an expensive “restaurant tea”
A few years ago I saw a nice tin can from a famous grocery brand in New York labeled “Chinese Restaurant Tea” for the price of a tin of fine Darjeeling in the same store.
It would mean humour to me if I were to remain only a tea connoisseur. May mean great opportunities to those who prefer to take advantage of the majority of consumers who are under-informed. However, as a fine tea advocate, the situation is alarming, because this means long term destruction to the tea trade.
Firstly, there is no such tea variety as a restaurant tea. There are quite a few teas that are commonly used in restaurants and they are of different varieties. Secondly, “restaurant tea” is a term used to refer to very low grade products with a strong hint of disapproval. A prestigious brand selling it at a relatively high price is basically telling the customers that tea really is not worth your dollar, better switch to something else, because even a reliable brand cannot offer you a better thing.
Or can they? Have they employed a capable merchandizer for fine teas? Or are they thinking that this trend for Chinese tea is just another chance for profiteering?
Sauvignon or Puer, messieurs?
Maybe terms as Puer, Tie’guan’yin, Longjing or Gyokuro are too difficult for the consumers outside of the Far East that retailers are stuck with generic products such as low grade jasmine tea used in restaurants? Or are they? Terms such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon etc are not any less mysterious in Asia, where even just the alphabets themselves are foreign. Hong Kong, a mere 7-million population, is now one of the world’s major fine wine markets (note). Not many years ago, it was the top cognac market. I think maybe over 80% the population couldn’t even pronounce the word “cognac” right. Fine tea can be an experience no less universal than fine wine or liquor. The world has the right to access to the enjoyment and the benefits of it. Hyson, Congou, Bohea, and Pekoe were not any lesser exotic names than modern day proper romanized Asian tea names, yet they were used with open arms in the few centuries of the West's bloomig commercial experience with tea.
That said, however, there is much educational work to be done. Not only for the consumers, but also for the trade.
There are also other problematic issues with names, however.
The issue of irregularity in labeling goes much deeper, and it all goes back to the seller trying to make easier sales or higher profits. Another reason for this dishonest practice is the lack of accurate and easily accessible information, that is one reason we’ve set up this site.
is the label descriptive? or deceptive?
Back to mislabeling. There are names that are popular and well-regarded, such as Longjing, the famous green tea. However, there are people who do not really know how a Longjing should taste and look. Well, if I were a dirty merchant with some green tea stock that is not moving, maybe it would not be a bad idea to name this stock the popular name. Maybe I can get rid of my stock more quickly. That is the number one reason for deliberately mislabeling — providing an easy stock for the name of a product that the market aspire to, but not really matching it.
As a consumer, if I were to buy my first Longjing from this dirty merchant, then whatever this tea is means Longjing to me. As I do my subsequent shopping elsewhere, I may discover various other teas that are also called Longjing by other dirty merchants. As a result, I would think Longjing is just a generic name with no particular character for taste and appearance. In the long run, I would have only a very blurred idea of what that tea really is, or for that matter, what tea generally is. They may all begin to taste the same to me.
a word to the trade
This may sound silly, but this is actually happening. There are a lot of people around me who cannot tell a Shuixian (an oolong) from a jasmine scented green tea, or from a Shoumei (a low cost white tea), for that matter. No, they don’t have taste bud problem. When we are so surrounded by matters of mediocre characters they just lump together in a mess of faceless identity, whatever they are, whatever beautiful names they maybe labeled with. Restaurants (again) are using other teas to substitute old favourites that have gone too expensive for their costs, keeping the old names. Tins in the supermarket are packed with products that are not really what the label describes, tea variety, origin or even tea category. Even famous shops in San Francisco, London, Beijing or Tokyo can be found selling mislabeled products. Or product with misleading labels.
Accuracy in labeling is the first step to educating the consumer. Well-informed consumers are good customers, to all honest merchants. They are also the key to the long term health of the tea trade. Degeneration of quality and misleading names only result in an disenchanted market. They may eventually kill the trade all together.
The sins of the a few members of the trade will have to be paid for by the trade as a whole.
empowerment through information
The faults in naming sometimes occur not out of dishonesty, however. Some people in the trade are just plainly ignorant. Some are too old, too self-satisfied, or too proud to correct their perceptions from common myths or malpractices. Some do not have access to correct information. Some just don’t care. Most of these people tell people what they were told. One trader to the next. The storekeeper to the consumer. One generation to the next. Mistakes propagate. Misconceptions live on. C’est la vie.
In our small efforts to counter-balance the situation, hoping some degree of eradication can be achieved, we present with each tea variety the proper name, other commonly used names, and various forms of romanization of the names. Such that the reader may understand, at least visually what the name really represents. In some tea varieties, we present a couple of grades so people can register each name to the range of appearances to a tea variety.
And we shall wait till the internet can distribute in addition to words and pictures, tastes and smells for even more accurate labeling of names. Just kidding.
Guardian.com, UK's online newspaper, has one of the more recent reports on the topic about wine sales in Hong Kong, click <here> to read it.
TeaGuardian.com (Tea Guardian) is a self-financed, independent reference guide created with the initiative to promote the better understanding of tea, the daily beverage that so many have come to misunderstand. By sharing with the readers unbiased and in-depth information, we aim at empowering them with the ability to find and enjoy better quality tea for taste and for health. A lot of the information included can be helpful to people of the tea trade and the academics.
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