Obscurantism: What tea are you really buying?
Letter from a Nepali tea producer
A few weeks ago a producer from Nepal wrote to me:
What is an oolong?
My dear friend from the Himalayas produces a few semi-oxidised teas from the same tea bushes that they yield their black teas with. And with nearly the same processing procedures. Like so many others who follow the "definition" that an oolong is a tea that is between a green and a black tea, it was only natural for him to label the tea "oolong", though it is not. <read more about the difference between a semi-oxidized tea and an oolong>
His tea is not any lesser tea than the finest Darjeeling. Darjeeling is itself famous for partial oxidation. It has, however, never been marketed as an oolong. You can find it under the black tea category in all teashops.
Oolong production involved a few particular steps that are totally different from the production of such semi-oxidised black teas. Oolongs are therefore biochemically quite different as an individual category. <read about the production of oolong>
Not all people of the tea trade are as willing as Lochan in correcting themselves when they begin to understand the real nature of oolongs.
Others propagate the myth. Some knowingly, the majority simply parrot.
This is not the only myth in the world of tea anyway. Spreading of myths, to some people in the trade, is seen as conducive to their business benefits. Tea is by far a most humble category in this practice. Seeing the extent what the beauty and slimming industries can do, or financial institutes or even the government, there really is no reason that we blame our fellow tradespeople for their slight twist of facts.
To the consumers, however, there is every bit of rights to know what is real.
To me as both a trader and an advocate, I think it is only healthy to the trade of tea in the long run to define clearly the nature of things and keep product information as open as possible. It is only through the faith of the mass that the category of tea as a whole can prosper against the massive marketing attacks of junk drinks. It is only through mutual respect, genuine information and open communication that a category can win the faith of the mass.
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