Many people are concerned about pesticide levels in tea.
Different countries accept different levels of pesticide and chemical residues on tea imports. The UK now comes under the European Union's standards. All the teas we import are tested to ensure they meet these criteria which are extremely strict.
Some of the people I have spoken to are sadly under the impression the pesticide residues on tea that are sold in the UK are not strictly monitored. This is simply not true.
This photo shows the hustle and bustle of Anxi's famous Tieguanyin market. There is a great noise of people negotiating over sacks of tea, slurping as they taste tea before buying, as well as those chatting and socialising. Here many local families, farmers and traders are selling their tea.
Even though there are 1000's of different sellers in this enormously busy hall, none of them are offering tea which would pass EU standards. Their teas meet China standards but not ours. They would all contain banned pesticides or too high a level of approved pesticides. So for me, the visit to this market was just a spectacle rather than a buying trip.
I prefer it this way. I like to work directly with farmers so that I can ask them to make the tea I like it.
Take Mr Huang for instance. His entire farm is carefully monitored to ensure that pesticide use is kept to an absolute minimum. We also work with him to ensure that the Tieguanyin and Yellow Gold Oolong [LINK] he makes is perfect for our customers.
One of the reasons that China produces such exceptional teas is because of the demand for such teas from its domestic market. This is great - the small family traditions are kept intact because if they start making their tea any other way, it will not be up to scratch. Also, they are not dependant on large western companies - they have many clients and so can sustain their heritage and knowledge.
Many of China's most famous regions, Like the West Lake area in Hanzhou which produces the most prized Dragon Well (Long Jing) is almost entirely out of bounds for any company based in the Europe. The tea made in these areas destined for the most wealthy section of China's population. As it is not intended for export, the extra steps to ensure that pesticides and fertiliser meets EU standards are not in place. We have to look to other neighbouring areas where we can control how the tea is produced.
We send our teas for testing in Germany as there is not currently a laboratory based in the UK that regularly tests teas. In the lab, the tea samples in ground up and then tested for pesticide and other chemicals and heavy metals. Many tea traders feel that the water left in an infusion should be tested rather the leaves themselves as consumers do not eat the tea leaves. This way of testing makes the test extremely strict and in my opinion is a good thing.
I have had the most trouble in finding EU compliant teas in Taiwan. Taiwan exports a very small proportion of its yield of tea and so does not make the necessary steps to ensure its teas meet EU standards. This is a great shame as Taiwan produces some of the finest Oolong teas to be found. We are currently working with farmers to try to resolve this situation.
Many of our teas come back with no pesticide residues found - this happened this year with our Anji Bai Cha.