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Value of tea depends mainly on the quality of leaves used. "You can determine the quality of tea when you buy by the look, smell and feel of it," said Sakina Diwan, dietician, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai
For many, their day begins and ends with a hot cup of tea — black, white, masala or its many varieties. But how does one ensure that the tea is not adulterated with harmful chemicals and ingredients?
According to the Tea Board of India’s recent advisory, chemically-coloured tea have become common in markets, prompting the board to spearhead an awareness campaign.
According to the statement, tea (finished product/made tea) occasionally contains extraneous colouring material which are not allowed, called adulterant tea. There are occasional reports that sub-standards tea leaves were used to be coloured with bismark brown, potassium blue, turmeric, indigo, plumbago etc. to impart some favourite colour or glossiness to the product.
“Colour adulteration is strictly prohibited from a consumer health point of view and colouring of tea has gradually become a matter of serious concern these days. The treatment of teas with various colouring matters comes under the head of adulterants,” reads the statement that also cites Food Safety and Standards Authority of India 2011 regulation 2.10.1 (1) on tea which said that “the product shall be free from extraneous matter, added colouring matter and harmful substances”.
We reached out to experts to understand more about tea adulteration.
As per Darjeeling-based tea planter Parimal Kumar Sharma, adulteration is quite prevalent considering the fact that “pure Darjeeling tea leaves production is under 10 million kilos but over 40 million kilos are sold in the market.”
Notably, teas of Darjeeling, Kangra, Assam, and Nilgiri have reputed Geographical Indications (GI) registered under the GI Act of 1999 and enjoy considerable reputation worldwide for their premium quality.
As per the Tea Board, tea leaves that are damaged during the manufacturing process or are of inferior quality are being treated with various colouring agents to improve their appearance and price. “Colouring matters which are added to tea do not add any value to the product”.
As per Sharma, low-quality tea harvested during monsoon has high water content which makes it less flavoursome, which is why adulterants are used.
“Tea Board’s concerns about colour in low-quality tea is correct, as it is being used in a big way. The only way is to educate consumers to buy packaged tea from good brands. Also, Tea Board should discourage low quality tea producers to dump this sort of tea in the market. Licenses of tea marketing companies using artificial colours should be cancelled. Unfortunately, there is no system in place to check it,” Nashik-based Rajesh Girme, retired tea planter, Hindustan Unilever Tea plantations, Assam, told indianexpress.com.
Black teas are usually treated with plumbago (black lead), that is used in lead pencils. There is no evidence that using this agent for colouring tea is deleterious to health. However, adding foreign matter to the teas for the purpose of deception should be strongly discouraged. Scientific studies are required to evaluate the impact of using colour to human health, as per the Board.
Prussian Blue is also used in colouring tea. “Reports suggest that it is a toxic substance. Adulteration in tea leaves is done by treating processed leaves with a mixture containing Prussian blue, turmeric, or indigo etc,” the statement reads.
The value of tea depends mainly on the quality of leaves used. “You can determine the quality of tea when you buy by the look, smell and feel of it,” said Sakina Diwan, dietician, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai.
She added that one should always check for the shape of the leaf and its colour. “Handpicked leaves are always preferred since they are undamaged and retain the shape. After you brew the tea, make sure the colour is bright reddish and golden. If it turns out to be dark brown, then the quality of the leaves is low,” she said.
Diwan recommends that one can also determine the quality of tea through the fragrance once it is made and poured. “Black tea should have a sweet and floral fragrance and the smell should not be easily lost. Lastly, and most importantly, is the quality of it’s taste. If the astringency and the aftertaste are pleasant and balanced, it’s good quality tea. If they happen to have an overly bitter or a mouldy taste, you should be able to know right away the tea leaves are of low quality. The taste of a good quality tea should linger for a noticeably longer time after you have tasted it,” she mentioned.
Best quality teas are always well-plucked, well-made and well-sorted. Such teas will always have an even roll, twist and size in leaf. The cup will be smooth and mellow, golden and clean. The taste will be pleasant and sweet, with mild but pleasant astringency, and never bitter, said Ketan Desai, chief educator, VAHDAM India.
FSSAI has recommended a test to detect exhausted leaves adulteration in the tea you consume. Here are the steps:
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