Don’t let Ted Lasso’s disdain sway you. Tea is perfectly acceptable in all its many varieties. Especially when it’s sustainable, organic, and Fair Trade.
Whether you like it hot, iced, or room temperature, it’s always tea time somewhere. Okay, maybe it’s not but when you’re ready for a perfect cuppa, make sure you opt for brands going the extra step to ensure their products hit the mark.
What is tea?
Tea is consumed around the world and regarded for its many healing properties. It’s so cherished, there are ceremonies that celebrate and honor its many benefits. Like the coffee industry, tea can be a boost to growers encouraged to use sustainable methods such as organic, biodynamic, and regenerative agriculture. Fair Trade certification also ensures tea producers are paid fair wages and work in safe conditions.
Tea is a catchall these days that can include botanicals, functional mushrooms, and a host of other wellness ingredients. But tea is technically a specific plant, the camellia sinensis plant, traditionally grown across Asia, which produces four distinct types of teas based on whether or not the tea leaf has been fermented.
White tea is the freshly picked young tea leaf that is minimally processed. Green tea is similar, with minimally processed unoxidized leaves rich in antioxidants that may help prevent certain types of cancer, among other benefits. Oolong is slightly more oxidized and has a unique flavor profile. Black tea is fully oxidized and rich in tannins, giving it that slightly bitter taste.
All tea varieties have health benefits as long as they’re not overly sweetened. When it comes to the tea plant, though, the slightly fermented green tea is the reigning nutrition Queen.
There have been a number of studies on the health benefits of green tea, particularly the compound epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). It’s been linked to reduced risk of certain types of cancer, immune support, and numerous other benefits including improved brain function, stabilizing weight, digestive support, skin health, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. But there are scores of other benefits linked to green tea and its antioxidant load.
Tisanes are those herby blends that aren’t technically tea at all, but fall into the category nonetheless. These include caffeine-free herbs most usually such as chamomile, ginger, rooibos, and mint. But tisanes are being made with all manner of botanicals including turmeric, functional mushrooms, and adaptogens like ashwagandha. The benefits will vary widely depending on the ingredients, but generally they fall into several key categories: digestive support, relaxation or sleep support, immunity support. Tisane ingredients are more often than not caffeine-free but be sure to check the ingredients as some botanicals do contain caffeine.
Because tea is so popular, it can often mean a sliding scale when it comes to quality. This isn’t just a consideration for your own health, but for the health of the planet and the people who grow and pick your tea or botanicals.
While there’s no certification in the U.S. for sustainably sourced tea, looking for the USDA Organic seal offers some assurance that the ingredients in your tea were grown without harmful pesticides and herbicides. That’s good for everyone, as well as the earth, water, and animals.
Taking it a step further and looking for Fair Trade certified tea products where applicable (not all ingredients in tisanes may be vetted by Fair Trade certifiers as they’re focused firstly on larger staple crops). Fair Trade ensures workers are paid livable wages and have access to basic human rights such as schools and medical care.
The market for sustainably-minded teas continues to expand, so this is by no means a complete list. But it’s a great place to start.
1. Numi Organic Tea
A triple bottom line business, Numi has been committed to people, planet, and profits since it was founded in 1999 by the brother and sister team Ahmed Rahim and Reem Hassani. But more than that, the brand is committed to really good tea. Whether a rich cup of Breakfast Blend to start the morning, or a wind down at the end of the day with Chamomile Lemon, Numi’s blends are among the finest. From the brand’s impeccable sourcing standards to the Numi Foundation that supports communities in need, you’ll want to savor every sip.
2. Traditional Medicinals
Traditional Medicinals’ roots run so deep that even if you’ve never had a cup of the brand’s many teas, you’ve had a product that was influenced by the company. Rooted in European herbalism, this natural products industry leader got its start back in 1974. From the very beginning, it has upheld a commitment to ethics and responsible sourcing, long before certified organic even existed. A certified B Corp since 2010, the company has a host of sustainability commitments across its warehouse and its supply chain. You won’t find much in the caffeinated realm here beyond a few green and black teas, but do dive into the herbalist formulated blends like the Ginger Aid or Nighty Night. And for these immune challenged times, there’s an unbeatable roster of supportive blends from Echinacea to Reishi to the medicine cabinet must, Throat Coat.
3. Rishi Tea
Certified organic since 2002, Rishi Tea made loose leaf tea essential. Founded in 1997 after Joshua Kaiser became accustomed to tea during his travels across Asia. With nothing like it in the U.S., he bet artisan teas had a future. He was right. Rishi’s Direct Trade practice means it avoids third-party sellers and works with its growers and producers to offer better wages and support. From a stellar, sustainable supply chain to blends that are unparalleled in the industry, you’ll love sipping on Rishi. Try the Artemisia Qi Tonic for elevated sipping, with aromas of spring meadows, chrysanthemums, green teas, tart citrus, and a unique herbal sweetness.
Recognizing a gap in the market, actor Brad Pitt and friends set out to create an elevated experience without alcohol. Enroot is sparkling, chilled tea cold-brewed and blended by James Beard chefs. The certified B Corp company sources organic ingredients, supports local farmers, supports women chefs, and has so many sustainability commitments it’s almost too precious to drink! But tasting is believing with Enroot. The sparkling teas are a revelation, whether served alongside dinner, or for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Try the Peach Hibiscus Jasmine Green Tea for a transformative experience.
Pukka is a certified B-Corp tea company and is really focused on building a sustainable and organic supply chain. The company works directly with farmers and growers to ensure fair wages and labor practices.
Pukka’s boxes are made from FSC-certified cardboard and the tea bags are made from 99 percent natural fibers. It is currently in the process of certifying its bags for home composting.
Yogi has a plethora of organic and USDA-certified organic teas. The teas are also non-GMO certified and they never contain artificial ingredients. Yogi’s rooibos tea is also from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, which helps conserve wildlife and natural resources, along with safeguarding the rights and well-being of workers
All the teas come in a cardboard box that is printed using vegetable-based inks. Each tea bag is wrapped in compostable paper and the tea bag itself is fully compostable.
7. Honest Tea/ Just Ice Tea
Seth Goldman, who’s now Chairman of the Board at Beyond Meat, co-founded Honest Tea with Barry Nalebuff in 1998. The short story? They built a bottled tea empire using organic and Fair Trade ingredients with a commitment to quality and low-sugar options.
Like many brands, Honest grew so big it’s only real next step was to sell, which it did to Coca-Cola in 2011. Then, a few months ago, Coca-Cola announced it would discontinue the line, and the original founders have stepped back in to resurrect it.
Goldman is also co-founder of Eat the Change, which will bring the formulas back to market, under a new name: Just Ice Tea. The ‘just’ here is used in the same way Eat Just uses it for its vegan egg, as an indicator of an underlying ethos and a commitment to making the world a better place. You can still find bottles of Honest Teas on shelves as Coca-Cola’s inventory dwindles down, and keep an eye out for the new Just Ice bottles coming soon.