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


Teavana debuts new tea bar, but will it work?

Are you a Teavana fan? I’m on the fence with them, especially after Starbucks acquired them about a year ago.teavana logo I think I had expected them to become more a tea-cafe experience rather than just a store. They’ve been doing a decent job of it given that they’ve seem to be expanding at a quick pace, but the experience of purchasing a cup of tea and enjoying it on premise has been greatly lacking. Don’t get me wrong, the people that work there typically know they’re stuff and are helpful. But the shops are rarely designed to accommodate a crowd ordering tea and waiting for it to steep. And sometimes there’s no milk! You’re then ushered out the door by waiting patrons to sip your tea as you stroll the mall. But it sounds like they too were thinking the experience could be improved.

Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar on Madison Ave, NYC

Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar on Madison Ave, NYC

So, Teavana today previewed it’s first Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar in New York City’s stylish Upper East Side. Opening tomorrow (24 Oct 2013), you’ll have the Teavana “Wall of Tea” featuring a wide range of loose leaf teas and tea blends, and the store will have a collection of curated tea merchandise. Additionally, customers will be able to choose from a range of food items, all inspired by and designed to complement tea flavors, including pastries and breakfast items, salads, flatbreads and small plates, and macaroons (is this macaroons or macarons? Someone tell me what they sell?), shortbreads and other desserts . They say the bar will make the ritual of tea more elevated and accessible for customers. Hopefully this means that I won’t leave more agitated than I went in on a busy shopping day. The new tea bar experience will expand to additional stores over the course of the next year. (I hope San Jose is near the top of the list.) I guess us plebeians outside of the Upper East Side will just have to wait to see if this tea bar is as good as it sounds.

Teavana Fine Teas + Teavana Tea Bar is located at 1142 Madison Avenue (cross street: 85th Street).To learn more about store hours and offerings, visit

starbucks-logoIn other Starbucks news

I was informed today that they have a Chocolate Chai Tea Latte for autumn. (Dessert in a cup!)  Also, announced today, we’ll begin to see a curated loose leaf tea selection for customers in Starbucks stores. Sounds like this is along the lines of what we see in Peet’s Coffee. And earlier this month Starbucks also changed its rewards program so you can also use your points to buy beverages and loose-leaf teas at Teavana.

North American Tea Championship awards for hot teas from the 2013 spring harvest

So I’m kinda late on this one since it happened back in August, but it’s still interesting and gives you ideas of what tea to try next. The North American Tea Championship named 17 first-place winners during its Hot Tea evaluation for spring 2013 in categories including Dragonwell, Pan-Fired Green Tea, Matcha and Flavored Fruit Blends, among others. Some of the winning companies will be featured at the upcoming World Tea East , Oct. 20-22, 2013, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga. So if you find yourself in the Atlanta area, you might want to check it out.

According to the organizers, the championship is the only independent competition – evaluated by professional cuppers – to distinguish the highest quality and best tasting teas that are commercially available in the North American marketplace.

NATC’s Spring Tea Class evaluation first place winners include the following:

A complete list of first-, second- and third-place winners can be found on the North American Tea Championship site.

The next North American Tea Championship will be held in November 2013 for an evaluation of packaged single-service tea. Can’t wait to see who wins!

Cheeky Yorkshire Tea commercial from the UK

So would you interrupt a good snog for a cuppa?

Indian Tea Auctions Go Online

Today India got one step closer to having tea e-auctions nationwide.

Bidding adieu to the 147-year-old manual tea auctions in South India, electronic auctioning of tea was formally inaugurated here today by Union minister of state for Commerce and Power, Jairam Ramesh, who said by January 31 next year the new system would be fully in place.

The first online auctions were launched by the Calcutta Tea Traders Association in November 2008. Ramesh also said that the web-based auctions will be in place for the whole country by September 2009.

This is a big change for how the tea industry in India operates. It might help India take back its title as largest tea producer in the world. With the online system, registered buyers and sellers can connect no matter where they’re located. And there’s hope that it will attract new tea sellers that currently don’t sell through the auction systems. So that might mean new tea for us.

E-Auction for Tea inaugurated at Kochi
Pan-India online tea auctions by Sept
Photo source

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New tea at Teavana

For our American readers who are familar with Teavana, you’ll be happy to know that they debuted their 2009 collection of new teas. From a rare Black Dragon Pearl tea to a unique Samurai Chai Maté, this collection of teas gives you more choices of wonderful aromas. You can see all the new Teavana teas here. For a limited time, they are also offering coupons for the new teas that can be obtained at the stores or online. So if you buy 1 lb. or more of any combination of the new teas listed for a particular week you can save 20% off your entire tea purchase.

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Do you expect Darjeeling tea to come from India?

If you’re buying Darjeeling tea, do you think it comes from Darjeeling, India? I was surprised to find that you’re three times more likely to have a darjeeling tea that doesn’t come from Darjeeling. It’s been called the champagne of tea, and like champagne producers, the tea growers in India want you to think that a Darjeeling by any other name doesn’t taste as sweet. According to the The Economic Times:

India may become only the second non-European country to gain European Union brand-name protection for one of its most famous exports —Darjeeling tea.

The EU protects more than 800 regional foods to help protect producers in those regions, and some would argue expectations of consumers. So only companies producing the products in the relevant region can use the protected names. Foods and drink names like champagne, several thousand wines, Parma, Roquefort cheese and Madeira wine are protected. And India wants the same protection for its Darjeeling.

This isn’t anything new. The Indian Tea Board has been trying to protect it since 1983 when it created the Darjeeling tea logo. And they’ve been fighting world-wide to protect their brand.

What do you think? Should only teas from the Darjeeling region use its name?

Darjeeling tea may join EU ‘hall of fame’ list- ET Cetera-News By Industry-News-The Economic Times

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Duo brings Siberian flare to fruit teas

Two sisters, Katya Popoff and Olga Lenova, are bringing fruit/black tea blends inspired by the ones they drank in Siberia to North America with Fully Loaded Tea. The duo moved to Canada with their parents as kids but missed the tea of their youth and launched the company in 2007. And just a year later Fully Loaded Tea was served at the Kodak Theatre during the StandUp2Cancer event on September 5, 2008. Stars at the event, including the boys from Mad Men (below), tasted their Cucumber Mojo White Tea and the Citrus Spiked Black Tea.

Vincent Kartheiser and Rich Sommer from the Emmy Award winning Mad Men.

Fully Loaded Tea – Blog