More Teas Need Protected Geographic Identification

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Tea plucker in a tea garden.

Idyllic Picture of Darjeeling Tea Plantation

Protected Geographic Identification is a distinctive name or sign that indicates the originating territory of a particular product’s country, region or locality where its quality, reputation or other characteristic is linked to its geographic location. In the world of tea, as with other products like wine, geography matters. It is in the soil, weather, and altitude that tea derives its flavor. We call that terroir. Without knowing where the tea is grown, you have a harder time judging its quality.

For instance, Sencha grown in China has a dry grass flavor while Sencha grown in Japan has more of a seaweed flavor. Which one is better quality?  To tea snobs, it is cleary the Sencha grown in Japan! Sencha is historically a Japanese tea which is steamed to stop oxidation and not baked. Since green tea is often associated with a more healthy option in Europe and the US, its quite common to see teas being marketed as Sencha that are not grown in Japan at all.

Darjeeling is one of the first teas to get geographic identification protection, which has helped to reduce significant the use of the term Darjeeling on tea that was not grown in the region. Sri Lanka has dipped into geographic identification protection for Ceylon teas and China is just getting started. Unlike other countries, China has a much harder job in determining how to carve the geographic boundaries around certain teas. Tea has been grown in that country for thousands of years, so the style of manufacture has spread and evolved throughout the country. What’s more, China has its own folklore around the origins of specific teas like Dragonwell and Puerh, which will be a starting point for them in negotiating in this space. There are a great many named teas that could use the protection of this international agreement.

If you aren’t familiar with Protected Georgraphic Identification, just look at the cheese counter at your local grocery store. You will see that many of them, like parmigiano reggiano, have these protections. Even the Idaho potato has protected geographic identification. So we hope more teas are able to get these protections so consumers can better understand how important location is to the taste of their favorite beverage.

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