Taiwanese Old Growth Tea Theft

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Mountain Stream Teas
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Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:07 am

Hi All,

This week our partner farm had their winter pick stolen off the trees in the mountains of the Liugui region in south-western Taiwan. The trees in that area are between 100-200 years old and thankfully there was minimal damage to the trees themselves. The trees are on aboriginal reserve land that our partner farm has leased from the owners. The police are involved and we are hoping that some of the motion sensor activated forest cameras caught the thieves. We will know more next week. Fresh leaf for about 10-30kgs of finished tea was stolen.

We highly doubt that this tea will make it into the western market but we are hoping to raise the awareness level. If anyone sees a tea labelled 'Taiwanese Gushu', 'Taiwanese Puer' or Taiwanese Ancient Tree Material I would really appreciate a heads up. There are respectable, and very nice, vendors who have acquired some of this tea legally in the past and we are by no means accusing anyone of 'tea theft'. It is 99.9% likely that this tea will stay in Taiwan and be consumed by asshole 'private collectors' trying to save a few dollars by stealing other people's tea.

We have decided to go public with this problem because we want to set a precedent that tea thieves can't easily resell this tea. The most likely culprits are local aboriginals who then sell the leaf to shady tea factories for a quick buck. This last year has been quiet for theft but in the past 500+ year old trees have been cut down for the leaves. If tea theft becomes commonplace this may start to happen again. We want to avoid the loss of these rare trees as much as we possibly can.

Here is a quick video about the situation:




I will be updating with more information as it comes and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. This winter I may head to the area to document the situation more and we will be there in the spring for the harvest for sure. Hopefully we can stay ahead of the tea poachers. Thanks for reading.

-Matt Hopkins
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Bok
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Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:25 am

I thought it is illegal to harvest wild tea trees in general in Taiwan... ?
Mountain Stream Teas
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Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:42 am

Bok wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:25 am
I thought it is illegal to harvest wild tea trees in general in Taiwan... ?
Not too sure where you heard this but the trees in question are on aboriginal reserve land and land use rights are granted to the lease holder. There is also a permitting auction system that has been implemented for many areas to stop the theft of wild tea trees. Trying to license something that has been always going on. The Mao Lin National Scenic Area in particular is one of the areas that this system is being tried. There are certainly areas of the forests that it is illegal to harvest from, but in the Liugui area always, these areas a slowly being studied and permitted.
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Tillerman
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Fri Nov 08, 2019 3:54 pm

Mountain Stream Teas wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:42 am
Bok wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:25 am
I thought it is illegal to harvest wild tea trees in general in Taiwan... ?
Not too sure where you heard this but the trees in question are on aboriginal reserve land and land use rights are granted to the lease holder. There is also a permitting auction system that has been implemented for many areas to stop the theft of wild tea trees. Trying to license something that has been always going on. The Mao Lin National Scenic Area in particular is one of the areas that this system is being tried. There are certainly areas of the forests that it is illegal to harvest from, but in the Liugui area always, these areas a slowly being studied and permitted.
@Mountain Stream Teasyou are correct of course but the auction/licensing systems have only been put in place in the last couple of years.
Last edited by Tillerman on Fri Nov 08, 2019 4:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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tjkdubya
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Fri Nov 08, 2019 4:19 pm

How does this leasing system work, whereby outside people can come to own the right to harvest from aboriginal land?

@Mountain Stream Teas, your partner farmer is paying ... the Taiwanese government? the aborigines?
Mountain Stream Teas
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Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:36 pm

tjkdubya wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 4:19 pm
How does this leasing system work, whereby outside people can come to own the right to harvest from aboriginal land?

Mountain Stream Teas, your partner farmer is paying ... the Taiwanese government? the aborigines?
Two different systems. The permit auction is for the National Forest Land controlled by the government. Happens every three years and it is a very new system. Payment goes tot he government and is used for forest protect, hopefully. Only the spring pick is allowed and everyone who visits needs a permit to visit. I will be doing this this spring.

The aboriginal land is controlled in a similar way to western countries. There are areas that are controlled by tribes where the only people that have the right to own the land must have an Aboriginal ID. The land is owned but ownership is hard to transfer or mortgage. My friend has leased the trees on the land for 15 years and doesn't control anything else about the land. No ownership was transferred and the owner of the land gets basically 'rent'. We are able to get three picks from these trees. The winter pick was stolen.

Thanks for the question and please let me know if I didn't explain it well.
Mountain Stream Teas
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Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:39 pm

Tillerman wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 3:54 pm
Mountain Stream Teas wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:42 am
Bok wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 7:25 am
I thought it is illegal to harvest wild tea trees in general in Taiwan... ?
Not too sure where you heard this but the trees in question are on aboriginal reserve land and land use rights are granted to the lease holder. There is also a permitting auction system that has been implemented for many areas to stop the theft of wild tea trees. Trying to license something that has been always going on. The Mao Lin National Scenic Area in particular is one of the areas that this system is being tried. There are certainly areas of the forests that it is illegal to harvest from, but in the Liugui area always, these areas a slowly being studied and permitted.
Mountain Stream Teasyou are correct of course but the auction/licensing systems have only been put in place in the last couple of years.
Yep, hence all the 'I have never heard of....' flack that I have had to take for the past year. This tea has only been made this way for 4 seasons total!
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tjkdubya
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Fri Nov 08, 2019 9:18 pm

@Mountain Stream Teas thank you for the info. It's interesting to think about what "ownership" means for wild trees and nature in general, for that matter. Hopefully there can be a framework in place for the aborigines to benefit as a community from what their land produces.

This makes me more curious about the issue of wild-harvested teas and the idea of custodianship in Mainland as well.
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