Geographical Indicators For Taiwanese Tea
A meaningful article was recently published on the World of Tea site about the challenges of verifying the authenticity of tea via the use of geographical indicators. The author made a valid point about how the methods of employing geographical indicators are not foolproof, particularly when tea is exported outside of its local industry and market. His article prompted us to research geographical indicators here in Taiwan, which we have observed the development of over the last decade or so, but have not been directly involved in the use of them. Here's what the indicators look like on packaged tea:
Eco-Cha believes that our commitment to transparently representing the local industry here in Taiwan is actually more effective and trustworthy than this standardized method of verification. However, we were impressed by the standard methods of verification that are employed here in Taiwan, which we will briefly explain here.
Geographic indicators are managed by local governments who register a product and place name with the national Intellectual Property Office and cooperate with the Tea Research and Extension Station (TRES), a subsidiary of the Dept. of Agriculture. When tea producers register their farm and produce for the use of geographic indicators, the local government inspects the farm to verify the quantity of tea that can be produced from a given farm, primarily determined by the size of the farm. This step alone is perhaps the most effective in the overall process, as it regulates the authenticity of a regional product by knowing how much tea a registered farm can produce seasonally.
A sample of tea from each seasonal harvest is tested for chemical trace residue of pesticides to ensure that it is responsibly produced and passes European/North American export standards. This also helps to prevent the use of imported tea from less regulated origin. A separate sample of each harvest is sent to the TRES to be inspected for quality and processing methods to ensure that it meets the standard for a given tea type. For example, a batch of tea receiving authorized geographic indication for Dong Ding Oolong must be Qing Xin Oolong tea leaves that are sufficiently oxidized and roasted, and of a quality and character that represents this regional product. If the samples of tea are approved, the government will apply stickers to the approved batch of tea after it has been packaged for sale.
Primarily these geographic indicators are used by farmers' associations in tea producing regions to market their local specialty tea. The farmers' association is a trusted source that the tea represents the local produce. Beyond this, many tea farmers who produce tea in large quantities and aspire to market their own brand have determined it worthwhile to invest in this government certification. In recent years, of the hundreds of vendors at the Nantou County Global Tea Expo, a significant percentage of the privately branded tea for sale had certified geographic indicators on their packaging.
In the final analysis, there is no way to prove that tea leaves packaged with certified geographic indicators are indeed from the farm that is registered. But it is highly unlikely that a private brand will take the risk and the trouble to use tea from another source. There simply is no good reason to do so. Having said that, as the article on the World of Tea site stated, Taiwan has not yet made use of the geographic indicators on the international market. It appears to be for domestic use, or at least for the Chinese literate population, which includes China and Japan — a considerable portion of the consumer demand for Taiwanese tea. Below are all of the geographic indicators currently in use in Taiwan, starting in the north and going south.
文山包種茶及圖 WENSHAN BAO-CHUNG TEA
台灣．新竹．峨眉鄉公所產地證明標章 Taiwan.HsinChu.Emei Township Office
苗栗縣東方美人茶產地證明標章 Miaoli Country 及圖
產地證明標章-合歡山高冷茶 Mt. HeHuan High Mountain tea 及圖
日月潭紅茶 Sun Moon Lake Black Tea 及圖
台灣．台東．鹿野．紅烏龍 Red Oolong Tea 及圖
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The medium oxidized leaves have undergone extensive, repeated roastings that have resulted in a very balanced, integrated character. The initial steepings offer a freshly cut wood aroma with a toasted nutty flavor. This proceeds to open up into a sweeter, more complex profile that is strikingly reminiscent of roasted winter vegetables, including parsnip, caramelized onion and butternut squash.
Mr. Zhang's father cultivated tea on their homesteaded land in Xiaobantian, on the southside of Lugu Township, where he grew up in the midst of traditional tea making. At 20 something, he decided to embody his local tradition by clearing land to cultivate his own plot of tea. For the last 20 years, he has managed his own humble, privately owned plot of tea. Throughout this period, he also acquired seasonal work in tea factories in Lugu, Shanlinxi, Alishan, Fanzaitian, and Lishan. In a word, he learned the ropes of tea making in a comprehensive way, like most tea farmers of his generation. Lugu hosts the highest concentration of tea makers in Taiwan, and is a hub of specialty tea making culture.