The major producing regions of oolong tea are located in the Southern China cultural region, and include Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan. More recently, albeit in small amounts, oolong tea is also being produced under the guidance of Taiwanese tea producers in the mountainous regions of Vietnam and Thailand.
The oolong tea leaves used in Suntory Group’s Oolong Tea are grown and harvested by tea plantations and tea farmers in China’s Fujian Province. After being processed at a local crude tea factory, the leaves are sent to a finishing factory for the final processing and blending before being exported to Japan.
These oolong tea leaves are received at Suntory’s factories in Japan, after which the oolong tea is extracted from the tea leaves, put into containers, and shipped. The tea is then delivered to customers via shops.
The oolong tea leaves used in Suntory Group’s Oolong Tea are harvested in Fujian Province in China. At Suntory Group, we have long engaged in thorough quality assurance processes for our raw ingredients, ensuring the safety of the agricultural chemical residues on the oolong tea leaves we use. Between 2012 and 2013, the residue concentration of two agricultural chemicals—fipronil and indoxacarb—on oolong tea leaves produced in China was found to exceed the standard values, and there were numerous reports of oolong tea drinks being voluntarily recalled. To date, zero violations have been reported in oolong tea leaves imported for use in Suntory products.
At Suntory Group, ahead of the 2006 introduction of the positive list system for agricultural chemical residues, in 2004 we established the China (Shanghai) Quality Assurance Center to undertake analysis of agricultural chemical residues on oolong tea leaves. This enabled us to establish an in-house inspection system in China.
This Center boasts the same equipment and technologies as our Safety Science Institute in Japan, and was the first in the Suntory Group to acquire ISO 17025 certification.
The China (Shanghai) Quality Assurance Center is responsible for inspecting all lots of tea leaves shipped from China. It also inspects tea leaves that are in the processing stage as well as those on the market, and shares the results with tea producers and tea plantations. In doing so, the Center works alongside our trusted suppliers to ensure product safety.
The China (Shanghai) Quality Assurance Center analyzes agricultural chemical residues on all tea leaves set for export to Japan, and confirms that the tea leaves conform to Japan’s Food Sanitation Act. The agricultural chemicals subject to analysis are not only those used in cultivation, but also those that could drift over from surrounding fields. There are approximately 450 types of agricultural chemicals subject to analysis, and analyses are undertaken around 900 times each year.
Through many years of activities—from on-site confirmation of tea leaf cultivation progress to guidance on appropriate use, recording, and management of agricultural chemicals—at Suntory Group we have narrowed down the tea plantations, farmers, and factories that can provide the quality we require to ensure we only obtain safe, high-quality tea leaves. Further, to examine whether suppliers are thoroughly cooperating with our requests, we visit tea plantations, farmers, crude tea factories, and finishing factories to check on tea leaves, tea leaf processing, and other elements first hand.
When taking on new tea plantations, we visit the relevant locations to check whether the environments are suited to producing Suntory Group’s Oolong Tea raw ingredients.
Moreover, when safety inspections of oolong tea leaves reveal that further examination and confirmation is required, supervisors from the China (Shanghai) Quality Assurance Center visit the tea plantations and farmers, working with the suppliers to quickly uncover the causes and offer guidance on improvement measures.
Individuals from Suntory Group’s Ingredient Procurement Department, Product Development Department, and the China (Shanghai) Quality Assurance Center attend quality meetings to communicate Suntory Group’s quality requirements to its suppliers. We also use this opportunity to confirm the safety of the tea leaves and the quality of the aroma and taste, and share information on future challenges.
At Suntory Group, we record and store information—including past records and inspection results—in every stage of the process, from the tea plantations and farmers to product shipment. This has enabled us to build a system in which we can track and confirm information relating to specific raw ingredients and products.
At Suntory Group, we undertake integrated management of data on tea plantation environments, cultivation records, agricultural chemicals used, processing records from crude tea factories, tea leaf blends from finishing factories, safety inspection results from the China (Shanghai) Quality Assurance Center, and more. This information related to oolong tea leaves can be accessed by local suppliers, the China (Shanghai) Quality Assurance Center, and relevant parties in Japan. We are working to use this database for upstream management and to select items for agricultural chemical residue analysis, and in turn further reinforce our quality assurance system.