Simple Test for Color Additives in Tea

COONOOR, Tamil Nadu

Retailers and consumers are being asked to assist Indian government officials in identifying adulterated tea.

Coloring teas to improve their look in the cup is uncommon but not unheard of here in  North America. In South India it has become a significant problem. The most common technique is re-coloring used tea.

R. Ambalavanan, Executive Director of the Tea Board of India, South Zone headquartered in Coonoor offers this simple test.

“Pour a tablespoon of tea dust/leaf into a glass of cold water. If the tea is pure then there won’t be any change in the color of the water,” he told the Deccan Chronicle.

“If it is dyed or a colorant added, then one can see the color of water change immediately to red,” said Ambalavanan. Alternately you can take blotting paper, wet it and sprinkle tea on the surface. If you see yellow, orange or red spots on the blotting paper, the tea has been treated with coal tar dye.

Most adulterants are harmless but coloring tea can pose health hazards. Agents include indigo, soapstone, Prussian blue and gypsum.

Eradicating the practice, which dates to the early 1800s, has become a Herculean task, Ambalavanan observed.

Tea auctioned locally is regularly tested and factories are occasionally raided to insure quality control on Nilgiris and tea from the southern states of Kerala and Karnataka.

Once it reaches the retail market the board depends on buyers, shop owners and customers to report adulteration.

“Most consumers generally think tea which has strong color when added with milk is good tea. To satisfy consumers by wrong means, some tea traders and tea shops add color,” he said. In some cases, roadside tea shops even add a colored mixture, what they call as beverage mix, to the cup to enhance its color,” he advised.

The cooperation of health department wings and food cell in different states across India is also needed to check this evil, he added.

A kilo of genuine tea brews about 400–500 cups of tea but adding artificial flavors and color can stretch that to between 800 and 1,000 cups per kilo.

Source: Deccan Chronicle