Organic tea has been growing in popularity in recent years, as the organic movement as a whole has grown. Brands that specialize in organic tea, such as Rishi Tea, Choice Organic Teas, Organic India, and Numi Tea, have been growing in popularity, and even mainstream tea companies whose products are available in supermarkets have begun to add more organic offerings.
Why is buying organic tea important?
The main two benefits of buying organic tea are avoiding toxic chemicals in your tea and protecting the environment in the areas where the tea is grown.
Many people are not aware of it, but the production of tea can involve harmful and toxic chemicals used as pesticides. Most tea is grown in countries like China and India that have lax environmental standards when compared to the standards of countries like the United States or countries in the European Union. When used carelessly, these chemicals can contaminate teas and pose health risks to people drinking the tea. Tea, especially green tea, is promoted for its cancer-preventing properties, but many of the chemicals used in its production are known toxins or carcinogens.
Even when the finished tea is safe for human consumption, the use of these chemicals can can cause health problems for people who apply the chemicals, and also for people who live in nearby areas that can become contaminated by chemicals. Buying tea produced in this manner can thus contribute to environmental contamination and health problems.
Nutrient Pollution from Fertilizer:
In addition to the problem of chemicals that are outright toxic, conventional agriculture can damage the environment through its over-use of fertilizer. Growing tea requires application of fertilizer because organic matter is constantly being taken away as tea leaves are harvested. But the application of synthetic fertilizers can acidify soils and contribute too much nitrogen to runoff, which can damage the ecosystems in streams, rivers, and bays downstream from the region where the tea is grown. Not only does this damage ecosystems, but it can harm the fishing industry as well.
Organic fertilizer does not completely solve this problem but it greatly reduces it.
What does organic certification mean?
Organic certification varies depending on the certifying organization, but in general, it requires that tea (or whatever product is being certified) is produced without using synthetic chemicals, including fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Organic certification prohibits the use of GMO’s (genetically-modified organisms), and requires that the land has been maintained in a state free of synthetic chemicals for a number of years. The certification includes record keeping requirements to ensure that organic and non-organic materials are kept separate.
The USDA certifies products as organic in the U.S., and there are a number of other certifying agencies in other countries.
Organic agriculture is not perfect:
Organic agriculture is a move in the right direction but it is not an instant solution to all environmental problems. Some companies have falsely marketed their products as organic in order to sell them for a higher price, so it is important to verify the certification of teas you buy. Organic agriculture can still have negative impacts on the environment, and organic certification does not address the question of fair wages for workers as fair trade certification does.
Is organic tea more expensive?
Sometimes organic tea is more expensive, but the prices of teas are highly variable and many organic teas are comparable in price to non-organic teas. There is little reason not to buy organic tea nowadays. As more people shift to buying organic tea and organic products in general, we will be able to start addressing more environmental and public health issues as we clean up the earth’s ecosystems and keep toxic chemicals out of our environment.
Alex Zorach has an M.A. in statistics from Yale University, and is an avid tea drinker and the creator of RateTea, a website committed to sustainability, and the first online community where anyone can rate and review teas. RateTea also has a wealth of articles pertaining to tea, sustainability, and health. On this site, you can read more about organic tea, and browse and search listings of organic teas, as well as reading more about the environmental and health issues relating to how tea is produced.