The Egoist Teapot, Housed At The N Sethia Foundation’s Chitra Collection, London, UK. Image via Newby Teas.
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Although it’s historically flown beneath the radar, a growing body of medical findings indicating considerable consumer risk in one of today’s largest global industries can no longer be ignored.
We’re talking about the tea industry — which since the invention of the tea bag in 1908- has become a sprawling industry driven by mass production. Over the past century, the industry’s degradation has snowballed as capitalistic goals of high profit margins have trumped consumer safety standards and governmental regulations.
This trend, coupled by the general lack of consumer awareness, has culminated in the alarming situation we now find ourselves in, in which the majority of tea sold at market may in fact be entirely unfit for human consumption.
What’s At The Root Of This Issue?
On a granular level, the risks at hand are primarily the level of fluoride present in commercial tea today and to a smaller degree, the continued (and often unlawful) usages of pesticides such as monocrotophos and quinalphos.
Fluoride, an antioxidant, is actually healthy when consumed in small amounts but when the quantity of fluoride reaches an excessive amount, then it becomes poisonous to the body (as it’s unable to be washed out completely by the bladder). And in sustained instances of excessive use, it can lead to a range of severe health conditions such as osteoporosis, skeletal fluorosis, and dental fluorosis and it’s even suspected of causing kidney issues and contributing to cancer.
While its impossible to remove all fluoride from the tea plant (camellia sineses)– considered to be the fluoride guzzler (as it sucks nearly 80% of the fluoride) , tea producers know very well that they are not supposed to pick the lower leaves which contain the highest quantity of fluoride. Instead, they’re only supposed to pick the leaves on the top of the bush- the two leaves and a bud model- which contains the least fluoride and is generally fit for human consumption.
However, given the desire to maximize production to meet market demand and profitability goals, strict adherence to such fluoride concentrate standards would render most tea companies’ production yields unsellable at market and therefore hemorrhage most tea companies’ revenues. Hence, it’s not surprising to see why the tea industry’s neglect of public health standards has become increasingly pervasive.
India- A Telltale Example
A salient example of how governmental regulation has been circumvented can be found in India’s contemporary tea economy (in which developments on this issue are still taking place in real time).
For background, India’s Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI)- in league with Europe’s consumer protection standards for Tea- had recently appointed a compliance board- called FAITTA (The Federation of All India Tea Traders Association) in order to ensure that all the tea India was bringing to its domestic well as export market- would match the same public health standards in effect across Europe.
Upon establishing the act, all Indian tea plantation owners were asked to join FSSAI and most consented. Within months of enacting FSSAI, however, it soon became impossible for the government to manage its 20,000+ plantations and the 1.1 billion kilos of tea India produces annually. Regulation compliance waned and soon incompatibility between the tea quality required and the actual raw material sold at market became rampant.
What FAITTA found, in fact, after doing a routine seizure of teas sold at popular auctions across India- was that its constituent federation members were selling tea that Eurofins medical studies found to have failure rates as high as 40% to FSSAI standards. These findings weren’t relegated to a particular plantation, but seemed to be prevalent across most of the tea sold at these auctions.
Global Awareness Is Needed Now To Curb The Phenomenon
The situation in India is representative of a broader global phenomenon. Independent studies conducted in the UK as early as 2018 have demonstrated that many of today’s premium tea brands are selling teas which contain dangerously high levels of fluoride if consumed regularly.
Fortunately, there has been at least one ethically guided company who, galvanized by the degradation of today’s tea industry and the erosion of its rich cultural legacy, has assumed the duty of educating consumers (as well as restaurants and hotels) of what is taking place and providing a healthier, transparent alternative.
Enter: Newby Teas. Owned nearly outright by the N Sethia Foundation charity, Newby Teas has become the only known tea company to self-regulate the quality of its own teas, and to set off an overarching crusade to spread global awareness that if not checked, the broader tea industry would become an increasing risk for global-consumers.
At a stark contrast to the motive of most tea companies today, the driving force behind Newby’s mission has been the passion and dedication to preserve not only the product quality of fine tea, but it’s history, culture, and spirituality.
The Foundation’s famous Chitra Collection– a private museum of the world’s finest tea wares with greatest provenance- provides one a historical walk through of the multi thousand-year history of tea (as well as the fine objects in which it was drank).
From the hand-formed tea bowls of the Song and Jin dynasties in China, to tea sets created by the most prolific silversmiths of the 18th and 19th centuries ( with even a teapot used by Admiral Nelson himself), the Chitra Collection reveals from a rich experiential standpoint, how vital tea has been to the development of civilization over the past 2,000 years and underscores why its sanctity is so important to keep alive today.
As the operating arm of the N Sethia Foundation and its Chitra Collection today, Newby Teas is offering up a new standard it hopes the rest of the tea industry can follow in bringing a healthy, safe, and fine quality product to market.
Newby’s mission, however, cannot be a duty that one company continues to shoulder for the rest of the industry alone. In the face of broadening health concerns, it’s now time for consumers everywhere to become aware of the risks they face and a better alternative that’s available. With the consumer vote, the rest of the industry will have no choice but to comply with quality standards and the propagation of tea’s fine and dignified heritage can resume for future generations to enjoy.