Chinese tea growers threaten to sue campaigner over claim highly prized leaves can cause cancer
Legal threat issued after blogger best known by alias Fang Zhouzi warns that puer can expose drinkers to dangerous chemical
Insiders from China’s lucrative puer tea industry are planning to sue the well-known anti-fraud campaigner Fang Shimin – better known by his pen name Fang Zhouzi – for six million yuan (US$923,000) after an online squabble over the drink, according to news website Yunnan.cn.
High-end teas – especially puer, a fermented dark tea from Yunnan province that improves with age – each have their own backstories and mythologies, and boast great cultural import as well as exceptional flavour.
Annually, large numbers of speculators and investors look to the tea as an alternative to gold, shares and real estate.
Fang prompted a public debate after putting a post online warning people about the tea’s alleged carcinogenic effects.
In his post, Fang said drinking puer tea could expose users to aflatoxin, which is capable of causing health problems such as liver disease or cancer.
The provincial puer tea association said Fang’s remarks would dampen the industry’s reputation and future sales.
It demanded that Fang delete his remarks and publicly apologise, as well as paying compensation of six million yuan for tea farmers across Yunnan province, the report said.
The Kunming branch of the Beijing-based Yingke Law firm has already been retained.
Fang is a controversial US-educated biochemist famous for years of anti-fraud efforts in different spheres ranging from academia to celebrity culture.
His stance has led to some critics calling him “arrogant” and “self-righteous”.
Fang defended his comments about the tea on his microblog, saying they were fair comment based on a study released by the Yunnan Agricultural University and published in international journals.
In 2013, a 100-year-old stack of raw puer cakes from wild tea trees sold for five million yuan a kilogram, or about 15,000 yuan per cup of tea.
Prices of puer have dropped significantly since their highs in 2014 but the tea is still regarded as a premium product with some buyers willing to pay almost any price for the highest quality leaves.