There are myriad of tea gardens in Taiwan, and yet in the past few years, countless "tea safety" news are reported by local Taiwan media again and again. These news rarely make it outside of Taiwan. So, just exactly how safe is tea grown in Taiwan?
It's a great question. Before we can delve deeper into that question, here is a fun fact for you: Did you know that the tiny nation of Taiwan consumes 3 times more tea than it can produce as a whole. So, this means that there is a huge possibility that the Taiwan Tea you are drinking is actually grown elsewhere.
Here is another fun fact for you...did you know that there are very very few USDA or EU certified organic farms of any kind in Taiwan. There are a lot of claims on "organic" farming, and for these farmers, at the very best, they don't use pesticide/chemicals or at the very least, they use pesticide/chemicals early enough in the growing cycle that by the time harvest come around, the pesticides are within the safety limits.
So, don't let any tea farm's beautiful green pictures or claim of "organic" fool you, or the brand name fool you, for that matter. Follow the links at the bottom to the various Taiwan news reporting on the biggest names in the Taiwan tea industry. Small farms aren't much better either.
What can you do to ensure you are drinking the best Taiwan tea? Easy, if the tea farm claims to be Organic, then ask to see their USDA or EU Organic certificate. Also, ask to see their SGS Laboratory or any government recognized laboratory test report of the most current standard (which is a test of just over 350+ chemicals & pesticides, the more advanced will include over 400+). You must understand, that a USDA or EU Organic facility does not guarantee any particular crop to be pesticide or chemical free. The only way to assure yourself is to see a product test certificate.
Oh, and here is another tip for you...Take a look at your tea merchant's promotional materials, instagram postings ...etc. Look at the tea farm. There are quite a few companies who claim to purchase land to start "organic" farming...and show you some picture of people hard at work. Take a look closely, if the land looks flat to you, it probably is. This means that the tea field is, at best, at mid elevation - and regardless of their growing method, unless they are spending major investment to do proper rain water run off drainage, their land will face the chemical contamination from neighboring lands. And in a country with land scarcity, this is unavoidable.
Next, take a hard look at the type of plants around. Do you see a plant that sort of look like the coconut palm tree, super high in the air? That's not a palm tree, that's the "Bin Lang" tree - Betelnut tree. Just google Betelnut tree, and you will see how it can be easily mistake for a coconut palm tree by people who have never seen it.
Alright, back to the Bin Lang tree. Bin Lang is chewed for its stimulating effects in Taiwan, sort of like chewing tobacco. You can be sure that whenever you see Bin Lang trees, there are pesticides and chemicals used to grow this crop. Contamination? You bet! Very much like tobacco, Bin Lang is a lucrative cash crop. Oh and in case you ever visit Taiwan and wants to try...do so at your own risk. Bin Lang is carcinogenic to humans, and has been known to cause oral cancer and pharyngeal cancer.
All of these don't sound that great huh? Nope. But don't fret.
Is Taiwan tea safe? The answer is a resounding YES! But there are always some bad eggs trying to pass off inferior teas grown in other regions as "Taiwan" tea, and these teas are almost always supremely high in pesticides. Particularly for the growing region of Vietnam. The Taiwan FDA has issued much more astringent importing rules to not just accept the protocol exporting documents from Vietnam as proof of quality, but they have implemented astringent random testing of the Vietnamese tea (oolong, green, black..etc).
What does it mean for you? It means that you must do your own due diligence and not believe in the hype. Follow our above tips, you can be sure your tea is safe.
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