07 September 2011

Six Famous Tea Mountain 2009 "Yunnan Moon" Organic Shu Bing

Organic shu pu'er is uncommon, even teas certified as organic only by the Chinese organic certification organization, the Organic Food Certification & Development Center, which is in turn certified by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. Perhaps someone can comment here about if IFOAM or USDA has stricter standards?

Personally, I'm not willing to pay a premium for most organic foods, as I have found that most foods grown with care taste the same organic or non-organic, and the conflicting results of studies on long term results of eating organic have left me unconvinced of any health benefit. Mark Bittman's piece on eating better more or less sums up my feeling that eating organically for most people means no health benefit, because they don't change their eating habits away from meat-heavy, fat-heavy, sweets-heavy diets, and that the environment would be a lot better off if we ate less meat and more vegetables. I don't want to go as far as Will of teadrunk.org and give up all meat products, but I think my non-organic eating habits qualify as healthy.
Six Famous Tea Mountain 2009 Yunnan Moon Organic Shu - leaf

But my thinking there I apply to consumable items grown in the West. Start talking China, where pesticide and agriculture chemical regulation is spotty at best, and I would probably be happier if all tea carried a USDA organic label. Not knowing much about the OFDC process, how often they check up on farmers, and how often the IFOAM checks up on the OFDC, the little cabbage organic label means little to me, but the analysis sheet included with this tea is, at least, a mote of psychological comfort when consuming something that is essentially composted camellia leaves.

So, all that expository explanation behind us, does this OFDC-certified shu pu'er taste better?

Six Famous Tea Mountain 2009 Yunnan Moon Organic Shu - brewed

No, on the whole it's average. It's woody, not soily, not pondy, and monotone. It has an unpleasant sharpness when brewed strong and not enough depth when brewed weak. No aftertaste, but a camphory effect appears over time. It doesn't last more than 5 infusions.

A tea that is not good and not bad. It would work well with a meal, having enough of the earthy, woody shu flavors to complement a dish without being too interesting as to be a distraction. It would probably do very well in a dark stew in place of broth.

I will likely finish up this sample at work, where such ignorable teas are desirable.
Six Famous Tea Mountain 2009 Yunnan Moon Organic Shu - brewed leaf

3 comments:

Tom said...

Talking organic certainly opens a whole can of worms, especially in regards to tea.

While I agree with both you and Bitty that less meat and more vegetables would be better for the planet, I seriously doubt that people who buy mostly organic are still focused on meat, fat and sweets heavy diets. At least the primarily organic buyers I know don't have those kinds of diets. The other reason to buy organic is to reduce the overall pesticide load on the earth, which when combined with less meat, is a double win for both parties.

Unfortunately, agribusiness organic can sometimes be scarcely better than non-organic. Sure, less organophosphates and other toxic chemicals is better, but the massive loads of sulfur and other "organic approved" chemicals that certified organic growers use in large-scale agriculture end up having a similarly negative affect on soil and water. When translated to organic certification for tea, I'm often very dubious about a tea's overall health impact on the earth and on the tea drinker, especially when certified by a dubious Chinese agency or even the USDA.

I often contemplate the paradox of my purchases, local, organic produce and meat when possible, then cake after cake of un-certified origin-unknown Chinese pu'er. I think a worthy buying goal for tea would be to focus on buying from vendors and producers who foster relationships with growers who don't use harsh chemicals or fertilizers and know their source intimately. It's worked well for me as a food buyer (my meat rule is that I don't buy it unless I can shake hands with the person who raised the animal), I'd like to think that it works well for tea too. Examples include Essence of Tea, The Mandarin's Tea Room, Seven Cups, Life in Teacup, and many others I'm sure I'm not mentioning.

Bearsbearsbears said...

@Tom

Thanks for a thoughtful response to a tricky discussion.

Perhaps things are different in RI, but in Southern California, persons middle class and upwards often wrongly equate organic with healthy. Simply put, take the average American food intake, switch it for organic, and call it healthy.

I know my share of health nuts here who also try to live 100% organic lives, but there's not enough of them to support the number of Whole Foods locations in LA county.

I wouldn't say that EoT, Seven Cups, Life in Teacup, etc. have "intimate" relationships with their mainland farmer connections. Buying from the same farmer every year is not an "intimate" connection; it's a healthy business relationship, and business for both sides is ultimately about making money.

Thankfully these vendors appear committed to their own idea of quality product and have satisfied customers who agree, but it's not as though the farmer is the vendor's cousin.

There's an assumption that the farmer is telling the truth about pesticide and chemical use these vendors take on faith, and then ask us to take on faith. None of these vendors spend weeks or months at the same farm monitoring production. There's really no way to know. As I often say, tea is belief.

Not that Six Famous Tea Mountain's claims are true, either.

And, as you mention, not that "organic" agriculture necessarily means "ecologically friendly" agriculture.

John Grebe said...

Personally I think that is a better lighter fermentation level shu puerh. Although your sample might not have had time to air out in the plastic bag as I remember breaking off your sample when it was still airing out from being too factory fresh. Also I'm with you when it comes to organic tea as I got that one not because it was organic but because I wanted to try a Six Famous Tea Mountain shu puerh.