Explore the differences between plantation tea and that which comes from trees, focusing on issues that relate to ecologically friendly farming, vending and purchasing.
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on Thursday, December 13th, 2007 at 4:13 pm and is filed under Issue 1.
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We’ve never met, but you seem to have read from my blog (”the blog by a vendor of Taiwanese tea” and there are not that many around!) that I “even go as far as saying that the flavor of organic tea is often not worth the added price.” The key word is ‘often’ and I stand by my remark. Your palate should judge the quality and if you like a tea, not the fact that it’s organic or not. There are so many components that make a tea good or bad (weather, season, processing, storage…). If all organic teas were better tasting and better value than non organic teas, everybody (starting with me) would make and sell such teas only.
You also say that ‘the blog (…) fails to promote organic farming’. Well, the very first farmer that I featured on my blog (month of June 2004) is Mr. Zhou Hsien Bang (or Chou Hsien Pang). He is the very same organic farmer accompanying you in this article! I even have a link to the Taiwanese retailer who is (was?) selling his teas! (And I have no affiliation and don’t earn anything on this!).
In addition, a THIRD of the teas in my current selection are organically grown! I just don’t emphasize it. And I don’t feel that the other two thirds come from exhausted or intensely sprayed plantation. I guess it’s not black and white, organic vs non organic. Many non organic farmers of top quality teas (not the mass production teas) have learned to minimize the pesticides and fertilizers they use, because it ultimately also impacts the quality of their tea.
I chose not to emphasize the word ‘organic’ in my blog, also because there are already a lot of people who do so. Many do so just for marketing reasons, I guess. Others, like you, do so in the worthy effort to protect the environment. The focus of my blog, more and more, is the appretiation of good tea, not the criticism of bad tea or bad farming.
After this clarification, I also wished to say that I very much liked your article about Master Ling and that I wish your new tea Magazine a lot of success.
While your blog was included in those I was discussing, it wasn’t the only one. Nor were my comments personal– I disapprove of the sin, loving the sinner–to borrow a Christian adage.
I don’t agree that we can sit in a tearoom and drink tea enjoying what brings pleasure to our palates without regard to nature. For the same reason, I am vegetarian. I don’t think we can consume products in an attempt to commune with nature and the Dao while at the same time ignoring the effects said commodities are having on the environment. Cha Dao starts on the farm, and it isn’t enough to justify environmental problems in the name of sensual pleasure. If someone preferred to eat dolphin above all other fish, would you then say that said person should continue purchasing dolphin meat because their palate suggested this, come what may to the endangerment of this beautiful species? I think not. So too, someone can make a tasty tea that is unhealthy for people and destroys the environment, but its delicious flavor does not necessarily justify its existence.
The reason that all farmers haven’t started using organic farming methods has nothing to do with the taste, as you suggested when you said that every farmer would “only make and sell such teas”. The fact is that most farmers in Taiwan and elsewhere aren’t farming for a love of tea, or a desire to create the best. They grow tea for money, and as a cash crop their philosophy and methodology are based on larger output, not the greatest, healthiest tea.
I agree that the issue is not black and white and that there are farms run by tea-lovers that wish to make high quality tea, while at the same time compromising on some issues for the sake of profit, and I said as much in my article. But even those who make competitive, good-tasting teas often do so to seek recognition and higher prices for their tea, again making it about money. Business is business. Most all these farmers pack the land with way too many trees, spray them with chemicals that weren’t designed for tea and intersperse them amongst other crops like bin lan, oranges, coffee, etc.
The fact is that tea can be drunk as a commodity and a beverage, or it can be consumed with awareness, dialogue with nature and our true selves, as well as a communication of deep joy between individuals. However, as such it must be responsible. Most of the farmers who don’t grow organic tea don’t do so because: either it will lessen their output or they aren’t skilled enough, as it takes a lot more work and knowledge.
When we buy organic tea, we aren’t just paying for a better taste. We are paying for environmental protection, peace of mind and a philosophy of Cha Dao that is ancient and true. All the tea sages past and present wrote that the best teas came from trees growing on mountains with deep roots and large crowns, not chemical-covered shrubs packed together in starving, dried up soil and over-harvested plantations. I have seen a collection of ancient prescriptions in China where many apothecaries recommended that their patients drink MORE tea with their medicine, whereas many modern doctors in the media (and my own doctor personally) are suggesting we drink less tea. This research is based on these chemically covered, genetically cloned teas that may taste good but aren’t healthy for us or the environment. Isn’t it the same with most all food products these days? McDonald’s tastes good as well. Meat tastes good, but I don’t eat that for similar reasons. Nor do I eat too much junk food, chocolate, etc… The fact is that in the end, there is a lot more to tea-drinking than flavor.
Most all the master I have met who have drank tea for many years all do so more with their bodies and spirits than tongue and palate anyway. The more I progress, the more I also evaluate my teas not in terms of how delicious they are (after all a 40$ chocolate tastes better than a 10,000 Puerh). Zhou Yu often says you would have to be crazy to spend thousands on a flavor, but not so on Qi. In other words, I can and do tell the difference between teas geared towards flavor and organic, healthy tea—my body does know the difference.
Perhaps, vendors such as yourself should be promoting and mentioning the organic third of your teas more often. I know that some farms and vendors market inorganic as organic, but that doesn’t mean everyone will think this of you. It is very possible to stock one’s shelves with nothing but very healthy, very much organic and very much delicious teas. I myself have about a ton of tea and very, very little is inorganic!
You have the power to impact these issues in positive ways. The more you do, the more often I will be the first to commend and respect what you are doing–even if others don’t understand.
“The truth is an offense, but not a sin”–Bob Marley
I wish you well too, my brother in tea. You should have long ago contacted me and come down for tea. Use the site’s email address anytime to do so.
I have been involved with tea and tea business since 1993 and the truth about the organic and non organic situation is tricky. Since organic does sell for more, there are countless cases in Mainland and Taiwan of false certification especially by Taiwan and China’s own national certification boards, which are know to receive pay offs to get certification. These Taiwan and Chinese national certifications are often less stringent than European or Japanese for instance,(The USDA has been know to look the other way as well). Organic certification is renewed each year so make sure your producers is up to date and not just riding off a one time certification. If you want authentic certification see if they are certified by more than just their local country. If one sees the tea industry from the inside out it becomes apparent, if one supports buying tea that isn’t genuine organic it will just lead to more shitty tea, that’s the bottom line. Good tea is objective but as Aaron points out ones one palate and diet plays a major role as well. Non organic tea depletes the soil and affects the tea in the end, anyone who after a cup of tea has doubled over with a sudden aching belly and burning throat effect, knows what i mean. This issue is complex though and goes into the farming industry worldwide and what it really goes back to is native strains, and bio-diverse organic methods. Traditional tea species have by nature adapted and are stronger by natural selection. This is why they live so long (up to +or- 2000 year-old) and have more nutrients, cha qi, from deeper roots, broader branches and healthier soil. Since these have been mostly replaced by hybrid strains, that are inherently weaker, with shorter life spans, less resistance, requiring more artificial nutrients or sprays for protection, etc. Taiwanese farmers will often tell me, “you can’t grow organic tea in Taiwan because of climate!” Which i reply. “well than how did your grandfather grow tea before the introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides?” The are left speechless, i know its possible and so do they, but its a trend, a short cut, and people follow trends. The other danger is in these places also are chemicals that have been outlawed in the US and sold overseas, still in use in some areas, selling the pesticides right back to the US in carriers in the form of “healthy” tea leaf. If more people support genuine organic and bio-diverse teas the prices will come down and it will become a social norm. If you want more information on this or the list of genuine organic producers i have come across feel free to email me. email@example.com
“As a domestic art form, tea, like other such pastimes, is vulnerable to vulgarization, neglect, and commercialization. In the modern world, where mechanization and mass production have taken over so much, honest craftsmanship is fighting a losing war.” —John Whitney Hall—
That the vendors who I criticized in my articles, without mentioning any names, recognize that they are being criticized is good as it promotes dialogue and affects positive change. Part of the impetus for this free magazine is to break free of the restraints of information from vendors or magazines who are supported by advertising from vendors, allowing us to explicitly discuss the problems tea culture faces when it is ‘neglected, vulgarized or commercialized’ to borrow Mr Hall’s insight. Rather than just defending one’s business, I hope vendors will paticipate and discuss the ways of improving as well.
“The focus of my blog, more and more, is the appretiation of good tea, not the criticism of bad tea or bad farming.” I do like this comment a lot. While this article is focused on the negativities of poor farming, I also agree that we need to spend more of our time appreciating good tea and good farmers, remaining positive–without lapsing into ignorance or neglecting issues we can impact. Still, it is important to emphasize the positive and strive to live with it. I think this reflects my views of tea as well. After all, though we shouldn’t stop trying, we’ll never heal all the problems in the world, tea-related or otherwise.
Good visitors will probably deem this exclusive info related to Romancing the Leaf by Aaron Fisher meanwhile many guests previously said that the info is very interesting. Thank You for the information you expressed.
I am a Native American living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in America. I have learned and practiced what my elders and wise men have taught me through the years. I have seen others learn of what Mother Earth has to offer us from her womb. We have a tea plant they we drink and charish. Not too many people know of it. “Ce-yaka”.
In reading your Leaf article it makes me feel good that others are still living and caring for Mother Earth
Bottom line how do you know the tea you bought is genuine organic? Do you just trust what is on the label?
I believe in organic but I don’t believe in modern days organic product no matter where it is from China, Taiwan or USA.