Another big change that occurred while I was away from puerh is that almost all the bigger vendors are testing for agrochemicals in their products.
This was always the elephant in the room with avid puerh drinkers/bloggers in the early/ mid- 2000s. We knew that some of the stuff that we were consuming was sprayed (the plantation/factory stuff was most suspect) but no one really talked about it too much. We just lived with it because, really, what were we to do about it? The only real option back then was if you were concerned about it, then stop drinking puerh. Todays puerh buying climate, especially from the most popular Western puerh vendors, is almost the opposite with buyers now expecting agrochemical testing done on the teas they are buying. This is great news for someone who tends to be more sensitive to them than the average puerh drinker. How did it change so quickly?
I think just before my absence from the tea world David from Essence of Tea was kind of pushing this agenda of the use of agrochemical through to the front of puerh drinkers consciousness. I am so glad he was a part of this initial push.
When investigating why this happened I thought it was likely due to buyer pressure on all to follow suite. Actually this seems to be driven by the vendors themselves to protect and defend their love and their livelihoods after a series of bad press in the mainstream media about the agrochemicals found in teas about 5 years ago. This was really what everyone was talking about back then. Interesting links can be seen here and here where many puerh vendors discuss this issue and desire to change. You can kind of get a sense where they all stand on the issue as well. One of the things they discuss is what they feel is the acceptable limit of pesticide residues in puerh.
There was a lot of discussion back then and I wondered to myself what has changed since that initial surge in interest. So I looked into the agrochemical policies of some popular Western puerh vendors for their 2017 productions and this is what I found…
Essence of Tea has a zero tolerance policy for pesticides and, I believe, they only accept a very small trace of the EU MRL agrochemicals. In 2015 they posted the testing of 225 chemicals of all of the puerh they pressed on the product page. Although they don’t explicitly state that the 2016 & 2017 have been tested, it is my understanding that they are all fully tested and the lab results can be obtained by contacting them.
Yunnan Sourcing started EU MRL testing its own YunnanSourcing brand label in 2013 and has increased the amount of chemicals tested to 191 and has even lowered the minimal acceptable limit of some chemicals to a zero tolerance as well over the years.
white2tea just started to test their teas this year. They started with testing one of their lowerprice offerings from each category. Theyalso mention that more and more teas will be tested each year. I think the fact they seem to seek out some of the best leaf from year to year and rely less on the same sources and gardens suggests to me that it might be a lot trickier to ensure that agrochemicals are not used. The fact that many of their cakes are blends can also complicate things. For instance, if even one batch of leaves out of the blend is contaminated it will contaminate the whole blend. I would like to see white2tea test a few of their blends next year.
I couldn’t find anything on Crimson Lotus, Bitter Leaf, Puerh.sk, Chawangshop, testing for agrochemicals. Many of them take some kind of precautions to avoid agrochemicals but they don’t actively test their product. I think it must be hard for vendors just starting out or for smaller puerh vendors to shell out the money for testing so, feel these vendors shouldn’t be held to the same scrutiny until they are more established but on the other hand, for them to grow consumer confidence they kind of need to test for these sorts of things. So for them, it really puts them in a hard spot, I think.
The Tea Urchin has written a great article about the use of pesticides in puerh but I couldn’t find anything on their site that has anything on testing their puerh. I get from their article that they assess the tea gardens by other means to reduce the likelihood of pesticide residues in their puerh.
Puerhshop does its own lab work to test its teas and I think might have been one of the first to start testing its puerh. It doesn’t really go into detail about what kind of tests are preformed and for what type of chemicals. The interesting thing is that they tested some of their semi aged puerh as well- the only vendor to do this.
It seems at the height of this discussion about 5 years ago even our dearest tea blogger, Hobbes of the Half-Dipper, covered this topic in a post with some nice commentary to follow.
To me I think it’s really interesting that there are still so many smaller puerh vendors that are not testing for agrochemicals. I guess it must be quite expensive to do so. But overall, I am excited about all the options of pesticide free puerh out there these days. My wish is that vendors would have links to these reports right on the product pages just like Essencce of Tea did for their 2015 teas. This would take transparency to the next level.
Thank you vendors for going in this direction!
This is indeed very interesting. As David says, what's the point of drinking teas that will potentially arm you, even if it's in the long run? And I'd add that once you are used to teas grown using zero agrochemical such as David's, it quickly becomes difficult to go back, even to EU/US standards teas which can be pretty ugly and which will never offer the same balance, cleanliness, throat/body feelings, etc from my point of view. Even most of organic teas can't really bear the comparison with teas grown with no agrochemicals at all.
To my knowledge, two other trustworthy vendors do this : Hojo Tea, where all teas are tested. The vast majority of their teas comes from completely natural trees where not even organic fertilizer or manure are used. And Postcard Teas, who are not dealing with puerh yet, but whose selection on other teas is the best I know in the western world. They are with David my 3 main suppliers. And as I said, once used to their teas (and ethic), it's difficult to go back...
Thanks for alerting me to the newer developments in Essence of Tea in one of my first posts back- much appreciated.
I think you really have to decide how much you are trying to avoid pestisides in the everyday foods you are eating and in the cleaners in your home and work environments.
If you don't even think about this stuff then testing for agrochemicals shouldn't matter to you.
If you take some precautions with the purchase of organic foods, natural cleaner, etc then it might matter to you more.
If you actively try to reduce exposure to toxins and pestisides in your food, water, air, and environment then testing for agrochemicals in puerh will be very important in your purchasing decisions.
Which one are you?
I can't agree more with David when he says : "Some ingestion of chemicals is unavoidable in this modern world, especially if one wishes to have a balanced life, but minimising this and gaining an awareness of it can only be a good thing."
Tea is a passion. More than that, tea is one of the rare passions I know that is not bad for your body compared to alcohol, cigars and many other things. We drink liters and liters of puerh and other teas on a daily basis. Why choose to harm your body when you actually have the choice? Finally, I'm convinced that teas grown with no agrochemicals are far better than others. And prices of such teas are now comfortable enough for us to be able to drink them on a daily basis. So, why choose something else?
I enjoy the deep meaning of that quote. I just think for some people, they are not there yet. Demanding teas be pesticide free while in the same breath using weed killer on your lawn doesn't make sense to me.
So it really depends where people are.
For me, its really about reconciling conflicting issues about drinking aged puerh that was possibly sprayed and how this effects the way I purchase young sheng nowadays with the option of peptide free puerh so readily available.
I feel like a bit of a hypocrite if I enjoy drinking some puerh I have from the 1990s or 70s or something that is totally not pesticide tested but then outright refuse to drink new young untested sheng.
I image these same vendors who have a zero tolerance policy for agrochemicals are the same way- they also stock lots of aged/semi-aged puerh which could very well be heavily sprayed because they aren't testing it.
Do you drink or purchase aged or semi-aged even though you know they are not tested? How do you resolve this conflict of truths?
I don't know if David for instance tests the aged/semi-aged puerh he sells. He has quite a few in his selection. They're the only ones I drink, rarely because of their price, although I do now enjoy the occasional Liu Bao Cha he sells on a more regular basis. Even if he doesn't test them all (I believe this is very expensive to do), I rely on his tasting skills to be able to detect them.
And I absolutely agree on this inner conflict you're talking about. But I cannot think of myself not trying to develop people's awareness on what may be in their tea leaves, even the ones with a nice EU or organic label on their wrapping.
Have a beautiful Sunday.
The pesticide test is required for teas imported since ~2013 in EU, that's probably why the Essence of Tea (formerly from GB) started the tests as a first one.
Also, the test for one sample costs ~200 dollars.
Thanks for this conversation about pesticides in puerh. Hopefully some readers gain a deeper understanding why people gravitate towards these teas. I look forward to any commentary you can add on my upcoming posts on some Essence of Tea's line up.
Too Cha Tea,
That's not that expensive at all! I wonder why even the small vendors are not shelling out the money to get this sort of thing done?
Thanks for these facts Thomas.
Thanks for this article Matt. For me it's an interesting and important topic. The comments both by yourself and others are nicely balanced too... this isn't a clear cut issue.
We began to test teas because we were worried about the general use of chemicals on old tree teas. Old trees teas were/are commonly marketed as being free of chemicals, and that chemicals were just used on plantation teas. Once we became more aware of the widespread use on old trees we figured that the only way to be sure was to start to test teas.
For me, just being within the EU limits should be seen as a baseline requirement, but it's not very far at all.... it just means it's legal to import and sell in the EU! That's a pretty low standard for a consumer concerned about the effects of agrochemicals in their diet and no better than the cheapest supermarket vegetables. Never mind looking in the organic section! Of course it's better than a lot of teas, so at least it's a start.
I think it's good that people are more concerned about this issue and more and more vendors are beginning to test. It can only be a good thing, both for the environment and the tea drinkers too.
David (The Essence of Tea),
You bring up a really good point about the ethical argument for tested puerh. I think this kind of puts the vendor at a higher standard than the buyer.
I don't sell tea but other natural products out of China and this is the standard I have for most of my products:
•No detected pesticides. (They test for at least 135 pesticides and in many cases over 250 pesticides). They only accept a reading of ND (none-detected) they don’t feel they should be in the postion of determining a safe level of pesticide contamination.
•Each lot is tested and tracked. Testing is done by an independent laboratory in either the US or Germany.
•Sulfur dioxide – they test each lot for SO2 via vapor sampling and accept only readings of 1.0 ppm or less. The choice of this level of testing is to allow naturally occurring SO2 (a natural result of decaying plant matter) yet rule out added sulfur gassing. Some of their suppliers do titration testing for sulfites. They also accept a non-detection result from this test.
•If they have any reason to suspect contamination by other substances, they test for them as well.
Even if the customer doesn't care about testing, I feel this ethical responsibility rests on my shoulders.
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