Chinese Year of the Dragon

2012 is the Chinese Year of the Dragon.

In Chinese mythology, dragons ( long ) are the largest supernatural creatures, embodying strength and authority. It is said that Chinese dragons are comprised of the features of other creatures: head of an ox; eyes of a prawn; ears of the elephant; mouth of the donkey; horns of a deer; whiskers of man; body of the snake; skin of a fish; feet of the Phoenix bird.

Nine Dragons, Chen Rong, Chinese, first half of the 13thC, Southern Song dynasty, dated 1244, ink and color on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In the West the dragon is considered evil and dangerous, a malevolent being that must be slain. In the East the dragon is seen as a benevolent creature, and one that is revered as a magnificent and powerful protector of all beings.

Chinese dragons perform beneficial acts for mankind, such as generating clouds and rain which replenishes the earth and brings forth vegetables, grains…. and tea. But an angry dragon can bring on storms and water related disasters so it is best not to cross them.

The mysterious dragon can wish himself visible or not, large or small, slender or stocky. Dragon are usually depicted carrying a pearl in their mouth or under their chin, or with a pearl hovering just out of their reach. Scholars debate the meaning of the pearl, and some believe that it represents the wisdom imparted by the Sakyamuni Buddha to the Naga King (a serpentine, cobra-like creature with a human head), the first creature to receive Buddha’s teachings. When Buddhism became rooted in China, the Dragon replaced the Naga in texts and imagery.

Dragons are beloved symbols in China, and dragons images are depicted at all levels of high art such as jade carvings and scroll paintings. Chinese emperors chose to align themselves with the power of the dragon and chose the symbol of the dragon to imply their supreme authority.

In Chinese astrology, dragon years promise success, high achievement, good fortune and prosperity.

Nine Dragons, Chen Rong, Chinese, first half of the 13thC, Southern Song dynasty, dated 1244, ink and color on paper.  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Get your dragon on with our Chinese green teas – Longjing ( Dragonwell), Dragon Whiskers and Curled Dragon Silver Tips


Protected Origin Status Granted to Darjeeling Tea

In October 2011 Darjeeling tea was granted Protected Origin Status by the European Commission on behalf of the Tea Board of India, the Darjeeling Tea Association and all of the tea growers in Darjeeling, India.

Due to the unique and complex combination of agroclimatic conditions (terroir) Darjeeling tea has a distinctive and naturally-occurring quality and flavor which is recognized by tea lovers around the world. The combination of factors give Darjeeling teas qualities that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Essentially, and briefly, this protection, which will ease in over a period of five years, will, when fully in effect, once and finally protect Darjeeling tea producers and their tea from the labeling abuses of others. This is great news for all involved in the business of producing Darjeeling tea, and it is great news for consumers, too.

(In order to be absolutely certain about the origin of our Darjeeling teas, we purchase these teas directly from respected sources in Darjeeling. Our teas are air-shipped directly to our shop with no other parties involved in-between).

Abuses by unscrupulous companies marketing non- Darjeeling tea ( tea grown in other parts of India or in other tea producing countries )  as authentic Darjeeling, or touting tea blends containing a below-minimal percentage of Darjeeling tea in the mix as authentic Darjeeling tea are well-known.

These shady practices have gone on for years with little recourse by the Tea Board of India to stop it. But the Tea Board has been moving up the ladder, one step at a time, over the past dozen or so years, ticking off a list of the requirements and paperwork necessary to build their case for protected status for Darjeeling tea. While I am sure that the amount of time that it took for this achievement to be fulfilled must have been daunting, and at times produced moments of great uncertainty and near loss of faith, the triumphant result has made it all worthwhile.

This is what the group Property Rights Alliance said about the necessity of such legal protections:  “An adequate legal protection is necessary for the protection of legitimate right holders of Darjeeling tea from the dishonest  business practices of various commercial entities. For instance, tea produced in countries like Kenya, Sri Lanka or even Nepal has often been passed off around the world as ‘Darjeeling tea’.

Appropriate legal protection of this GI can go a long way in preventing  such misuse. Without adequate GI protection both in the domestic and international arena it would be difficult to prevent the misuse of Darjeeling Tea’s reputation, wherein tea produced elsewhere would also be sold under the Darjeeling brand, causing damage to consumers and denying the premium price to Darjeeling tea industry. The industry is now waking up to the fact that unless Darjeeling Tea is properly marketed and branded, the survival of the industry may be at stake and GI protection along with stringent enforcement can go a long way in helping the industry to improve its financial situation.”

The European Commission (DG AGRI) has operated three registrations for  agricultural product and foodstuffs worldwide since 1992:

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)
Open to products produced, processed and prepared within a specific geographical area, and with features and characteristics attributable to that area.
Protected Geographical Indication (PGI or GI)
Open to products produced or processed or prepared within a specific geographical area, and with features or qualities attributable to that area. The difference between PDO and PGI products is that the latter can receive that characterization as long as a certain stage of the production process takes place in the pre-determined region (whereas for PDO products, the entire production process must take place within the pre-determined region).
Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG)
Open to products that are traditional or have customary names, and have features that distinguish them from other similar products. These features need not be attributable to the geographical area the product is produced in, nor entirely based on technical advances in the method of production.

When a food product is granted protection under one of these schemes, the producer is allowed to place a colorful logo on its product to  announces this distinction.

Hundreds of well-known and loved European products have received these protections. So when I shop for French Champagne, or French Roquefort Cheese, Italian Parma Ham or Basmati Rice from India, or many other products, I always support the products bearing one of the EC’s logos.

EU agricultural product quality policy
Quality is an issue for every farmer and consumer/buyer, whether dealing with commodities produced to basic standards or with the high-end quality products. EU farmers must build on high quality reputation to sustain competitiveness and profitability. EU law lays down stringent requirements guaranteeing the standards of all European or EU protected products. In addition, EU quality schemes identify products and foodstuffs farmed and produced to exacting specifications. Better product protection will ultimately result in better prices for the tea, better economic health of the industry, sustainable educational and health systems resulting in a better quality of life for the tea workers.

Protected product status for noteworthy tea is much more than a mere badge of vanity, or the trumpeting of self-promotion. Here are a few examples of what product protection offers both producer and consumer.

  • First: The certifying mark on packages of these teas is a value-added incentive recognized in the marketplace, that, along with other certifications such as organic, fair trade, etc, allow producers to obtain a fair price for their products and maintain a healthy share of market. These products provide support to a larger piece of their agricultural economy by casting a spotlight on that local industry, and this in turn protects the livelihood of local producers and workers.
  • Second: Value-added incentives have a great deal of customer appeal too, as these certificates offer reassurance to consumers that the product they are purchasing is the real deal, and that cheap ingredients or raw materials have not been used.  And, that the product has been made in a manner that is in accordance with the tradition of a specified place.
  • Third: Protected status is essential in combating counterfeit or copycat teas, as well as intentional or accidental  mis-labeling of tea on the wholesale or retail level.  As more and more tea producing countries move outside of their usual tea manufacturing methodologies and produce their versions of another country’s famous teas, the true origins of certain teas (white tea is a good example) will become confusing and murky for consumers to discern.

Darjeeling has been granted a PGI or GI, which is wonderful news for these growers. In fact, it is good news for the future of all producers of authentic, unique, terroir-specfic, teas who will, I hope, feel empowered by this judgement and follow the long road and apply for protected status for their teas, too.

China’s prized Longjing tea is the only other tea to receive a Protected Origin Status, and they were granted a PDO.

Darjeeling tea is the first PGI status product for the entire country of India. Italy, on the other hand, has dozens upon dozens of protected status food products in all categories from wine to olive oil to bread to legumes, etc. For example, Italy has:

  • 42 PDO’s and PGI’s for cheese alone, with 6 more pending
  • 43 PDO’s and 1 PGI for extra virgin olive oil from different geographic regions, with 4 more pending.

Products grown outside of the borders of the European Union have only recently been  able to qualify for this protection, so tea is new to this scheme. But I believe that it is crucial that tea boards and government agencies take the threat of copy-cat tea and mis-labeling abuses seriously.

I hope that the tea industry will learn from the Darjeeling example, and realize that their is something that can be done to protect unique tea. Just imagine how wonderful it will be someday to see a listing of teas protected with PDO and PGI status, and to know as a consumer that you are purchasing the real deal and indeed  supporting the workers whose livelihood you think you are supporting.

2011 Was a Great Year

2011 has been great 2011 for us at Tea Trekker, and it is all because of YOU, our dedicated and enthusiastic tea customers, readers and blog followers. Our customer base tripled in 2011 as has the numbers of readers following Tea Trekkers Blog. This is a statisticians dream, and it makes us giddy just thinking about it.

We wish to THANK YOU all for your business, but most importantly for….. your trust. We love that you send us earnest questions via email and share with us how much you enjoy the tea and teapots that you purchase. And come into our store excited to be there. We hope we never let you down and that our tea always exceeds your expectations and excites your palate.

2012 is shaping up very nicely. Our first new tea of the season is a sampler of a trio of delicious, high-fragrance Baozhongs plucked from the same tea garden last spring. Keep your eyes open for a stellar selection of winter gao shan from Taiwan’s famous mountains later in this month.  Three new 2011 autumnal dan congs have just arrived and a pair of unusual and interesting yan cha, too. All of these teas will have the educational component of ‘comparative tasting’, and all will post up to the website in the next few weeks.

Our tea travels will most likely take us to India, Nepal and China throughout this year, and possibly Taiwan, too. Japan is on the docket for 2013, and hopefully, Korea as well.

It’s the quiet time of year in the majority of tea gardens around the world. Dormant plants are resting, gathering vigor from the earth into their roots. This energy will begin to circulate throughout the plants as bud-break stimulated leaf growth in the spring.

So, until then, we too rest, and drink tea.