Updated: Dec 23, 2020
As our world becomes more and more filled with plastic waste, unused pesticides and herbicides, many tea lovers have come to the conclusion that organic tea is not only the safest tea you can buy but that it might even be the tastiest. Let’s look at organic teas and how it’s made for the consumer.
Organic tea begins with soil that can be considered “organic” itself. Soil quality has a great deal to do with the foods we eat and drink, whether it be meat products, produce or products like tea, which are harvested from tea plants grown in the soil. The tea plant itself can live more than a hundred years and is generally tightly rooted into the ground, eliminating the chance for crop rotation. Nutrients must be directly added to the tea bush and, in organic tea plants, these nutrients must be natural products. On conventional tea farms, chemical fertilizers are sprayed directly onto the tea plant, which retains some of the chemical when harvested. Over-treating the land can burn the tea leaves and destroy soil integrity, leaving the soil vulnerable to erosion.
In organic tea estates, nutrients added to the soil are typically made from manure, compost or plant cuttings. Microbes in the soil break down the fertilizer, making it useful to the organic tea plant. Some organic tea gardens practice a custom called permaculture, in which plants are grown between the tea plants to allow for an interconnected and sustainable soil system. Some of the plants used in this practice are legumes, which rejuvenate the soil by adding nitrogen to it.
Some tea gardens practice biodynamic agriculture in which the entire area is considered a holistic, self-nourishing soil system.
Carefully-aged soil preparations use plants like dandelion, yarrow and chamomile, which are worked into the soil in harmony with local conditions. Organic soil is kept healthy and nutritious without the addition of harmful chemicals. Organic tea is labeled as such by being “Certified 100% Organic”. This applies to loose leaf tea and to tea inside teabags. Certified organic tea is grown, handled, processed, stored and packaged in accordance with the standards set forth by the National Organic Program. This type of food is also regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Certified organic tea is grown on farms that have been inspected on a yearly basis by the certifying agency. The tea handler and the processor of the tea leaves are also inspected and must meet the regulations of the certifying body. Some products, simply labeled “organic” are not 100% organic but must contain at least 95% organic food product. The organic tea producer is also audited yearly and is issued a certificate that says the producer have met USDA-National Organic Standards for handling organic tea. A certificate is required for each type of tea labeled and sold as 100% organic. Steps are taken to prevent the commingling of non-organic and organic ingredients at all times and machines are washed to prevent commingling. Purchasing 100% organic tea signifies to the buyer that the tea they are drinking is not laced with pesticides or other chemicals. Non-organic tea, given that the leaves are routinely sprayed with pesticides, may contain trace chemicals that are not healthy for anyone to drink.