How to find ethically produced tea

A few years ago while nicely enjoying my tea and reading the news, I was seeing mentions of the conditions of tea pickers in some areas of India. What I was reading was enough for me to put down my tea and look at it wondering just how badly the people who picked it might be suffering to make ends meet, feed their families, send their kids to school – everything most Westerners who drink tea in bucketfuls take for granted. This heartbreaking article about how thousands of young mothers in India are dying while producing tea will greatly open your eyes to the conditions of workers on mass production tea plantations.

Tea pickers in Wayanad District of India

Tea pickers in Wayanad District of India. Creative Commons License: Steenbergs

According to University of Michigan News, “In the U.S. the most-prized first-flush tea leaves—designated SFTGFOP, meaning ‘Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe’—sell for more than $60 for eight ounces, when you can get them. But the field workers who pick the delicate leaves earn just over a dollar for a full day’s work.” (1)

That is a lot of money for a little bit of tea and very little money for the people who pick it. Then I was seeing mentions of protests by tea plantation workers who just wanted enough to feed their kids eggs and send them to school.

An article in The Hindu Business Line covering protests in India by tea workers said, “Sheela Dorjee complained that it was impossible to educate her children beyond the primary level. ‘Our children are only 10 or 15 years old. They have to work so that our families can survive,’ she said. Sumitra Topua insisted that workers like her should be paid a minimum wage of at least ₹300 ($4.49USD) a day. ‘We need that to cover just our education and medical costs. Our bosses have cars. We don’t even have a cycle. Are birthdays, funerals or weddings not important for people like us?’ (2)

In the same article, they talk about the protests by plantation workers who just want a minimum wage.

“With workers in Darjeeling being paid a daily wage of ₹90 ($1.34USD) and those in the Dooars and Terai regions earning a marginally higher ₹95 ($1.42USD) a day, there was a growing clamour for the introduction of a minimum wage.” (2)

Wait! Didn’t they just say that the workers need ₹300($4.49USD) a day? I started thinking that there have to be options out there where we’re not drinking the blood, sweat and tears of people who have an incredibly steep uphill battle to improve their lives. While these protests mentioned in these articles happened a few years ago, the image above of tea pickers protesting is from February 11, 2017 in a different part of India.

Where to find ethically produced teas?

So I started looking into teas that are produced ethically. First I looked locally here in the US, and the options are small. There is an organization that manufacturers and retailers can join to show that their teas are produced ethically, The Ethical Tea Partnership. They work with producers and NGOs to help with training of tea producers and certification that helps end consumers figure out if the tea has been produced in a way that helps improve the lives of its farmers. The producers do have to contribute money to this program, so it may be cost prohibitive to smaller operations to get the certification. I’ll do a subsequent article about this later.

However, it was the concept of tea farmer co-ops that gave me real confidence that the tea I was drinking was helping the not only the farmers but the community where it’s produced. We hear about co-ops more when it comes to fair-trade coffee than we do when talking about tea. By their nature, co-ops are democratically organized and smaller in scale. And the people working on the farms not only have direct control over their conditions, they also get a fair share of the earnings for the tea sold that year.

The first time that I tasted a tea from a co-op was when Teatulia ( was at Whole Foods giving out samples. The man I spoke with there was from Teatulia and gave me a few samples to bring home. Their tea comes from a single garden in Northern Bangladesh at the base of the Himalayas. My first impression was that they were stronger and earthier than I’m used to, but good. The difference that I was tasting could very well be attributed to the fact that their tea is grown in Bangladesh. They’ve consistently placed at the North American Tea Championship for the past five years (2015 not included for some reason).

Kanchanjangha Organics – Nepal Tea

Another co-op that I’ve recently learned about in the past few months is Kanchanjangha Organics(KTE) Nepal Tea. This co-op reached out to me to talk about their teas, and the more and more I heard the more and more I loved the idea of their co-op. Similar in concept to Teatulia, but in Nepal. Nepalese teas are so similar to Darjeeling teas that they’re sometimes sold under the Darjeeling name. I asked Nepal Tea founder, Nishchal Banskota, about their growing conditions being similar:

“Our garden actually borders Darjeeling, so I would say the climatic conditions, topography, elevation would pretty much be the same. Yes, our teas are very much comparable to Darjeeling teas. In fact, in the past couple of years what has been happening is that Darjeeling is selling more tea than it can actually produce (given the land that they have), so to cater to the growing demand, there have been instances where they buy Nepal teas and sell it under their brand. This is one of the major reasons I have taken into my hands to build a separate identity for Nepal Tea itself. So, the point is, it is very much comparable but ours would be more floral and a little less muscatel in terms of black tea.”

Raising up Nepal Tea families

Not only do they have the co-op but they also give farmers free housing, loan out cows to supplement farmers’ food and income and fund scholarships for local children to go to school through university. These kids come back and add to their community. Banskota explained:

“We have provided scholarship to 2300 students till date, and I added 96 more students in 2016. The scholarship is divided into two phases. One is for primary till grade 10. And if the students are interested, a buyer from Japan actually collaborates with us to fund higher education in specific fields of study mostly that are of high importance to the village such as organic farming, engineering, entrepreneurship and so on.”

Two sample success stories that Banskota relayed included one where a girl, now woman, named Januka received scholarships for 13 years, and she now runs her own Ayurvedic clinic in the village. Another scholarship success story is of Pradip who received scholarships for about 12 years, and he now works as an accountant in our own factory. “There are 3 nurses, 2 vets, 1 engineer that I personally know of and many that I don’t even know,” said Banskota

Watch this video put together by Nepal Tea:


KTE Nepal Tea – Review

Kanchanjangha Noir, KTE Nepal Tea Tasting

Kanchanjangha Noir, KTE Nepal Tea Tasting

KTE Nepal Tea sent me samples to try their teas for free. Because black tea is my favorite (I need my caffeine), I tried their Kanchanjangha Noir first. My first reaction – I could drink this without milk; there’s very little bitterness and it’s smooth. Granted, after leaving it in the teapot for a while while I worked and sipped my tea, it brewed too long and got slightly bitter. But still no earthiness in it that isn’t an everyday taste I’m going after. There is a marked difference in quality than your usual black tea out there, even when compared to more well-known higher-end brands. I can definitely taste that this isn’t a mass produced tea and the whole leaves make quite a difference. I was able to pour it out of my teapot with very few leaves coming out. I’m not a certified tea taster, so I don’t know all the descriptions on how to describe the taste of tea. But because I’ve had so much tea, I know what I like. And I LOVE this tea. Bonus is that it’s organic.

How to get your own KTE Nepal Tea – Kickstarter

Right now until March 8, 2017 at 2pm PST you can help Nepal Tea grow their business with their Kickstarter  and perhaps get a section of the farm all for yourself .

There are various levels at which you can contribute:

  • $25 –50g of tea or 10 bags
  • $50 – 100g of tea or 20 bags and a tea cup
  • $75 – 150 g of tea and 2 tea cups
  • $100 – 11 types of tea (6 g) , 5 tea bags, 6 g of Golden Needle
  • $150 – a HALF YEAR of tea
  • $250 – a YEAR of tea
  • $250 – Sampler of all teas and help a farmer learn meditation
  • $500 – Sponser a child’s year of education plus a HALF YEAR of tea
  • $750 – Give a cow and get a YEAR of tea
  • $1000 – a plot of 100 tea bushes will be named after you and you get 5 POUNDS of tea AND you get the first offer to buy 50 lbs of tea in subsequent years
  • $4000 – a plot of 1000 tea bushes will be named after you, you get the ENTIRE FIRST YEAR’S HARVEST of that plot, processed to your liking, and an option to private label it.
  • $5000 – 7-day tour of the area with Nishchal Banskota, plus all the benefits of the $1000 level, and you get to go home with 5 POUNDS of tea.
  • $10,000 – Build an eco-house for a family, and get 1000 tea bushes all to yourself.

If I had the money to invest, I’d do both the $5,000 and $4,000 level. But the average Joe purchase at the lower levels are a deal. You can chip in to help on Kickstarter here:

  1. Tea and sympathy: Fair trade leads to unfair deal for Darjeeling workers, March 18, 2014, Michigan News
  1. The brew darkens, March 6, 2015, The Hindu Business Line,
  2. Darjeeling growers seek to halt Nepal tea imports, The Hindu, July 15, 2016


Sweet Dissolve

Sweet DissolveWe all grab a cuppa tea on the go at some point. And a lot of us add sugar to it, mostly from little packets sitting on counters and tables in cafes. Did you know that just one major coffee chain creates 8 million pounds of sugar packet waste each year in the United States? I hate to think what the amount is worldwide for all sugar packets. This made me think about just how much do I create with my little tea with milk and sugar addiction. (We’ll ignore the tea bag problem for now.)

Hayley Hoverter, inventor of Sweet Dissolve

Well, a brilliant and poised 16-year-old young woman, Hayley Hoverter, from East Los Angeles saw this when she was 6 years old and decided to come up with a solution – Sweet Dissolve. I was watching The Nerdist tonight on BBC America, and they had Hayley on as part of a segment highlighting projects from the LA Science Fair. I wish she had a website already to talk about her patented invention, but a simple search lead me to some videos of her talking about Sweet Dissolve. Basically they’re little triangle shaped organic sugar “packets” wrapped in an organic dissolvable starch. The “wrapper” disappears as you stir in your sugar, and the the wrapper doesn’t add any calories or flavor. And she plans to sell it in dispensers and packaging made of bamboo (a highly renewable resource) that also acts as a natural desiccate. Sweet!

I instantly wanted to try them out, but they’re not on the market yet! They’re currently in a pilot project in South California (6 hours from me – a tad too far just for a cup of tea).

Here’s Haley on CBS LA talking about Sweet Dissolve, and you can see what one of the packets looks like.

Here’s Hayley Hoverter presenting her business plan at the finals of the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. She’s currently in talks with the CEO of FUBU, Daymond John,  (seen in the video) about investing in her company and taking it out of pilot stage.

Check out Haley’s bio on the NFTE competition site.

Tea vs Coffee – Which saves more water?

I was surprised just how much water is saved if you switch from coffee to tea. According to GOOD, drinking one cup of tea instead of one cup of coffee can save 28 gallons of water!

I can only guess that takes into account all the water to grow the tea and coffee beans needed for one cup, as well as the water that goes into the production of the final product.

Here’s a little movie from GOOD that shows all the ways you can cut down on your water consumption throughout the day.

Via TreeHugger

How do you recycle your tea bags?

If you’re a tea addict like me, and using loose leaf tea isn’t always convenient, you probably go through a lot of tea bags in a week. If I have at least 3 cups a day, that comes to 1,095 tea bags a year and about 1.6 kilos of tea! That’s a lot of tea taking up the landfill if everyone’s drinking that much. In honor of Earth Day (belated), here are some suggestions on how to reuse your tea bags instead of just throwing them in the trash.

"mr. tea" by steev-o

  1. Compost – Yup, you can compost them as long as the bags are made of paper (always double check these days since many companies are using synthetics in their bags)
  2. Eye compress – Instead of cucumbers, try cold tea bags instead. Pop them in the fridge, and the cold, tannins and caffeine will help reduce puffy eyes. (Be sure to keep them damp)
  3. Art – Let the tea dry, and you have yourself an interesting medium to sprinkle on top of glue to create designs.
  4. Potted plant filler – Line the bottoms of potted plants with tea bags to help collect water and keep your soil from drying out too quickly.
  5. Bath soak – Put a bunch in a cheesecloth for a fragrant bath (see how)

How do you reuse your tea bags?

Photo: “mr. tea” by steev-o

Who’s your office tea monitor?

Now we all know that you’re supposed to boil only enough water that you need so you don’t waste energy. Is there anyone in your office who’s the self-appointed kettle watcher? Well, Envirowise is recommending that employers appoint a “tea monitor” to make sure employees don’t overfill the office kettle and save energy.

Envirowise, which is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, estimates that more than 30 billion cups of water are needlessly boiled each year in British offices. It has advised that companies re-introduce tea urns and encourage staff to brew collectively, in tea pots.

In Britain offices usually offer mainly just one type of tea. My office in North America offers about 8 types of tea, so brewing in tea pots isn’t necessarily feasible.  So if your office uses a kettle, do you think it would it look selfish to our coworkers if you only boil enough water for yourself?

Office tea monitors ‘should stop overfilled kettles’. So who wants to do it? – Telegraph

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How much tea do you drink a day?

Have you ever calculated how much tea you will drink in your life? Well the people over at Philips have done it for you. After they surveyed UK tea drinkers, they figure that the average person will drink 88,088 cups throughout their lifetime. It breaks down to 1,452 cups a year, 121 a month, or 4 a day.

Why’d Philips want to figure this out? Well they have energy efficient kettles and want to show us just how much greener we can be if we use them. They also found that 10 % of tea drinkers always fill to the kettle to the top – wasting energy to heat all that extra water they don’t need.

I average 3 cups a day and only fill the kettle a quarter of the way if I’m just making tea for my husband and me. At work, the kettle gets filled all the way since other people will eventually come by and need the water. So I think I’m doing okay on the energy savings.

So how many cups a day do you drink – and do you fill the kettle to the top?

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Sun-powered tea factory

You’ve probably heard of sun tea, putting a jar of tea in the sun to brew it, but there’s a tea company that’s using the power of the sun to make tea. Traditional Medicinals, an organic medicinal tea company in Sonoma County, California, has partnered with Akeena Solar to add 1,450 solar panels to power its 70,000 square foot tea factory and headquarters. And they’re saying that makes it the largest solar powered tea factory on earth. (I’m not going to research it…will have to take their word for it.)

This is good news for the environment and tea lovers who what to be eco-friendly in their choice of tea. Traditional Medicinals has offset 100 percent of its electricity usage with wind credits, and this new solar installation will improve upon its environmental objectives, generating 430,000 kilowatt hours per year of clean, renewable energy.

“Energy independence has been a long term goal at Traditional Medicinals” explains co-founder Drake Sadler. “Our company operates according to a set of ethical business principles and practices which embrace environmental stewardship, and advocate for social and cultural sustainability and preservation. Projects like this solar installation simply reflect our deep respect for the earth and humanity.”

It sounds like they take being enviromentally concious to heart. They were one of the firsts in organic and biodynamic agriculture and sustainable wild herb teas. And they help minimize their environmental impact with recycled and recyclable packaging, intensive on site recycling and a fleet of hybrid vehicles. Plus, the company’s 8.5 acre facility is nearly self-sustained with its own water source and purification system, a sophisticated waste water disposal system, a large stocked fish pond for fire suppression and uses dense native drought-resistant landscaping. Perfect for California’s long dry summers.

So not only can you take care of your body with Traditional Medicinals’ herbal teas, you can help take care of the environment too.