Chinese Tea: Is it safe?

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.

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