The University of Aberdeen in Scotland Tests Tea Authentication Methods

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, United KingdomScotland is popularly known for its whiskey, but it is also one of the world leaders in tea consumption. There are currently a small number of established tea growers in Scottland, and a large number starting to produce tea. Next time you visit your local grocery store, take a closer look in the tea aisle. You will more than likely see “Scottish Breakfast Tea” and “Yorkshire Tea.” Tea claiming to be Scottish in title and packaging may not even be Scottish in origin. Believe it or not, there is a lot of counterfeit tea being traded on a global scale. Manufactures and retailers are labeling black teas as Scottish, but the tea farmers in Scotland are not seeing the sales they should. Those counterfeit teas are in fact from other countries, where the tea can be bought at a lower price and sold off as Scottish. The presence of counterfeit tea could negatively impact the development of new tea farms in Scottland, growing and selling Genuine Scottish tea.

The bottom line is that counterfeit Scottish tea negatively affects the Scottish tea economy. Retailers selling tea labeled as Scottish are lying to the public, committing retail fraud, and cheating hard-working tea farmers in Scottland out of business that would be rightfully theirs under a more honest circumstance.

Measure To Be Taken

A labeling system was proposed to be observed by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and backed by some form of authenticity testing. This proposed testing would need to be effective in differentiating between different tea of different origins. Other tea producing regions may also be able to benefit from the development of tea authenticity testing. The Indian State of Darjeeling reports for Darjeeling tea production is overshadowed by the global figures for Darjeeling trade. Darjeeling tea farmers in India are also deeply affected by counterfeit tea.

Accomplishing The Goal

tray of laboratory tubes and a dropper with pink fluidMany methods have been developed for testing the authenticity of claims about geographical origins of food and drink products. Most of these methods achieve this by identifying a chemical "fingerprint" in the product and matching it to records in a database of known origin samples. It was found that different methods of detection are more effective for different products. There is not a single "universal" detection method as of yet.

In regards to tea imparticular, studies conducted in China are utilizing analysis methods to determine the varying levels of particular micronutrients and trace elements influenced by varying environmental factors.

The University of Aberdeen in Scotland

The University of Aberdeen, in association with the Scottish Tea Factory, utilized a method of analyzing a biological "fingerprint" using 10 specific trace elements. Using their method, they were able to distinguish between tea of Scottish origin and that of Chinese or Indian origin. They attribute this capacity to the contrasting soil compositions between regions.

There is still further study needed to be conducted in order to refine tea authentication practices. However, this new technological advance may soon change the face of the tea industry as we know it.

For more information on this subject, you may contact Professor David Burslem at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, or Ms. Beverly Wainwight, founder of the Scottish Tea Factory.

Professor David Burslem, University of Aberdeen; d.burslem@abdn.ac.uk.

Ms. Beverly Wainwright, The Scottish Tea Factory; scottishteafactory@gmail.com.


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