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Tea Quality Testing - Moving beyond Traditional sensory quality evaluation of Tea

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India is no stranger to tea. It is one of the largest producers of tea, thanks to the country having more than 100,000 tea estates spread across. India is also one of the largest consumers of tea, wherein the country consumes more than 70% of the million or so metric tons of tea that it produces. Whilst it is consumed in bounds across the country, the spices that are added and preparation techniques change depending on the region and the customs pertaining to the region. India also witnesses the addition of spices along with milk, sugar, and water to the tea leaves, giving it a spicy flavor that cannot be found elsewhere.

India has different varieties of teas, owing to its varied geographies, regions, and terrains. Mainly spread across three different regions around Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiris, tea of the Indian subcontinent grows in dense, lush jungles that are surrounded by deep mountain valleys and high mountain ridges. Tea is of various types ranging from herbal, black, green, white, etc. Different kinds of tea have different specifications and permissible levels of constituents as per standards of the destination market. Once, the tea quality meets the requirements, it is said to have good marketability.

Evolution in understanding the right quality of tea

Being one of the largest producers of tea, the country also faces the responsibility of delivering the right quality tea to its consumers. Here, tea quality testing comes into the picture. More often, the quality of tea in the country and around the world has been assessed by professional tea tasters by following manual tea inspection. Based on their sensory judgements and experience of the different varieties of tea they taste, different tasters gauge the quality of tea, according to different sensory parameters during tea quality testing. Through this method of tea testing manufacturers, suppliers, exporters used to evaluate the tea quality previously. Eventually there was realisation that there are inconsistencies in following the traditional sensory-based rating scale as they depend on personal introspection and interpretation of tea quality. It highly depends on the palatability of the tasters when it is a sensory based analysis. But the consumption behaviour of people depends on factors much more than only liking and palatability, and this affects the tea consumption behaviour of consumers. These tea quality testing factors can be counted as cleanliness of the product, presence of any harmful residues of chemicals or metals in the processing, presence of any micro-organisms etc. So, with advancing time, the focus of tea quality is not only on sensory satisfaction but an overall superior quality of the product considering all circumstances in its production.

Over the time, the need for advanced tea quality testing analysis arose when there were suspicions of the characteristics for any adulteration or contamination. These include physical, chemical, microbiological analysis to name a few, in addition to the sensory analysis that involves checking for improvements in aroma, flavour, colour, taste and so on. Now, chemical quality parameters in tea testing solutions have become pivotal in deciding the properties and quality of tea that is acceptable by the industry. To make sure there is a yardstick for the assessment of tea quality, tea quality testing organizations have prescribed the minimum requirements of water-soluble ash, water extract and the alkalinity of water-soluble ash. By prescribing the maximum limits for crude fiber and total ash, adulteration of tea can be prevented. Also, heavy metals like lead, copper, tin are tested for their presence if any. Assessment of aflatoxins and mycotoxins levels is also done to check whether it is within permissible limits. Polyphenols and caffeine content is another factor that is tested. All these factors cannot be determined with sensory analysis alone, and needs advanced tea testing analysis techniques to be incorporated.

Testing Methods as per set Standards

To make sure that the results of any tea quality analysis can be reproduced, tea quality testing services have to be standardized. International standards are followed since they assure that the methods are validated after numerous trials and hence give a sense of reliability. India has adopted the ISO standards across testing services for tea and instant tea. At the moment, the Indian Standard for Tea is in its draft stage for its third revision. This stage cross-references with all the methods used to determine chemical characteristics corresponding to the ISO standards to make sure that there is a synergy between the tea quality testing procedures of Indian Standards and international standards.

Another important facet of tea testing services that provides the requisite assurance is sampling a representative batch of the total production unit. This sampling batch is inspected against quality and safety parameters. Traded in different containers and quantities, it is imperative to ensure that a sample is representing an entire consignment. This must be done by random sampling, where primary samples and bulk samples are taken.

Instant tea on the other hand is packed and transported in bulk using sealed bags that are made of moisture-resistant material which is further protected by an outer container. Considering the friability and hygroscopic nature of the product, precautions must be taken to make sure that the drawing samples do not affect the rest of the lot.

How can TÜV SÜD help?

Tea, just like other spices, can have numerous contaminants if not controlled. These contaminants find their way during any process between cultivation to packaging, which includes the likes of pesticide residue, mycotoxins, and heavy metals. To ensure strict norms are followed in accordance with Indian and international standards, different organizations offer tea quality testing services that check all the quality aspects and ensure it is safe for the end consumer. 

TÜV SÜD offers a slew of tea quality testing services and certification that come second to none. Its facility holds the capacity to test all kinds of tea on a large scale. They also assess the tea quality to conform to the different regulations that different countries impose. By following the guidelines of the FSSAI and Tea board of India, TÜV SÜD’s tea testing services also meet all the domestic compliance requirements, making sure that the tea is tested appropriately in every facet.

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