CityGreens Consumer Awareness Initiative. How to check for adulteration in Tea Leaves

Trivia: Do you know which country ranks highest in per capita consumption of tea?

After water, tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world. Guesstimates suggest that between 2 to 2.2 billion people in the world drink tea. Today, we will look at the various ways that can help you identify if your beloved cup of tea is safe for your health.

Adulteration in Tea
The origin of adulteration in tea dates back to the 17th century. The issue became so widespread towards the latter half of 17th Century that the British Parliament passed ‘The Adulteration of Tea Act’ in 1776. The most common way to adulterate tea is by adding a color to it. Though there are some food grade colors permitted to be used in food items, laws most over the world (including in India), do not allow their use in Tea.

Additives used in Tea

  1. Plumbago (lead) – same stuff which is used to make pencil leads
  2. Potassium Blue – a blue color pigment, used in photography
  3. Coloring agents like Bismark brown or indigo

The non-obvious reason why tea is adulterated?
The fact that addition of color can make an ordinary tea look like a premium one is obvious. The thing which is not so obvious and which one should worry about is the adulteration in used tea. The tea leaves which have already been used once are dried and then mixed with additives so that they can be resold and still impart the same dark color to tea as the fresh leaves would do.

The next time you buy a cup of tea from a roadside vendor, do check if he is sourcing his supplies from a trusted brand.

How to check for adulteration in tea
It is easy to check for additives in tea if they are water-soluble. The techniques listed below may help identify some non-soluble additives too but may not be successful all the time. Here they go:

  1. Take a glass of water. Add a spoon full of tea leaves to it. In case there is no water-soluble additive, the water will stay clear. If the water turns slightly brown or if tea leaves emit color into the water, there is an additive.
  2. Take a clean tissue paper and place few tea leaves on it. Add a few drops of water, wait for it to dry out. Now remove the tea leaves and observe the tissue paper under sunlight. Presence of stains or oily marks indicates adulteration.

Coming back to the trivia. The answer is Turkey. An average person in Turkey drinks almost 10 times more tea than an average Indian. Next time you grab your cup of tea, think of the Turkish guy and don’t feel guilty.

An interesting fact. Did you know that all varieties/brands of tea may have iron filings in it?

It’s not actually an adulterate which is added separately but a by-product of tea making process (using equipment made of iron). Nevertheless, its unhealthy in large quantities (Approved measure in India, currently, stands at 150mg/kg).

Don’t believe it? Take a small magnet, drop it in the tea jar and take it out. Do you believe it now?

Stay Safe!

Gaurav is an entrepreneur whose first Start-up was focused on providing services to patients suffering from Chronic Diseases. While researching about the causes of lifestyle diseases and the ways to reduce their incidence, he chanced upon the idea of growing healthy and nutritious food using advanced farming techniques.

He founded CityGreens with a mission to enable City Dwellers to access Safe, Healthy and Fresh food.

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