In the news of late, there have been several stories about the safety of food being imported into the US, especially from China. Pet food ingredients and toothpaste have been two notable examples. National Public Radio last week had a story on this subject as well. One would be foolish not to be concerned about the safety of their food, whether it be from China, Mexico, or the local farmer’s market.
As I read these, my mind naturally wonders about the tea we import. As a tea drinker, you know that teas come primarily from the agrucultural areas of developing nations. As the pressure to deliver products that must compete on the world market increases, so do the opportunities for shortcuts, shoddy practices and mislabeling. Some of this is unintenional, and some may be done for short term gains without regards for the consequences. However, I was pleased to note in the information provided by the FDA, there have been very few instances of tea products being rejected for importation into the U.S. market. With but a couple of exceptions, the producers were not Chinese, and for the most part, not the areas most associated with loose leaf ortodox tea.
There is no easy answer to assure the safety and quality of the tea you receive. There are thousands of producers providing millions of pounds of tea into the market. There are too many growing areas, producers, varietals, and seasonal crops for any individual to track or completely understand. My suggested approach is to buy from suppliers that are reputable and take the time to understand what they have, and to explain it to you. It takes constant work, study, research, dialogue, industry involvement, and of course tasting to keep up with this dynamic industry.
For my part, I will continue to drink tea for its’ taste and its’ health benefits. At the same time I will ask more questions so I know what I am buying. I have to beleive that this product wil continue to improve, and is much better than the artificial ingredients in most of the overly processed foods found on store shelves today.
Last month the History Channel aired a segment on their Modern Marvels program on tea. They did a nice job of covering history, and brought out some aspects that are not always covred in many of the books that have been written. In addition, they interviewed a number of people in the industry all the way from a plant manager for Lipton to James Norwood Pratt.
If you are interested in increasing your knowledge about tea history, how it is processed (especially in a tea bag factory), and current trends, I would reccommend finding this video. It can be ordered from The History Channel for $24.95, or found at local libraries, and I am told, Netflix.
It seems that the Big Marketing companies are jumping on the tea bandwagon!
Last summer Snapple had a cute ad introducing its’ line of White Tea drinks showing the plucking of a bud and two leaves. Lipton has included ‘diet’ tea in their bottled drink line.
Now Coca Cola and Nestle (Nestea) have introduced Enviga, what they call a ‘negative calorie tea’ They say that in clinical trials drinking 3 cans burns 60-100 calories. This is attributed to the EGCG and caffeine in the drink.
Naturally, the health benefits derived from tea is a function of how much tea is in the beverage.
I suppose it is good that more and more people are recognizing the great taste and health benefits of tea. Coke and Nestle certianly have a larger advertising budget than most of the tea shops I know!
The question is will Americans recognize the try tea that does not have artificial ingredeints and added sweeteners? Maybe the advertising the big consumer products companies are doing will raise our collective awareness and encourage people to go to the source for the ‘genuine’ experience.
I have been drinking green tea for some time to obtain its purported health benefits. I cannot say to what extent I am in better shape, but I have certainly come to enjoy both the taste and the ritual – and I have gotten fond of munching the leaves lying in the bottom of my cup. Does anyone have an opinion as to whether this is a good thing (extractives, fiber, etc.)?
You may have heard that the tea bag was an accidental discovery. The story goes that in the earlier part of the last century Thomas Sullivan, a tea merchant, sent out samples in hand sewn silk pouches. His customers actually brewed the tea in those and demanded more. He was shipping loose leaf tea, and had that been the end of the story, we would not have had the great advantage of being able to dunk tea bags containing fannings in tepid water, and having that considered to be what tea is. Okay, maybe I am being just a little harsh. After all tea bags are used all over the US and Europe, even in Afternoon Teas. And you can get some nice teas and flavored teas in them, and they certainly are convenient.
My gripe is that like so many other things, we have traded convenience and speed for quality and taste. When I say quality, I am not referring only to the taste of the tea, but to the quality of the experience of tea as well. The process of making a good pot of tea, serving it, and drinking it is not a complicated process, but it does take a little time. Time which can allow us to slow down a little, and actually enjoy tea and the process. After all multi tasking is not absolutely essential to our existence.
Next time you want to ‘enjoy’ your tea, heat the water to the proper temperature, (and not in a microwave, that is cheating), measure out the amount of tea that should be in your cup or pot, give the leave the proper time in the water, and after you pour your first cup, let it cool slightly so that you can really sense the aromas and taste that is in that wonderful leaf that you bought.