Tlabs is a laboratory chain operated by the Tea Research Association (TRA) in India, and was initially established under the 11th Plan Project of the Tea Board of India as a pesticides residue lab in 2010/2011.
“We now also have a quality control laboratory, so [Tlabs] basically operates on both ends to investigate tea quality according to pesticide parameters in one lab, and quality parameters in the other,” TRA Secretary and Principal Officer Joydeep Phukan told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Parameters that Tlabs focuses on during its analyses are generally in accord with the ISO 3720 standards for tea, as well as according to FSSAI norms for the local tea market.
“The FSSAI recognition [is] a big boost for TLabs to do more in quality [moving forward],” said Phukan.
“FSSAI has their own list of pesticide MRLs and quality parameters for tea, [and Tlabs] can test for overall everything (sic) within our labs.”
FSSAI monitors various quality parameters including pesticide residues, heavy metal presence, iron fillings and toxic substances.
He declined to reveal further data about the issues faced during testing or what the most commonly-seen contaminants observed were, saying that this was not allowed according to National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) norms.
However, he described compliance levels within the Indian tea industry as ‘very good’.
“[What I can say] is that the Tea Board of India would pick random samples of teas meant for export and send them to us, which we would test and upload on their portal. [This appears to have] lead to improvement of quality and compliance levels.
“For Indian tea, I think we have been able to help the export scenario in the country.”
The Tea Board of India acts as the secretarial authority and regulatory body for the tea industry in the country, and the TRA acts as a research body for the board.
Apart from local tea testing and analysis, Tlabs has collaborated with various industry organisations worldwide that deal with teas.
Examples include Tea and Herbal Infusions Europe (THIE) in the United Kingdom and the Iran Tea Association, which both hail from countries that are big importers of Indian tea.
“[We have] tested a lot of tea for those markets, and worked with scientists too. [I think in this way, we have managed] to facilitate tea trade in a better way for both sides,” said Phukan.