Mon, Jun 19, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Old tea test helped solve fraud case, COA says

AWARD-WINNING COUNTERFEIT:Officials said they exposed a tea smuggling scheme by analyzing the tea leaves’ mineral content to determine the soil type in which they were grown

Staff writer, with CNA

A technique for determining the origin of tea that has been in place for years was used to help solve a recent case in which a blend containing Vietnamese leaves was sold as premium Taiwanese tea, a Council of Agriculture (COA) official said.

The technique was developed by the council and has been around for some time, yet it might not be well-known around Taiwan, Agriculture and Food Agency deputy head Juang Lao-dar (莊老達) said.

It is one of three methods the council uses to ensure the authenticity of local tea products, he said, adding that the other two involve a QR code tracking system and checking the colors of tea leaves in the same batch.

The method that helped bring to light the Vietnamese tea smuggling uses inorganic element analysis to determine the tea’s origin, Juang said.

Tea samples are burned and the remaining inorganic minerals are then analyzed, he said.

As minerals come from the soil where the tea grows and the soil contains different minerals across regions, minerals offer clues as to the origin of the tea, Juang said.

Inorganic element analysis has been effective in identifying the true origin of teas and has been used to solve fraud cases where foreign tea was falsely labeled as Taiwanese, including the latest case in Nantou County, he said.

Investigators there discovered that a tea farmer had in 2015 imported 5,418kg of tea from Vietnam at NT$600 per kilogram and relied on members of a local tea cooperative to pass it off as high-end Taiwanese tea after mixing it with locally grown tea.

The farmer had cooperative members enter the blended tea as a Taiwanese premium oolong in a county competition and about half the entries won awards, investigators said.

The prize-winning tea was then sold at between NT$1,667 and NT$4,667 per kilogram, the Investigation Bureau’s Nantou office said.

The office said it was tipped off about the fraud in late 2015, but did not find hard evidence until it applied the council’s technique to determine the tea leaves’ origin.

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