Unexpected objects found in loose leaf teas

A recent case

Dragon Well green teaWe have had a recent complaint from a customer who was genuinely upset because she found a couples of small sticks in the premium grade Dragon Well tea she purchased from us (shown in the image). She was upset because she understood the premium grade Dragon Well tea should only contain tip leaves, but not twigs – which is in the tea description. It took me quite some effort, inspections and sampling to convince her that the twigs are not part of the composition of the tea, but mixed in by accident which is not uncommon for a manually handled agricultural product like tea.

The cause

We are all aware that different categories of teas, green tea, white tea, Oolong tea, black tea, Pu-erh tea/Hei Cha and jasmine tea are processed differently. What is in common is that the premium loose teas are mostly handmade, in multiple stages and often carried out in the villages of the tea farmers with basic equipment. With manual work as such, very step and stage has the potential for some unwanted objects ‘to join in’.
The following link gives a glimpse of how manual it is to make a Pu-erh tea. The entire process of making a loose tea can take up days (some years if taking into account the after production storage period for the purpose of aging) with continuous manual involvement.

For those who have never witnessed an actual tea processing, finding a piece of human hair in the tea can certainly cause a panic which is understandable. For someone like me however who grew up with a tea culture like shown in the video clip, it is actually not so scary as I understand even with the best attempt by the tea farmers to avoid this, the chance of a piece hair fallen into the tea is rather high. For example, it is not really practical to expect the tea farms to ware factory caps when plucking the tea leaves in the tea fields or in the wild for teas like Pu-erh. If any human hair fell and mixed with tea leaves, unless it is spotted during the following stages and removed, it will show up when the tea is consumed. This is not to justify the existence of these foreign objects, but to explain how they happened.


Some examples of the foreign objects

Benign ones: 

  • Leaves of different grades, for example odd large old leaves
  • Tea twigs
  • Bamboo/straw pieces
  • Corn kernels
  • Tea flower seeds

More severe ones:

  • Small screws
  • Small insects
  • Small feathers
  • Human hair
  • Tarpaulin fabric

How to minimise the potential harm

To start, the potential harm imposed by these objects are rather low mainly because we only consume the tea brew but not digesting the tea leave. We also always advise the following when preparing a tea brew:

  • Inspect the dry tea leaves before adding to the tea vessel
  • Rinse the tea leaves with hot water before brewing, especially those that are aged such as Pu-erh tea and Hei Cha

Final note: 

  1. Some teas are more likely than the others to have these objects discovered. For example, there are regular reports of foreign objects found in Pu-erh cakes or bricks, largely due to the traditional processing methods and practices. 
  2. The objects are not indicative of the quality grade of the teas. There might have been more attention paid to the exclusive grade tea products, but the potential of discovery of foreign objects still exists. 
  3. The Chinese have consumed their teas exactly the same way for a long history. There is more concern caused the synthetic materials used in the agriculture - hazard caused by the foreign objects is almost unheard of. 




Black tea, white tea or green tea?

Let's talk on the same terms: green tea, white tea or Oolong tea

Teas are categorised into 6 classes according to the degree of fermentation/oxidisation during their processing: green teas are un-fermented; white teas are lightly fermented by almost unprocessed (rubbed, rolled or baked); yellow teas are partially fermented, but being put through a unique process called ‘Men Huang’ to produce the unique yellow appearance and yellow tea taste; Oolong teas are semi-fermented and black teas are fully fermented. There is also a sixth category called compressed tea (Pu-erh tea) that the teas continue to ferment after being produced. The confusion starts when a tea brew without milk added is called black by the western cultures.  With the increasing popularity of green tea in recent years largely due to their numerous health benefits, it adds another dimension to the confusion – many call any leaf tea green including herbal teas (teas made of all other plants and parts apart from Camellia sinensis leaves). The classification becomes more intangible when white tea is mentioned: it is a black tea with added milk by western culture and the white tea in Chinese is a unique class of teas that are lightly fermented by least processed, nothing to do with if milk is added or not. The discussions about teas, especially their health benefits are intense these days. Let’s start from getting the terms right so that at least we know we are talking about the same products.

Other resources: 



Oolong, Wulong and Wu Long, what are the differences?

Oolong tea is a class of Chinese teas that are semi-fermented. Oolongl, Wulong and Wulong are translations of different Fu Jian dialects referring to 'dark red dragon' in Chinese.

I have come crossed some questions recently on Linked in which I believed are for many:

  • Hello XXX, do please throw some light which is the best area which produces the best Oolong tea. I thought Taiwan was superior. Anything better still? XXX
  • Taiwan does have outstanding oolongs, and many people consider them to be some of the best -- especially their high mountain oolongs. Personally we buy most of our oolongs from Taiwan, but favour China for many of our top quality green tea and white tea.
  • I would like to add a comment to XXX's question - In my mind, Oolong is not the same as Wulong. Oolong tea is a short fermented (less oxidized) tea with less color and closer to a green tea and Wulong which is also called Wu Yi Oolong is a more fermented (more oxidized) tea with more color, closer to a black tea. Some of the less oxidized high elevation Oolongs come from Taiwan, but China is gaining ground in this sector also. Wu Yi Oolong on the other hand comes only from China. I am open to correction.

My response to this: Hi every one, I am from Fu Jian province - the birth place of Oolong teas. Here is some info on our site regarding Oolong, Wulong and Wu Long: https://www.valleygreentea.com.au/oolong-wulong-tea/oolong-tea-inf.html Teas are categorised by degree of fermentation: green teas are unfermented, black teas are fully fermented and Oolong teas are semi-fermented. It is a class of teas including Taiwan Oolong and Wu Yi rock teas. Wulong is just a different version of English translation from a different Fu Jian dialect. The Fu Jian province is the birth place of Oolong teas. One of the most popular one is called Tie Guan Yin and some early migrants took it to Taiwan, modified it over the years to become Tiawan Oolong. Tiawan Oolong is produced by slightly different method and more fermented than Fu Jian Tie Guan Yin. Taste wise, it has a stronger after taste, but less up front floral aroma. Wu Yi rock tea is a sub-class of Oolong tea, produced in Wu Yi mountain area of the Fu Jian province. Because the bushes are grown of rocky mountains and they have their own unique making method, people tend to call them Wu Yi rock tea as a sub-category. Hope this is of some help.


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