What’s the Tea? Brewing a More Sustainable Cuppa

What’s the Tea? Brewing a More Sustainable Cuppa

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An ordinary cup of tea requires one-eighth as much water as a cup of espresso, however tea isn’t any eco-beverage. In truth, the carbon footprints of tea and coffee production are virtually similar. But producing tea contributes much less to its footprint than the way you drink it. Brewing a very sustainable cuppa is likely to be unattainable, however a bit training about your tea decisions makes it simpler to shop your values. Here’s what you have to find out about tea.


The UN FAO launched a project in Kenya final yr to assist the manufacturing of carbon-neutral tea. Another initiative, Tea2030 crosses all sectors of tea manufacturing. But for now, most tea is grown on chemical-intensive farms that contribute to deforestation, erosion, and pesticide contamination. Monoculture farms damage soil health and make crops extra prone to illness, resulting in extra intensive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer. Half of the 62 teas examined by the FDA in a 2015 research contained pesticide residues.

Using organic controls as a substitute of fumigants in opposition to soil nematodes; site-specific fertilization plans or natural farming; and the introduction of shade timber to plantations are all methods for decreasing the influence of tea cultivation.


A labor-intensive crop harvested by hand, tea is grown all around the world with China, India, Kenya, and Sri Lanka because the largest producers. China produces half the world’s tea on 15 million small farms the place there may be little consciousness of the hazards of agrochemicals. Two-thirds of Kenyan tea farmers are additionally smallholders with few workers (a few of whom could also be youngsters). By distinction, three-quarters of Indian tea (significantly Assam) remains to be produced on near-feudal plantations with a historical past of human rights abuses that significantly impact women. But in all places, low wages, pesticide publicity, and brutal working circumstances are rampant.

The overwhelming majority of tea remains to be purchased in bulk by multinational companies. Only Sri Lanka has developed a lot native processing, however this has not led to direct commerce choices or improved conditions for workers.

Workers harvesting tea on plantation in Vietnam
Workers harvesting tea in Vietnam


Processing the tea produces barely greater than half as much carbon as rising the tea.

Graph of CO2 emissions of Dongshang tea
Overall carbon emission contribution of Dongshang tea. Source: mdpi.com

Withering, drying, grading, and packing tea requires more energy than producing a kilogram of metal. This is commonly as a consequence of the usage of outdated, inefficient equipment powered by diesel turbines and even gas wooden. Market mechanisms comparable to honest commerce that shift revenue down the availability chain may enhance effectivity.


International packages just like the Ethical Tea Partnership work to enhance the lives of tea farmers and their cultivation strategies however are invisible to shoppers. Choosing certified teas is one of the best ways for shoppers to encourage sustainable tea cultivation and processing.

USDA Certified Organic

Organic certification ensures that tea is grown and processed with out the usage of artificial chemical substances. In 2020, the USDA proposed strengthening oversight and enforcement all alongside the availability chain, which may have vital impacts on merchandise like tea. Organic requirements don’t explicitly shield farmers or regulate waste produced by farms and processors.

USDA Organic logo
Source: ams.usda.gov

Rainforest Alliance

After merging with UTZ in 2018, the Rainforest Alliance developed a brand new system that emphasizes context and progress over requirements. Its new certification ensures tea farmers a “Sustainability Differential” fee, forbids deforestation, and encourages sustainable farming strategies.

Rainforest Alliance logo
Source: rainforest-alliance.org

Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade USA was the American affiliate of Fairtrade International till 2011. Despite flaws, Fair Trade USA has directed practically $7 million in premium funds to enhance tea-producing communities. It prohibits little one and compelled labor, however can’t present a 100% assure.

Fair Trade Certified and Fairtrade America logos
Source: Just-food.com

Fairtrade America

Fairtrade America grew to become the American affiliate to Fairtrade International in 2013. It focuses on a handful of meals merchandise, including tea. There is significant overlap between Fairtrade America’s requirements and people of Fair Trade USA. Fairtrade tea farmers obtain a minimal worth that varies by location and manufacturing methodology in addition to a premium for reinvestment within the farm.

Drinking Habits

The environmental influence of your afternoon tea doesn’t finish with what you choose to buy. The largest supply of carbon emissions from the six billion cups of tea drunk every day is how you drink it. Because cattle manufacturing is so carbon intensive, you possibly can eradicate two-thirds of your tea’s carbon emissions by eliminating milk.

The energy source for boiling water makes a distinction, however extra essential is how a lot water you boil. Boiling extra water than you want can double the local weather influence.

Perhaps surprisingly, waste disposal is not a major factor within the influence of your tea. It’s nonetheless greatest to reuse tea bags the place you possibly can. But be warned that except they’re particularly labeled for composting, most “paper” tea luggage comprise up to 30% plastic. To keep away from waste, loose-leaf tea is preferable.

Finally, the manufacturing of tea, like espresso, not solely contributes to local weather change, additionally it is threatened by climate change. So don’t cease on the cup – each motion you are taking to reduce your carbon footprint makes the world a greater place for tea.

Feature picture by StockSnap from Pixabay