tea leaf tips

Buying Organic loose leaf Tea?

Organic certification is a bit of a 'muddy pond'

Organic farming

No certification process is perfect, there is always a cocktail of good and bad bits that make for a very confusing brew all round! We don't live in a perfect world and that means that consumer choices are often difficult and unclear especially for products like tea that are generally grown as a monoculture which in its self is a practise that disturbs natural eco systems. Organic cultivation works really well on a small scale but there is many issues to overcome for large scale producion.

I have worked in tea fields trying to cultivate tea organically, the yields went down year on year no matter what we tried and the price we were paid for leaf did not compensate us for this. There were no commercial organic fertilisers available so that meant we had to have our own cattle, we could not bring in manure from another farm. We had to make our own compost, mix it by hand then load it into buckets or bags and carry it up the hillside. We had to dig the compost in around each bush...and with around 4,000 bushes per acre it was a physical impossibility to cover each of our 20 acres. We could not produce enough compost for the whole farm....so some bushes simply got no food and slowly stopped producing. I don't have the answers to this particular problem.

Organic should not be confused with sustainability and buying organic tea doesn't guarantee that it's the best choice for environmental impact due to the way that some products are processed, packaged and transported. Putting tea into bags certainly uses more energy and creates more waste than loose leaf tea even conventional non-organic loose leaf tea.

The main reasons that people choose organic products are for health and environmental benefits, but organic tea is not an instant solution to solving all of the problems in tea growing. For example, it's possible to be certified organic whilst committing human-rights abuses.

Buying tea from a responsible supplier means that they will take all of these factors into consideration and only buy from reliable origins.

Organic farm

Health Benefits of Organic tea?

Award winning Green Tea

So what about health benefits? No one really wants to eat food or drink tea that is laden with pesticides but to grow tea commercially, the plant needs a lot of food. Some countries do not actually have certified organic fertilisers yet they still sell 'organic tea'. All fertilisers whether organic or not can have a negative environmental impact in terms of run-off even though organic fertilisers in terms of production are better environmentally than non organic. In terms of nutrient uptake, the plants will absorb NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) in the same way whether the fertiliser is organic or not.

Whether or not we can actually trust the labelling of tea is another question and it depends on how lax the enforcement standards are of a particular country or how difficult it is to do the checking. Where tea is grown by a majority of smallholders just testing and checking each tiny acre that contribute leaf to a factory can be a near impossibility.