Comparison of Domestic and Foreign Black Tea Standards

Black tea is a fully fermented tea. Lapsang Souchong black tea was produced in Wuyi Mountain, Fujian during the Ming Dynasty. Before 1650, the Dutch began Western black tea culture by shipping souchong black tea to Europe through the Indonesian colony. After three Anglo-Dutch wars, Britain began to get rid of the Netherlands and gradually monopolized the tea trade. All black teas are made from the leaves of the shrub Camellia sinensis, and the two main categories currently branched are the small- and medium-leaf varieties (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis) and the large-leaf Assam varieties (Camellia sinensis var. assamica). The main producing areas of black tea are China, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, and central African countries. China’s black tea production areas are widely distributed, mainly including Fujian, Anhui, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangdong, Taiwan, etc., with various varieties, including Lapsang Souchong, Qihong, Dianhong, Mount Emei black tea, etc.


Black tea is different from green tea. Green tea will lose its original color, aroma, and taste over time, but black tea can be stored for a long time without changing its flavor. Therefore, black tea can adapt to long-distance transportation, which may be one of the important reasons why black tea spread to the West. Precisely because black tea is easy to store and transport and has a unique taste, as well as the British’s high regard for black tea culture, black tea was promoted to the world with the British colonial expansion and is currently the most widely consumed tea in the world. Therefore, the formulation of black tea standards is very important for both black tea exporting and importing countries. The current international standard for black tea is ISO 3720, and major black tea exporting and importing countries also have corresponding national standards. Most of the black tea standards in Argentina (IRAM-ISO 3720), Egypt (E.S 4250/2010), UK (BS ISO 3720), Kenya (KS 65), Ghana (GS ISO 3720), Iran (ISIR 623), and Tanzania (TZS 352) have adopted ISO 3720. Countries such as Sri Lanka (SLS 135) and India (IS 3633) have formulated their own black tea standards based on their own black tea production, processing, and consumption. Similarly, China has many types of black tea products, each with its own characteristics. Therefore, China has the blackest tea-related standards and the most detailed classifications, which are very different from international standards. China has successively issued and implemented the recommended national standard for black tea GB/T 13738 “Black Tea”, which is divided into three parts. Therefore, it is necessary to conduct a comparative study on Chinese and international black tea standards, which has certain reference significance for the international trade of Chinese black tea. This article will focus on a comparative analysis of the technical content of GB/T 13738 and ISO 3720.


  1. Chinese black tea standards

The standardization of tea in China started in 1931, when the Central Ministry of Industry issued the first tea standard “Export Tea Inspection Standard” based on the need for export tea inspection, which made general provisions on the quality of various types of tea (moisture, ash, powder, and packaging). After the founding of New China, China’s tea standardization work has been restored and developed, and further development and revision of tea text standards, and began to formulate the standard sample of tea in kind. 1950 March, the Ministry of Trade of New China held the first session of the National Commodity Inspection Conference in Beijing, the development of the “Interim Standards for Tea Export Inspection” and “Interim Measures for Tea Inspection of Tea”, to restore the interruption of the war of resistance against Japan and the tea test and establish additional inspection agencies. After three revisions in 1952, 1955, 1962, the standard has become the most comprehensive one since the founding of the country, a tea standard, the provisions of black tea, green tea, oolong tea and flower tea export inspection items, including moisture, ash, powder, tea, and packaging indicators, etc. In May 1978, the National Bureau of Standards was formally established, the standardization of tea in China, and therefore the rapid recovery and development. To meet the needs of tea production and trade, the State Commodity Inspection Bureau in 1981 revised the introduction of WMB48-81 “Tea” standard. WMB48-81 “Tea” standard includes three parts of the tea quality specifications, tea packaging and tea inspection methods. In the same year, the state also formulated tea health standards GBN 144-81 “green tea, black tea health standards”. In 1992, according to the varieties of black tea and product quality, China promulgated GB/T 13738.2 “The Second Set of Broken Black Tea” and GB/T 13738.4 “The Fourth Set of Broken Black Tea”, and in 1997, promulgated GB/T 13728.1 “The Second Set of Broken Black Tea”.


In 2008, according to its own characteristics of black tea, China formulated the recommended national standard GB/T 13738 “black tea”, which is divided into three parts, respectively, on the scope of application, classification, requirements, test methods, inspection, marking and labelling, packaging, transport and storage of black tea, black tea, and black tea. Among them, Part 1 of the black tea and Part 2 of the Gongfu black tea were revised in 2017, mainly due to changes in physical and chemical indicators, maximum residue limits of pesticides, pollutant limits and food labelling and other technical content.


In addition, China has also formulated industry standards, local standards and group standards related to black tea.


  1. International black tea standards


There is no internationally recognized standard or regulation for black tea, but there are Codex Alimentarius Commission (CODEX) guidelines, regional regulations (such as the European Union), and national standards. For tea export companies to meet local standards and regulations, such as quality and safety requirements, tea export companies need to establish a scientifically and objectively evaluated minimum standard in international tea trade. The black tea standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have reached some level of global recognition and are currently adopted by about 80% of black tea exporting countries.

In 1981, ISO established the Tea Sub-Technical Committee ISO/TC34/SC8, and in the same year officially released and implemented the first black tea standard ISO 3720: 1981 “Black Tea Definition”. ISO reviews this standard every five years and issued and implemented ISO 3720:1986 “Black Tea Definition and Basic Requirements” in 1986. In 1992 and 2004, ISO revised the standard and released ISO 3720:1986/Cor 1:1992 and ISO 3720:1986/Cor 2:2004 respectively. In 2011, ISO revised the standard and issued and implemented ISO 3720:2011, which has been implemented to this day.


According to the latest review vote of ISO/TC34/SC8 member states on ISO 3720, the adoption of ISO 3720 by major member states varies. Among the 24 member countries, 10 countries have adopted the ISO 3720 standard equivalently, including the United Kingdom, Argentina, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, etc., and 14 countries have not formulated, adopted, or adopted the ISO 3720 standard equivalently, including China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Australia, etc.


  1. Differences in technical content


China’s national standards for black tea GB/T 13738.1-2017 “Black Tea Part 1: Black Broken Tea” and GB/T 13738.2-2017 “Black Tea Part 2: Gongfu Black Tea” have been amended to adopt the technical content of ISO 3720:2011 “Definition and Basic Requirements for Black Tea”. GB/T 13738.3-2012 “Black Tea Part 3: Small Breed Black Tea” does not adopt ISO 3720.


(1) Scope and definition

The definition of broken black tea in Part 1 of GB/T 13738 is consistent with the definition of ISO 3720. GB/T 13738 also explains the process methods in the definition of Gongfu black tea and Souchong black tea according to the different processing techniques. In addition, the standards specified in ISO 3720 are not applicable to scented tea and decaffeinated tea, and GB/T 13738 does not specify this. The tea standards/guidelines (AL/MQS–Rev/2010) formulated by the Sri Lanka Tea Board include teas originating in Sri Lanka and other teas originating in Sri Lanka. ISO 3720 and SLS 135 are the minimum standards for Sri Lankan black tea. Although the scope of India’s black tea standard IS 3633: 2003 is consistent with ISO 3720, its standard clearly states that less than 0.2% pectinase can be added during black tea processing.


(2) Basic requirements

GB/T 13738 and ISO 3720 quote national standards and ISO standards respectively. Due to China’s unique sensory quality requirements, GB/T 13738 adds sensory quality requirements compared to ISO 3720, and deletes the basic requirement of ISO 3720 that “tea soup used for odor assessment must be prepared according to the method specified in ISO 3103.” The assessment results must be recorded on the test report using the terminology specified in ISO 6078.”


(3) Physical, chemical, and hygienic indicators


The three parts of GB/T 13738 have different requirements for the indicators of different types and grades of black tea. Compared with ISO 3720, the indicators of moisture, powder, pollutant limits and pesticide residue limits are added. Five physical and chemical indicators including water-soluble ash, water-soluble ash alkalinity, acid-insoluble ash, crude fiber, and tea polyphenols are clarified as reference indicators.


Sri Lankan tea standards stipulate six physical and chemical indicators of original or non-original tea, including water extract, total ash, water-insoluble ash, water-soluble ash alkalinity, acid-insoluble ash, and crude fiber. Its indicators and detection methods are consistent with ISO 3720, but the indicator requirements for tea polyphenols content are not specified. The Indian black tea standard IS 3633 also stipulates 6 indicators, but does not specify the tea polyphenol content indicator. Among them, the indicator requirements for water-soluble ash alkalinity are different from ISO 3720, which is 1.0%~2.2%.


In addition, GB/T 13738 stipulates that the hygienic indexes of black tea need to meet the limit requirements of GB 2762 and GB 2763.GB 2762-2017 National Standard for Food Safety Limits of Pollutants in Foods and GB 2763-2019 National Standard for Food Safety Maximum Residue Limits of Pesticides in Foods stipulate that the lead content in black tea should not exceed 5.0 mg/kg and the maximum residue levels of 65 pesticides, which are not stipulated in ISO 3720. In Sri Lanka, 5 heavy metals (iron, copper, lead, zinc and cadmium) and 5 microbiological indicators (aerobic colony count, molds and yeasts, coliforms, E. coli and salmonella) are specified for tea. Since the Sri Lanka Tea Board only recommends the use of 27 pesticides in the country, the 27 pesticide residues for tea of Sri Lankan origin are required to comply with the requirements of the importing country’s indicators, and pesticides other than those shall not be detected, and 48 pesticide residue limit indicators have been stipulated for tea of non-Sri Lankan origin, of which 21 are pesticides that are not allowed to be used in Sri Lanka, and therefore are not required to be detected in any form in the tea. The Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has established residue limits for lead, copper and iron, aflatoxins (for any food) and seven pesticides (dicofol, edifenphos, quinalphos, glyphosate, quinclorac, gluconate, and penthiopyrad) in tea that follow relevant Indian national standards such as the Adulterated Food Protection Act (AFP Act).


(4) Others

GB/T 13738 adds storage and transportation requirements, ISO 3720 does not stipulate this, and the Indian black tea standard IS 3633 stipulates packaging, market labels, etc.


  1. Conclusion

Through the comparison of the above technical contents, there are still big differences in the technical contents of Chinese black tea standards and international black tea standards. This is mainly due to the wide variety of black tea in China. The black tea in international trade is mainly broken black tea, which is a bulk product in the international tea market and accounts for 80% of the world’s tea exports. Therefore, a single standard for broken black tea cannot meet the technical requirements of Chinese black tea.


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