Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Honest Naming Schemes for Tea: Style & Region

Verity Fisher of joie : de : tea just shared a blog post "So...What would YOU call it?" that got me thinking about how you name tea. This post also links back to an older post which poses similar questions about naming sencha. The big question raised in these posts that I'd like to focus on is the question of whether or not it's okay (in the sense of legitimate or honest) to call something sencha if it's not from Japan. This question could be posed for a number of different types of tea, but I think sencha is a particularly key example.

Sencha is a style of tea, not wedded to any particular region:

Unlike Keemun or Pu-erh, which are both named after particular counties in China, sencha is a neutral, simple name which refers to the style of tea, not its region of production. Sencha is produced throughout Japan, in all the major regions of Japan in which tea is grown. Teas in the style of sencha are now produced in a number of other countries: mostly China, but also Vietnam, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and even small amounts in Australia and Brazil. Sencha is a Japanese style of tea, but it's not necessarily Japanese tea.

Is it honest to market non-Japanese sencha as sencha?

I believe that it is fine to call sencha from countries other than Japan by the name sencha, if the origin of the tea is clearly identified. If, on the other hand, you simply sell sencha, there is an implicit assumption that the tea is from Japan because sencha is a Japanese style and is most frequently identified with Japan and not China or any other country. Is this sort of practice outright dishonest? Perhaps not, but it is a lie of omission. I also think it is more than a bit shady if a company boldly labels tea as "Sencha" and then places a small "Origin: China" or some other country in small print, discreetly, on the back of the label. I have seen this frequently.

What is worse is tea sold as "Japanese sencha" which actually originates elsewhere. Businesses may be able to cover their metaphorical legal rear end by the claim that they mean "Japanese-style sencha", but I think this practice has overstepped ethical bounds even if it is still within legal bounds (and my intuition is that they may be exposing themselves legally as well).

How does RateTea handle this?

RateTea sets out to clearly separate style and region, not just for sencha but for all teas. As an example, we list sencha as a style of tea, and identify, when possible, the region of origin of each individual tea. And if you really only want to look at Japanese teas, you can use the filtering options on the search, or you can start from our page on Japan as a tea-growing region and either list the sencha's from there or hone your search down to a specific prefecture first.

Chinese tea is delicious, and there's nothing wrong with sencha produced in China or elsewhere. And there's nothing wrong with labelling it as sencha: it is just important to clearly and boldly identify where it originates so that there is no possibility of confusion.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post Alex, thanks For continuing the conversation so eloquently & thoughtfully. I agree with you about having the origin in small print, it is dodgy and plays to the consumers' association of sencha with Japan.

    It is interesting and frustrating (to me!) that a lot of tea labels seem to state 'Ingredients: tea (+/- flavours etc)' without actually telling you where the tea is from at all.