Given my interest in collecting anything that is “ducky,” you’ll understand why I was drawn to ads for “Ya Shi Xiang Dan Cong” tea. That translates to, and I kid you not, “Duck Shit Aroma” tea. Of course, I would normally not use that rather uncouth expression in my writings, but that is the name by which the tea actually goes, as can be seen on its label, so I think I can be forgiven.
A quick bit of research reveals that, alas, the tea doesn’t contain any duck poo. Neither does it smell like excrement, as its marketers, who apparently have some expertise in the gustatory properties of fecal matter, are quick to tell us. The tea actually has a honeysuckle aroma! Shi Xiang Dan Cong tea bushes are cultivated in the Phoenix Mountains of Guangdong province and unlike most tea bushes are not cultivated in straight rows. They grow in the wild which apparently adds to the tea’s allure.
Now for the “Duck Shit” connection. The story is that the tea brewed from the leaves of the wild bushes has an especially attractive taste and scent. When villagers were asked what process they used to impart the delightful flavour, they decided to lead the questioners astray in order to protect their monopoly. The concocted story was that the secret lay in the duck poop that accounts for the yellowish soil in which the tea bushes grow.
The tea with the charming name is not cheap, runs about $3-5 per cup. But that is nowhere near the cost of Panda dung tea which would set you back about $220 a cup if you could find it. And no, it doesn’t have any Panda Poo. This tea was the brainchild of An Yashi, a university lecturer in China who hoped to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most expensive tea. As far as I can tell, it didn’t make it. I did discover, though, that there is a record for the world’s most expensive teapot. It is made of 18-carat yellow gold that is covered with diamonds, has a handle made from fossilized mammoth ivory, and has a 6.67-carat ruby in its center. It is valued at $3 million!
Yashi tried to justify the hefty price of the tea with a hefty dose of panda poop. Pandas, he explained, have a very poor digestive system and only absorb about thirty percent of what they eat, so that their excrement is rich in fiber and nutrients. He goes on to say that “just like green tea, bamboo contains an element that can prevent cancer and enhance green tea’s anti-cancer effects if it is used as fertilizer for the tea.” I suppose by “element” he means “compound,” and likely refers to catechins, a family of polyphenols found in tea that have antioxidant properties.
Bamboo does contain some polyphenols, although not the same ones found in tea. That though is hardly relevant. Whatever polyphenols may be in the bamboo will not find their way into the tea plants. In any case, tea itself is an abundant source of polyphenols and numerous studies have demonstrated the health benefits of tea. The notion that these benefits can be increased by fertilizing the tea plants with panda poop is, well, B.S. To be sure, panda poop is harder to come by than B.S., so I suppose that justifies jacking up the cost of the tea fertilized with it.
Now for a tea that does legitimately have some poop in it. “Bugapoop Worm Poo Tea” is made from the feces of grain moth larvae. It’s quite a process. The larvae are fed on special fermented tea leaves and their droppings are collected by hand, dried and aged further. “Worm poo collector” would be a unique job description. The tea brewed from the droppings supposedly improves digestion, lowers blood pressure and has “detoxifying” properties. More poppycock. I’ll pass on that one.
Time for the coup de grace. Tea brewed from goat and cattle feces. For this delight we travel to a village a few hours drive from Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. Traditional folk remedies here are mainstream given that modern medical care is scarce. Some of these, such as ephedra for asthma or artemisia annua for malaria can actually work, but bear bile, rhinoceros horn or “virgin boy eggs” made by boiling eggs in the urine of young boys at most can provide a placebo effect. Then there is the tea made from cattle and goat feces. It is an alleged cure for cancer, the effectiveness being attributed to the local plants on which the goats and cows feed. Sounds pretty hokey, but no more so than coffee enemas, ozone injections, laetrile, black salve, mistletoe extract or shark cartilage used by western charlatans. I think cancer patients can safely pass on Chinese goat and bovine poop tea. As well as on the copious amounts of western B.S. being spread around.
Back to my Duck Shit tea. How can I pass on buying the “lightly oxidized leaves that produce a pale golden liquor with a floral aroma whose easy-going taste balances sweet floral, creamy and mineral notes with an umami finish?” I can’t. Gotta have that…ummm….s**t.