A storm in Aussie teacups

WE ALL like to know where our wine and cheese comes from but what about our favourite cuppa?

A team of Australian researchers is developing a way to trace the contents of a teapot back to the garden where it was grown.

Determining the origin of a food can help decode important biosecurity riddles, especially if there is a problem with the quality or freshness of goods exported overseas.

But it can also sort the real from the replica when it comes to foods specific to geographic locations, said head of the study Winthrop Professor John Watling.

He said about three times the amount of Darjeeling tea was sold as the real thing when compared with plantation production rates.

"Methods pioneered at the centre were so accurate that it was possible to know the plantation on which the tea was grown," said Professor Watling, from the University of Western Australia. "When stuff comes into the country, we would like to believe that what we are paying for is what we are getting."

Professor Watling said provenance technology was a critical part of protecting Australia's reputation for being "clean, green and environmentally conscious".

Since the tea study began, staff at the university's Centre for Forensic Science had reported some companies to the Office of Fair Trading.

"We're not a law enforcement authority but our studies are made available to police authorities," Professor Watling said.

Ray Fien, of Australian company Madura Tea, said it was unfair that other companies were passing off other varieties of tea as Darjeeling, which is considered a premium variety with a premium price tag.

"It's cheating the public. You could do the same with white tea – a lot of people are selling green tea as white tea," he said.

In some situations it was acceptable to blend tea varieties "for consistency" but they shouldn't be labelled as pure strains, he said.

Chevy Kwok, owner of Taka Tea in Sydney, said the company ordered through a wholesaler but was confident it received pure Darjeeling tea.

About 10 million tonnes of genuine Darjeeling tea is harvested in India each year, with the bulk of the imitation tea coming from Sri Lanka and Kenya.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
By: Melissa Singer