Food Fraud and Fake Tea

Thanks to a blog post from the NPR blog, The Salt, I recently discovered this Food Fraud Database.

The long list of fraudulent and dangerous food additives is daunting. Not that we needed evidence of mankind’s thirst for increasing profits at the expense of consumer welfare. No doubt our leaves are also victim to the trend.

A search for ‘tea’ returns around 20 results of bad additives and trickery; colored saw dust, Prussian blue, and copper salts. Prussian blue?! That is a lovely pigment, but I wouldn’t want to find it in the bottom of my cup. The next time you encounter a particularly blue-ish black tea, you might want to call a doctor.

In addition to these, there are also several results for teas of wrong “botanical origin”, that is, ‘tea’ that is not tea at all.

fake puerh tea

A tea I once had that was made with pressed red tea and presented as puer

Fake Tea

The research that snared my interest above the rest was the  “tea of non-authentic geographic origin” test. Any puer lover, or tea lover of any kind for that matter, ought to know this is a common form of tea fraud.  The scientists seem to have studied the origin by:

Classifying the variety, production area and season of Taiwan partially fermented tea by near infrared spectroscopy

Where would one acquire such a machine? How wonderful it would be to save time drinking fraudulently labeled puer. Zapping leaves and knowing their region, variety, and maybe even date? Swoon.

Puer fakes are everywhere. From my recently mentioned worst Bingdao fake in history, to some really convincing 80′s Xiaguan bricks I plan to mention in a future article. I am really yearning for a magic tea lasergun.

Is this Laobanzhang? Zap. Nope.

Is this Taiwan Oolong?  Zap. Nope.

Where can i buy this mystical machine?

Maybe my fantasy is romanticizing the accuracy of such a device, but it is still nice to dream. Given that these tests were conducted by trained scientists with fancy labs,  we common folk will probably need to wait until their is an infrared spectroscopy function and app for our iPhone 79s.

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  • shah8

    If there was a machine like that, brilliant chinese conmen will reverse engineer it, and make fake puerh so realistic, they unwittingly produce Nobel quality work…

    • TwoDog2

      It does seem like making a convincing fake would beget quality tea, rather than the fakers actually trying to make quality tea in the first place. If only they used their powers for good!

      • http://psychanaut.wordpress.com/ Nick H

        All the more reason to cultivate one’s palate; a discerning one can not be tricked, no matter label or marketing.

        • TwoDog2

          I feel sad for the people who are just buying off of brand and purchase cakes that are marked up ten times their original material price. Developing a palate is the best way to save money.

  • Ian

    This reminds me of a funny article on the coffee blog Sprudge that was making fun of the use of refractometers in speciality coffee to judge proper extraction rather than relying on taste. In the future, we won’t even have to taste it ourselves, we’ll just put a sample in the tasting machine that tells us it “Tastes rad.”
    Even if we had such a magical machine isn’t the point that the tea tastes good? I’m sure as prices go up for the big-name puer growing areas/regions, there will be an increasing demand for “fake” teas that lie slightly outside of these well-known “appellations” but are nonetheless great teas and can be sold for much cheaper (as you see in the wine world for example).
    The proof is always in the pudding and our palates should have the final say.

    • TwoDog2

      For sure, the best measuring stick is enjoyment. It would just save so much time when tasting new teas if you could sort them by age and region. It would also take the guess work out of buying aged teas with so many fakes and misrepresented teas in the market place