About Small Farms and Organic Farming
Small Farm Teas Often Taste Better
We like small farm teas, not only because we want to support the small
farmer, but because their teas often taste better. Large estate teas
are blends of machine processed teas with a wide range of quality. Tea
is only as good as its weakest component. When modern technology is
introduced, it generally serves only to increase efficiency at the
expense of quality. Small farm teas are hand-grown and crafted with
great care and pride. Farmers prepare diligently for annual tea
competitions. They put their hearts and centuries of tradition into
their teas. Techniques developed by their ancestors are still in use
In certain areas of the world, economic pressures are intense for small
tea farmers. Many are lured by dreams of riches to the cities. The
collectives who pay the farmers are usually more concerned with low
prices than high quality. Recently, in some areas of China, farmers
have simply left their tea to wilt on the bush. They cannot afford the
effort and expense of processing, only to sell for low prices. When you
purchase tea from us, you are helping to support threatened farming
Buying Artisinal Teas and Help Keep the Traditions Alive
Help us support these agricultural artisans and allow them to continue
their wonderful craft. When you buy artisan teas, you provide its
makers with good prices for their products, allowing them to stay on
the farm and keep their traditions alive. In addition, In Pursuit of
Tea will donate a portion of our profits to organizations that promote
sustainable and organic production techniques.
We are concerned about the increased use of dangerous chemical pesticides and fertilizers that are used to grow tea throughout the world.
When shopping for produce, we look for organically grown varieties or buy buy directly from local farmers markets. This gives us the ability to talk to the producers and understand how the food is grown, and to ask any questions that we have, directly to the people growing it.
With tea, its a harder process. While we want to have tea that's grown in a clean way, we also want to have the tea processed well. These are independent of each other. Ideally we want organically grown AND masterfully made tea. We find that most teas (not all) that are sold as "organic", have the organic designation as the most important aspect which is primarily used for selling the tea. In other words, most consumers are just asking for the tea to be organic and the growers respond by producing a high volume and low quality crop. This feeds the growing organic market.
The price and process for organic certification is financially impossible for many of the small producers that we work with. That's why both spending time with the farmers at origin and spot testing the teas is our strategy. Testing all the lots is cost prohibitive for us so we are beginning to spot test if we feel unsure as to the purity of the teas.
We buy some teas which do have organic certification but don't advertise that as we have chosen not to have our warehouse become a certified facility. That means as soon as we open a chest of organic tea to repack in the foil packages it is no longer organic. We have close relationships with many of the farmers that we source our teas from and spend time with them on their farms and in their homes. We choose to work with producers that we feel comfortable with and who care for the land, their families and their tea plants!
A few years ago i was in Fujian and was introduced to some oolong farmers. When they found that I was from America, they responded "Are you looking for organically certified low price tea?" as this was their experience with other American buyers.
Another example is Wuyishan, Fujian. They were recently given an origin of control certification (the French organization came over and set it up). This ensures that teas from this region have a controlled origin - they are from a region that is known for specific criteria and the customer can be assured that the product is genuine. All the packages in the airport and in small shops in town had the certification stamped boldly on the package. After talking to some local farmers I heard another story. While most of the tea that's packaged with the stamp is legit, some of the producing factories bring in tea leaves from other regions and mix it in, which increases in value(for the sellers). The best made tea doesn't need the stamp as the buyers know what they want and what its worth. This is an example where the certification makes it easier to sell the lower quality teas.
For more about the term "organic," please read this excerpt from an April 19, 2005, article in the Wall Street Journal
by Katy McLaughlin. We think it does an excellent job of encapsulating
why there is so much misleading information about organic farming:
"...The government's imprimatur on organic food [standardizing what is
meant by 'organic' starting in October 2002] was supposed to simplify
things, to make it easier for consumers to know what they were eating.
But confusion remains. For example, many consumers don't realize that
'organic' doesn't indicate food proven to be healthier. While the
Organic Trade Association, a trade group for the industry, says there
is 'mounting evidence' that organic produce is more nutritious than
nonorganic food, many scientists reject this claim. Detailed,
controlled analyses and long-term studies will need to be conducted to
settle the question. Meanwhile, there are now lots of organic cookies,
ice cream and chips that are just as fattening, sugary, and salty as
any nonorganic alternatives.
"Some consumers also tend to assume that organic means no chemical
pesticides were used. But organic regulations do allow for pesticides
from a list of acceptable chemicals....
"Organic also doesn't necessarily mean that the food was grown by
small, family farmers. This fact rankles some activists like the
Cornucopia Institute, an advocacy group for small family farms. This
year, the organization filed complaints with the USDA about three major
organic dairies, including one owned by Horizon Organic, a unit of Dean
Foods, the largest organic dairy marketer in the U.S., alleging that
these operations don't comply with organic rules that require cows to
feed on pasture grass. Instead, the complaints say, the farms confine
cows to feedlots and feed them organic grain, a less expensive method
of production. The USDA has started an investigation into the