesticides used not as damaging as those in some other countries. I don't know if this is factual information. I really have not researched it.
In Japan, usually the problem is monoculture practices, as far as I know. So one packer will start doing things a certain way, then suddenly everyone is doing it that way. Then when they find there is a problem, it is through the whole industry, and then is corrected in the same way.
doomslayer wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 9:11 pm
As for the "organic" - maybe it works better in countries like US or Japan, I do often eat organic produce myself here in the US. But for places like China, again, having witnessed a lot of things firsthand in my home country, "organic" is just an empty word for me.
An organic certification is only as strong as the certifying body, sadly. There has been some concern over this in the U.S., as it has moved away from the tilth system and towards a more general (and somewhat looser) national standard organic certification. The U.S. at least keeps a database of valid organic certifiers, so while there may be loopholes in the actual laws, it is possible to verify that the organic certification itself is valid. (I once bought organic tea from a vendor and later found out that their organic certification was fraudulent through this method.) Not sure about other countries.

A helpful thing is to rely on any national laws that are in place. Unfortunately one thing that the new "selling multiple small packages online" model breaks over the old "send it all over in a shipping container" model is that it is unlikely that anything has been tested, even if there are laws requiring testing, because often they are set up for testing at the ports, not examining random packages.
Baisao wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 4:17 pm
What about other adulterants?
For this it is actually a little more encouraging. Most forms of adulteration are fairly old-fashioned. They usually fall into a few categories:

Trying to sell less tea as more tea by messing with the weight. Allowing the tea to absorb water has been used in the past, but this is a risky one because tea that has been wet for any length of time tastes significantly more flat and is also far more likely to get moldy. It is also easy to detect if you have ever dealt with any post-fermented teas, as these are normally kept in humid environments to begin with. If it isn't pu'er, it shouldn't taste like pu'er.

Another one is just adding something heavy to the tea. The best ones here are ones that have some plausible deniability. In the past there was an infamous trend of adding iron filings to black tea to increase the weight, but of course if it is discovered there is no way to explain how it got there. Mixing in non-tea leaves used to be popular, as if confronted someone could say that they were from shade trees that had accidentally fallen into the bush. For whole-leaf teas this is easy to detect because the leaves don't look like tea-leaves, but it is much harder with broken-leaf. The closest I have ever come to this hustle personally was a batch of gunpowder that had a suspicious number of gunpowder-shaped pebbles mixed in. :)

A related hustle is re-drying used tea leaves. This is positively antique, and I would not have believed that anyone would do this anymore with the quite reasonable modern tea prices, but with the rising price of pu'er, it has been spotted happening in the pu'er market; MarshalN did a blog post about this a few years back (http://www.marshaln.com/2016/06/taobao- ... he-cooked/).

Next, there is trying to make stale tea look and smell fresh, or poor-quality tea look and smell better in general. This is usually accomplished by adding dyes to the tea. There are two ways to test for this that I know of, a wet test and a dry test. I don't know if they will catch all dyes, but the wet test worked for me personally on some tea from Java that had been dyed.

The dry test used to be known as the "Read test", after its inventor. To do the Read test, you just take some dry leaf and smudge it against a white piece of paper, then some more dry leaf and smudge it against a black piece of paper. If there is any smearing, then something is on the tea.

The wet test is to just put some leaf in a glass of cold water and shake it, then strain off the water. With normal tea, nothing will happen to the water. It will remain looking and basically smelling like water. If it changes color or becomes cloudy with oils, or smells strongly like the tea (assuming this is not an intentionally flavored tea), something has been added.

Finally there is doctoring the tea with more tea of a worse quality.

One way is sending you a different tea than the tea you sampled. A good way to prevent this is to always keep back a small amount of the original sample and then taste it against the full order when it arrives. It should not be drastically different if it is the same tea.

Another way is to spike the tea with tea dust. Some places will do this legitimately, but then they will say so in the sale; it is more common as a legitimate practice in Japan because "matcha" has a better reputation than tea dust in general. This is done because it can give a bland tea the illusion of quality if you take it and dust it with some fresh tea dust from a good crop. However, this dust quickly goes stale, and then you are left with the rest of the tea. You can test this dry or wet. For dry, just take a sample and shake it in a sieve over some white paper. If the dust just keeps coming, that's a problem. For a wet test, give the tea a rinse and see what comes out.

Dishonest blends where a tea from one place is cut with a tea from another can be tricky. For whole leaf, sometimes the shape of the leaves can help. For broken leaf it is harder. In those cases it is good to have a "reference tea" for tea from a region you get a lot of tea from, which is bought in a way that is absolutely reliable, even if for an unreasonable price. Then you compare the tea in question to the reference tea. It won't be exactly the same, of course, but it should make it easier to determine if the new tea is what it says it is.

Preventing this will also depend on the purchasing model. Tamper-proof packaging can help when it comes to factory sales, since while you have no control over what went on before it was packed, you can at least have a reasonable guarantee that it is still in the state that it was in when it left the factory. The Shengchan codes used in China are also helpful here, because they make it easy to trace a package back to a particular factory.

For teas that are sold bulk at auction, it will depend on the strength of the auction-house. Reputable auction-houses spend a lot of time ensuring that the tea that goes up for auction is what it claims to be and that the tea sent to the winner is what was bid on. However, after that it can be much harder to trace the tea.
Vanenbw
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 8:34 am

I read an interesting article on Verdant tea's website. If it can be believed, then it makes more sense to do some research on how, and from where your tea is sourced, rather than assuming it's "safe" because it has an organic label on it.

https://verdanttea.com/organic-and-fair-trade/
Slurp
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:16 am

I think ultimately the issue comes down to one of trust. If you don't trust the vendor, or don't trust the vendor is doing appropriate diligence on its sources, don't buy the tea. To dismiss entire countries though seems like it is going too far, unless what you really mean is that you have no way of separating out the reputable from the disreputable as an outsider, just based on information available to the general public.

But even then, consider that some vendors do their own testing. Yunnan Sourcing for instance, has all their house-branded teas independently tested (see https://yunnansourcing.com/pages/eu-mrl ... u-erh-teas). So now you have to be afraid of three things concurrently, the farmers doing the wrong thing, the vendor not knowing its farmers (or not caring to know), and the lab of testing poorly/incompletely. If I drank puerh, I would have no issues trusting YS in this three link chain.

Is organic certification perfect? No, but better than nothing, if you are worried about chemical contaminants. I personally choose to trust JAS, although the number of Japanese teas with JAS organic certification is quite small due to the high cost compared to the small scale of many/most Japanese tea farms.
Slurp
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:22 am

Vanenbw wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 8:13 pm
I thought I read somewhere that even conventional Japanese green tea has pretty high standards, and the pesticides used not as damaging as those in some other countries. I don't know if this is factual information. I really have not researched it.
They at least have standards. Decide for yourself whether they are high. Here's a good starting point:

https://yunomi.life/blogs/japanese-tea- ... ist-system
Slurp
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:31 am

mbanu wrote:
Wed Feb 19, 2020 3:11 am
doomslayer wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 9:11 pm
As for the "organic" - maybe it works better in countries like US or Japan, I do often eat organic produce myself here in the US. But for places like China, again, having witnessed a lot of things firsthand in my home country, "organic" is just an empty word for me.
An organic certification is only as strong as the certifying body, sadly. There has been some concern over this in the U.S.
There's more than just a little concern, see e.g. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/c ... id=topnews. But, what we have is surely better than nothing at all. The organic certification was consolidated under government auspices to have a single set of standards. Remember back when Organic first became a thing, there were goodness knows how many certification bodies springing up, some strict, some generally trustworthy, some probably little more than a pay-us-and-have-our-blessing scams. A single standard was deemed better than that chaos, even if it is imperfect.
Vanenbw
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 1:48 pm

@Slurp Thank you for the last several posts on the links. I will return later to visit the links. I'm very interested in this subject.

No doubt there is a lot of controversy over the subject, but I still feel pretty strongly about erring on the side of caution and choosing organics, unless I know for sure a vendor is not using pesticides. But I agree with what you said about it coming down to a matter of trust. Should I trust the farmer telling the vendor they do not use pesticides, and/or the vendor telling me the farmer does not use it? What's my alternative? Deciding not to drink tea anymore (conventional or organic) because I'm not sure who to trust? I don't know if I can trust the USDA organic label either, which is on most of the produce I buy.

I should spend some time educating myself in this area. I think it's pretty important.
Last edited by Vanenbw on Wed Feb 19, 2020 4:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Vanenbw
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 1:57 pm

Slurp wrote:
Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:16 am

Is organic certification perfect? No, but better than nothing, if you are worried about chemical contaminants. I personally choose to trust JAS, although the number of Japanese teas with JAS organic certification is quite small due to the high cost compared to the small scale of many/most Japanese tea farms.
Is JAS the same as Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan?
Slurp
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 2:24 pm

Vanenbw wrote:
Wed Feb 19, 2020 1:57 pm
Slurp wrote:
Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:16 am

Is organic certification perfect? No, but better than nothing, if you are worried about chemical contaminants. I personally choose to trust JAS, although the number of Japanese teas with JAS organic certification is quite small due to the high cost compared to the small scale of many/most Japanese tea farms.
Is JAS the same as Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan?
It's a department/division thereof:

https://www.maff.go.jp/e/policies/stand ... ganic.html
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debunix
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 3:57 pm

Enjoying this very informative discussion. And pondering whether I should flash rinse and discard more often.....
Vanenbw
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 5:23 pm

Slurp wrote:
Wed Feb 19, 2020 2:24 pm
Vanenbw wrote:
Wed Feb 19, 2020 1:57 pm


Is JAS the same as Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan?
It's a department/division thereof:

https://www.maff.go.jp/e/policies/stand ... ganic.html
Thanks for the information. I started searching for some tea farms that have the JAS certification. O-cha carries some teas with the JAS certification, among others. I also found a couple of sites below I might check out at some point.

https://www.teakitamura.com/
http://www.rishouentea.com/en/
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Bok
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 7:01 pm

@mbanu Thank you very much for writing such an extensive and informative post! I shall come back to it often and try some of the techniques described. Very handy!
Vanenbw
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 8:01 pm

@mbanu I second that. What a thorough and informative post. I'm not sure I want to drink tea anymore.

I'm kidding, of course, but yout post is eye-opening. I guess the bottom line is that producing and selling tea is a business, and there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that I know nothing about. Some scary stuff. I wonder if ignorance really is bliss.
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Bok
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 8:05 pm

Vanenbw wrote:
Wed Feb 19, 2020 8:01 pm
Some scary stuff. I wonder if ignorance really is bliss.
All things considered, everyday staples are probably more concerning: Meat, dairy, vegetables, anything sweet and/or processed. I'd worry more about my daily bread and butter than tea...
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aet
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Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:27 pm

yes , as said here already. Organic certificate doesn't mean better quality and not certified tea also doesn't necessarily mean tea is doped by chemicals.
It is not cheap to get CN organic cert. , more expensive the US one and even more expensive the EU organic certificate. Not only by paying the fee for getting cert done but also get your tea in stage that passes that check / cert. The most expensive is the EU organic cert for whole tea garden / plantation. That's where we were sourced organic tea and that's why was so expensive. Some customers even saying that it lacks of something in taste they usually have and like in green teas . In that stage I would even incline to the idea that chemicals are somehow spot-able in taste ;-DDDD
Seriously. I had a customer who sent me an email saying: " Next time I go for non-organic green, cheaper and tastier.I guess we all are hooked up on chemicals that can't live without it. "
As already also mentioned, vendors don't sit next to the tea tree all year and don't watch it.
Also don't usually pay some tests because it's not couple of coins and if comes positive, no farmer or company would compensate your investment into this test. Means, you buy 20kg of tea, pay for the test ( $$$ ) which is valid only for that batch. If OK result, you are lucky and have to implement that test investment into the price of the tea. I think to get the proper US organic test is about 300$ / batch and EU around 500$ / batch. You have to send it do different city in China and wait a week for the results.
Some vendors claim to run tests them selves, then when they get caught , they come with an apology for worker's mistake or misplaced batch or something ;-D
I came across some certificates on local tea markets, but they are either fakes or just lab tests for their tea. If you look at the numbers and what was tested , you will find out that it can't pass to EU or US. And , again, I wouldn't believe that what I see on the paper , I'm going to get in the box anyway.
I haven't found any reliable tool for less than price of the car ( actual full lab equip. ) to be able to do proper test. Let alone something portable so can take to the tea farm when on tea sourcing trip.
You also have to understand that different producers , suppliers and vendors using an "organic" terminology different way.
Some tea farmers / producers call organic tea where leafs were not treated by pest. solutions , yet the soil was pumped with some hardcore fertilizers .
Some suppliers ( and vendors usually follow that ) claim tea to be organic if it has a CN org. cert., or any other certificate which makes tea look "green".
I don't know which vendors are recommended by this community , there is no vendor's list like in Reddit ( which is just reflecting the fan club of certain vendors there anyway ) , but I believe it is always better to find your very personal way how to search for anything ( learn to swim ) , rather to be guided all the time.

For example:
if you are green tea drinker, stay away from the low altitude grown tea. There are certain types / names of greens which are typical for production in lower level plantations. There are exceptions of course, I'm talking generally.
If you are sheng puerh drinker , search for arbor tree made tea ( of course here comes bit on trust to vendor or your ability to spot it by drinking / brewing the sample )
If you are shu puerh drinker, don't worry too much. The most of that chem. gets "burned" by fermentation. There you need to focus on price, quality of processing and your personal taste preference ( different grades of fermentation ) . With older teas you need to be tolerant for hygiene aspects.
If you are black ( red ) tea drinker is almost like shu puerh in case of pests. and more roasted , than less chance some chems. would remain.

hope this simple explanation and guide helps.
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