My colleague and friend Beverley Wainwright - prize winning tea maker and first person to build a tea processing factory in the UK (Scotland) - has been working with Dr David Burslem of the School of Biological Sciences at Edinburgh University on a study to develop a scientific test that helps prove the authenticity of product origin. This goes beyond the fingerprinting approach written about by Peter Keen recently and can actually show if a tea has been grown in the place where it is claimed to have been grown - e.g. Scotland, Cornwall, etc. The following overview from Beverly explains the study better than I can:
"The Study –
In general, the current majority public perception of tea is as a low value product and there are many misconceptions about the difference between tea blends and single origin teas that is confused by the current use of geographic labelling of tea. For example “Scottish Breakfast Tea” or “Yorkshire Tea” neither of which contain any Scottish or indeed Yorkshire grown tea. There is a world of difference between tea bag tea and high end teas, some of which, such as Da-Hong Pao and Tieguanyin being sold for many thousands of dollars per kilo. We wish to position our Scottish grown teas towards the higher end of this scale.
There has been a recent example of damage to the Scottish food industry caused by a blend being sold as a single origin product which is Hebridean sea salt. We wish to be able to avoid any issues and to be able to reassure consumers that our product is genuine and have a way to prove provenance.
We believe that tea education is of vital importance to this new industry especially within the food and drink sector and that high quality tea can massively enhance the visitor experience. This study can be used to help educate and we see the provision of tea courses as an important part of the development of this industry.
Ionomics is an approach to chemical analysis of multiple elements in plant tissues that can be used to differentiate tea grown in different locations based on differences in the elemental profile of the soil. This pilot authentication project has successfully demonstrated that tea grown in Scotland can be distinguished on this basis from a panel of 80 tea samples sourced from overseas. This has wider implications for the tea industry and especially for new growers in the U.K. and Europe with regard to provenance and authentication. We hope that this testing process may be used in future as part of an accreditation process for Scottish grown tea.
We intend to present these findings to tea influencers and tea organisations in London in 2019 and hope to publish various reports and articles about our findings."