Your Guide to Sustainable Tea

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Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second to water, and it’s no wonder why — tea can be served hot or iced, mixed with lemonade for a sweet treat, or even added to cocktails, making it a versatile and delicious drink.

Tea consumption is on the rise, too. The Tea Association of the U.S.A. expects continued growth in tea sales, largely due to its impressive health benefits and wide variety. The long-term success of tea relies on consumers and their continued appreciation for the product.

Sustainability plays a significant role in America’s tea-consumption upswing, especially as environmentalism gains momentum. Many of us are becoming activists in our own ways, like changing our purchasing habits.

Prioritizing sustainability when browsing the grocery store shelves can have a big impact — a good thing to keep in mind next time you need your oolong fix.

Superfood Status

The health benefits of tea are numerous. Photo: Adobe Stock

Tea originated thousands of years ago in China, where it was used medicinally. Now, tea leaves are grown all over the world and the beverage has a massive following, in part due to its off-the-charts health benefits.

There are more than 3,000 kinds of teas, but four stand out. Green, black, white and oolong pack in tons of healthy perks. Drinking them regularly can increase muscle endurance and fight cancer, thanks to mighty antioxidants. Tea also reduces heart attack risk, boosts hydration and aids in weight loss.

Plus, it’s incredibly tasty. What’s not to love?

It’s safe to say tea has earned a spot on the ever-growing list of superfoods, right next to heart-healthy açaí and nourishing quinoa.

Growing Tea

Camellia sinensis is the Latin name for a tea leaf. The evergreen plant especially loves tropical climates and high elevations but can tolerate the marine climates that characterize places like England and parts of the U.S.

Despite having four primary varieties, all tea is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. The variation in appearance, taste and scent is determined by the way the leaves are processed.

Leaves are usually picked by hand due to their fragility. Once picked, they begin to darken in color as they lose their excess water. Exposure to heat halts this process. The point at which manufacturers introduce heat determines the tea leaf’s variety: white, green, oolong or black.

Most of the tea we drink is produced on big plantations in Asia, destined to be sold to large companies for distribution. Though tea production’s roots lie in small, sustainable gardening methods, the process has become grossly industrial.

Tea Industry Goes Green

More than 13 million people are employed by the tea industry worldwide. Most of them work for large tea companies on plantations, where they often earn low wages in unsound conditions.

Big tea companies tend to prioritize monetary profit over sustainable environmental practices. Excess water use, poor soil conditions and destructive pest management are major environmental issues in the industry.

This tea plantation is located in Kerala, India. Photo: Adobe Stock

With the rise of tea consumption and a higher demand for sustainable products, the tea industry is moving in a greener direction. Tea is becoming a sustainable business in terms of the environment, economy and society.

In 2013, Forum for the Future created a campaign called Tea 2030. The project involves companies and individuals across the tea industry, from pickers and packers to producers and purchasers, coming together to solve tea’s sustainability issues by the year 2030.

Fair trade — trade in which fair prices are paid to producers — is being implemented around the world as well. Companies partner with independent farmers and, with the fair-trade certification, ensure that workers receive just payment in fair work conditions and use environmentally sound farming methods.

Sustainable Tea Brands

While Tea 2030 is at work, it’s time for consumers to ditch big-brand brews and invest in sustainable ones. Look for organic, Fair Trade-certified teas in recyclable packaging to maximize sustainability. Most grocery stores and health food stores carry multiple sustainable tea brands. Here are a few of our favorites:

Honest Tea

This sustainable company is mostly known for their line of iced tea, which is ethically and sustainably produced. Their tea leaves are certified organic, their company is certified Fair Trade, and they avoid unnecessary pesticides and fertilizers.

Arbor Teas

Both human and environmental health is a priority for this tea brand. Arbor Teas farmers use sustainable farming methods, including minimizing their water use. Their teas are organic and some are Fair Trade, and, best of all, their packaging is compostable.

Numi

Numi successfully balances taste with sustainability, producing flavorful organic and Fair Trade bagged tea. The company is committed to recycling and keeps that in mind when designing packaging. Due to their waste-free processing, Numi saves thousands of trees every year.

Do you have a favorite sustainable tea? Let us know in the comments!

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Lauren Murphy

Lauren has a B.S. in environmental science, a crafting addiction, and a love for all things Pacific Northwest. She writes from her cozy downtown apartment tucked in the very northwestern corner of the continental U.S. Lauren spends her time writing and focusing on a healthy, simple and sustainable lifestyle.
Lauren Murphy