Tea is one of the most beloved beverages in the world, coming second only after water in terms of global consumption. Given that it's such a staple in our lives, the humble cup of tea is a good place to start when we’re thinking about consuming a bit more mindfully this Christmas.
Even if we drink a lot of tea, it doesn’t mean we know exactly what we’re drinking. Many of us may be surprised to learn that for millions of people, especially across South Asia, who grow our tea, life can be very hard. Tea growers for the most part live on poverty wages and many live desperate conditions to supply thriving international demand.
The global tea sector is also coming under pressure from the climate crisis. Tea farmers are already switching to growing other crops as they feel the impacts. Tea estates are closing down leaving hundreds of workers and their families destitute.
It might seem like a lot to think about as you choose your Christmas presents, but here are a few simple steps we can take when it comes to buying tea:
1. Upgrade your daily cup to really good quality tea
The vast majority of tea is sold as a commodity crop with a focus on quantity over quality, often at the cost of the tea growers’ welfare. As consumers we can help by simply buying better tea as growers earn higher prices for producing more valuable, quality leaves.
The beauty is that great tea doesn't have to cost the earth either; it's usually just a matter of paying a few more pence per cup. Carefully crafted, loose leaf tea is still much cheaper than other little luxuries like a cup of specialty coffee or glass of fine wine.
2. Choose loose leaf tea instead of tea bags
If you don't already, try using tea in its most natural loose-leaf form to help reduce waste. Most tea bags use polypropylene to seal the bag and to retain its shape in hot water which not only prevents the bag from fully composting, but it also leaches billions of microplastics into your cup. Plus, loose leaf tea is much more alive and exciting to drink in a way that industrial tea bags aren’t.
3. Choose speciality tea sourced by people who have a direct link with individual tea producers
One of the biggest concerns around tea is the supply chain which remains very opaque. The exact provenance of tea is often concealed on packaging especially when it comes to blends. The problem with this is the growers and makers don’t always get the prices and recognition that they deserve. So, when you’re buying tea, look for as much detail on the label as possible, including country and region, farm or estate. Such transparency shows that the suppliers are putting thought and care into their tea.
4. Choose tea that is grown sustainably
The soil's health is crucial to the flavour of tea. The use of chemical pesticides and herbicides can kill the soil that sustains the tea plant and strip it of nutrients. The richer and more alive the soil, the better flavour the tea will have.
5. Don’t just rely on certifications and labels
Although well established and popular, there is a growing awareness that labels such as “Fairtrade”, “organic” or “Rainforest Alliance Certified” are only available to larger companies and are therefore limited in their effectiveness. For many small holder tea growers, obtaining these certifications is out of reach.
Treat yourself or your loved ones to some of the good stuff this Christmas and browse our selection here.