The FDA Used to Have People Whose Job Was to Taste Tea

For nearly a century, the U.S. government employed a group of people to check the quality of imported tea by tasting it. That’s right: “slurp, swoosh, spit.” The Board of Tea Experts was created as part of the Tea Importation Act of 1897 and was aimed at protecting consumers from imported tea that was judged at the time to be “little better than hay or catnip.” It was a time when there was great public concern about the purity of food, as well as the beginnings of the regulatory structure that would come to oversee cosmetics, food, and drugs. The government wasn’t concerned about the taste of the tea, but rather the quality, purity, and fitness for consumption. Analyzing the chemical qualities of each tea would be a prolonged task with the equipment at the time, and to pass the “fitness for consumption” test, the tea would still need to be tasted. Tea tasting involved weighing the tea, brewing it, pouring it, and tasting it. Many, however, believed the process to be a waste of government money, with an annual cost of $250,000, nearly $7 million today. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Board of Tea Experts was dispersed and the program discontinued.