Organic Taiwan Tea
Organic produce is increasingly popular with Taiwanese consumers, and this trend is also gaining momentum in the world of tea. There are good reasons for tea farmers to use organic methods - organically grown tea tastes better and can fetch a higher price.
Taiwan residents consumed about US$50 million in organic products last year. As consumers become more affluent and better informed about health and environmental issues this trend is sure to gain ground in coming years.
Taiwan grows about 40 percent of the organic foods it consumes, consisting mostly of rice, tea, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Prize-Winning Organic Tea
Taiwan has frequent tea competitions to judge the quality of locally grown (and sometimes international) tea. Most of the winners in recent years have been organically grown teas, so the interest in organic growing methods is widespread amongst tea producers.
Prize-winning tea can fetch a hefty monetary reward. It is sold at auction after the competition and it's not unusual for a first-prize tea to sell for US$20,000 a jin (600 grams). Every tea farmer covets this first-prize position so most are now using organic techniques to give their tea an advantage.
Even if a tea does not win a competition prize, organically grown tea will still get a better price. Tea buyers are always willing to pay more for better quality tea, and the poor quality tea is often unmarketable to local consumers. This inferior tea usually ends up being exported.
Taiwan has several certification programs for organic products, but these are not recognized internationally. The various programs use sometimes conflicting definitions of what constitutes an organic product, so even Taiwan consumers have become somewhat skeptical about "certified organic" products grown at home.
This skepticism is part of the reason that organically grown tea is often uncertified. Most tea farmers operate small plantations and don't see the benefit of getting certification. They view the process as an unnecessary expense that won't bring them any benefit.
Tea consumers in Taiwan (and that's just about everyone on the island) are very aware of the difference between "good" tea and average tea. Good tea by necessity must be organically grown as any use of pesticides will taint the flavor.
This lack of international certification is likely to continue for the foreseeable future - at least for oolong tea. Most of the oolong produced in Taiwan is sold locally to knowledgeable consumers who are unlikely to be swayed by an organic label.
The situation is a bit different for the black tea market. Black tea is not very popular in Taiwan but the export market for black tea has seen a resurgence in recent years. Farmers producing black tea for export are more likely to benefit from international certification.