How much do we need to worry about pesticides when drinking Chinese teas? Any way to avoid or minimise the potential adverse effects?
There has been a recent report that many top brands of Chinese teas have been found to contain banned pesticides. For those who enjoy their daily serving of tea, what are the implications? This article attempts to explore the reasons behind the use of pesticides in the tea farming industry in China, the ways to avoid/minimise the potential adverse effects, and how these claims will benefit the tea industry in the long term.
Reasons behind the use of pesticides:
- High demand for quantity. The tea market in China is much bigger than in the west. It would be hard to find a Chinese family that does not have a tea set in use. With such a big population and so many tea drinkers, the demand is understandably high.
- High demand for quality. Similar to wine in the west, high quality teas are sought after in China. To produce high quality teas, well developed tea leaves are the first step and the cost of using manmade pesticides is much lower than an organic one.
- Lack of knowledge of certain Chinese tea farmers in relation to the potential health impact of harmful pesticides.
- Residuals in the farm lands from previous agriculture.
- Some are just bad ethics, practice driven by profits only.
- Lack of effective monitoring systems to regulate and track the pesticide use in the industry.
Ways of avoiding/minimising the potential pesticide contamination and their adverse effects:
As the original report pointed out ‘most of the residue levels are far below the national standard so people do not need to panic’ - the traditional Chinese way of saying it is: the clouds do not always mean rain. I personally do not have serious concerns when I drink my cup of tea, provided the tea is in the premium quality range. My reasons are:
- The farmers producing the premium quality teas are aware that to safeguard the quality and price of their final products, they need to take good care of every stage of the tea production and therefore have less tendency to overuse pesticides like the mass producers of low quality teas (often used in blends or tea bags).
- The teas themselves have a detoxifying capacity. The noble Chinese ancient herbalist Shen-Nong used to drink teas daily to combat the toxicities as he tasted thousands of herbs/plants (some being health beneficial and others toxic) for the compilation of his first ever herbal dictionary – Shen-Nong Ben Cao. Recent researches have also documented that tea drinking can reduce the effects of various harmful substances including heavy metals.
- Tea consumers also need to be aware that when pesticide residuals are tested in the labs, the tea leaves are ground for the extracts to be tested. When teas are consumed as beverages, we rarely digest the whole tea leaves.
If the above is not enough to bring about some peace in tea consumers’ minds, there are also various ways of reducing the potentially adverse effects of pesticides:
- Purchase organic teas or wild plant teas. The cost of purchasing these teas is higher for the same quality grade. These teas (or at least those offered at Valley Green Tea) are, however, produced from plantations where organic farming is certified by the regulating bodies, or leaves harvested from wild plants.
- Rinse the tea leaves for 30 seconds with hot water (add hot water to the tea leaves in a teapot for 30 seconds and dispose of the water before brewing) to substantially reduce the potential dust and pesticide contamination.
- One of the routine sayings at Valley Green Tea is to ‘know the farmer, know the products’. We make every effort to get to know the tea farmers and plantations. I believe that only when I get to know the tea producers, will I get the first-hand knowledge of whether the farmers are environmentally-conscious and practise ethical farming, or are driven by profits only. We select our suppliers carefully and change them whenever necessary.
Good news or bad news?
Finally, I believe that the recent claim may damage consumer confidence to some extent, but will benefit the Chinese tea industry in the long term. It will draw more attention from the regulating bodies to further monitor the products and farming practices and introduce relevant guidelines to ensure the healthy sustainability of the industry. Teas have been consumed in China for more than 2000 years and there is no sign of this stopping. And for the tea consumers and tea suppliers like VGT? We believe peace of mind goes down well with a nice cup of tea.
The founder and owner of Valley Green Tea
I grew up in the Fu-Jian Province – the tea country of China. Tea drinking has been part of our daily life for as long as I can remember.
While I was working as a public health researcher a few years ago, I read many research reports conducted over the last 30 years about the health benefits of green tea in fighting certain life style related challenges such as cancer, obesity, cardio-vascular and inflammatory diseases etc.
From my research, I realised there is a significant gap between what people consume (i.e. commercial tea bags) for assumed health benefits and the actual benefits that have been enjoyed by the Chinese for a long history from the premium loose leaf teas.
As well as being potentially beneficial to health, the premium loose teas (green tea being the biggest group) are most enjoyable beverages with a fascinating history, colourful culture and holistically dynamic in every aspect.
It is my passion to share, not only the products, but also the whole culture dynamics around the premium teas with the tea enthusiasts, here in Australia and around the world.
Valley Green Tea currently supplis a diverse range of premium loose teas to the tea drinking community that suit all tastes and all cultures and to pass on a deep understanding of the history and benefits of this wonder beverage.Website: https://www.valleygreentea.com.au