Organic Vs Non- Organic tea

Hello to the whole Steepster community. My question is which is better: organic tea or non-organic? What about tea farmers who have backpacks full of unknown chemicals that they blast on these tea plants? Are they trying to poison us, or is organic just a fad? Does organic teas taste better? Is organic more money for less taste or maybe the same taste? Is there a such thing as organic teas or is there too many variables? I believe there are plenty of tea drinkers out there that drink it for the health benefits, so are we loosing that with non-organic teas? Is there a way for us to know the chemical levels in what we buy? Or does it not matter, since they both are going to have some level of chemicals in them? I was looking around at some local tea shops today and they were all saying organic is the best and then the more I thought about it the more the questions came. I know this is a large community which means there will be a pull on one side of the fence and with a community are large as we are, so I would doubt that the majority would be wrong. I want to know what the community truly believes. Thanks to everyone that take the time to reply. I wish everyone a beautiful weekend.

51 Replies
DukeGus said

A good way to start is maybe watching
“The bitter taste of tea” a very nice documentary
that give you some info on the topics you ask.

For me it all gies diwn to which country you buy from
(because of different worker rights) and if you can
get your money as close as you can to a tea farmer.

Thank you for your reply. I will have to check out that documentary. Thank you for that information. Have a great weekend.

tkya said

I want to grow tea!

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Kyle Ponce said

In my experience with tea I find organic teas to be better for the following reasons. Tea farmers who choose to grow organically possess the knowledge that using chemical pesticides are harmful to the human body and acknowledge that tea is known for its healthful properties and opt not to harm it with damaging compounds. Secondly, an organic certification exemplifies a farmers commitment to his crop. Gaining an organic certification costs quite a bit of money, therefore only serious and passionate farmers choose to seek an organic stamp. Thus, an organic label can be a marker of high quality, great tasting tea. Lastly, we all understand these toxic agents are damaging to our bodies, why cancel out the antioxidant, DNA repairing, properties of tea with pesticides.

Thank you Kyle for your reply. Here is a thought: does organic certification mean anything? Or is organic certification just a marketing scheme? Is there really any regulation that comes with the certification, or is it just a farmer paying money for a stamp that approves him to sell the tea for more money?
Let’s say the farmer does his part and does the best he can on making his tea organic, but there is several steps that happen before those leaves go into your cup. Could those leaves be contaminated before your organic tea hits your cup? Meaning could that organic tea come in contact with non-organic things durning transportation? Just some further thought my friend. Thank you so much for your input. Have a great day.

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Geoffrey said

David (of Verdant Tea) posted an article on this subject a while back, specifically regarding the highest quality Chinese tea. He gained some deep knowledge on this subject during the time he was in China on an academic research grant to study tea. Here’s a relevant excerpt, and a link to the full article:

Organic and Fair Trade in the World of High End Teas

In the tea business, Fair Trade and Organic certification get thrown around a lot. I won’t speak to India or Japan, but after working with Chinese tea farmers for over a year, I have some insights on these labels. First, let me say that they are a step in the right direction.

The farmers of Dragonwell village and of Laoshan village produce some of the best green tea in the world. Tea is so regionally specific that people are interested in leaves picked at a specific altitude on the specific side of individual mountains. The best Dragonwell comes from an area no bigger than a few football fields. The land where the best tea grows can be grouped into two main categories: former holdings from gentry estates, and common land. Both common land and the gentry estates were divided up after the Communist revolution in China. They were communes until the 1980′s and the opening of the economy. With the opening of the economy, land was privatized. The land was distributed in very small plots to the farmers whose ancestry proved that they had been living on the land and working the land, either outside of property laws or under the indentured servitude of a gentry land owner. Of course, each noble had many peasants farming for them, meaning that when it came time to divide it all up, everybody got less than they would have liked.

With that history in mind, let us return to those tiny areas that produce the most sought-after tea. The land equivalent to two football fields is further divided into 15-20 family plots. Each family cultivates tea independently, helping their neighbors at harvest time. Big plantations have been able to buy up family plots on edges of what is considered the best growing region, but farmers lucky enough to own a piece of Lion’s Peak in Dragonwell are not going to give it up. Because of this, the best tea in the world comes from very small farms.

These farms rarely have internet access, or land lines. The farmers usually sell informally to whomever takes the trek into their village. Tea that makes it to America for general consumption is from bigger plantations that work with export brokers. The resources backing the big farms often include larger American tea companies with exclusivity contracts. It is worth these companies’ money to pay for Fair Trade and Organic certification. It is out of reach for the small specialty farmers to gain such certification…

Link to full article:

DukeGus said

Very nice article, cheers!

Especially “fair trade” is being discussed on the documentary I mentioned,
you should watch it…I don’t even want to remember some of the stuff I saw…

Thank you for the article. I will check out the link to see full article. Thank you so much for your reply.

Geoffrey: Thank you for the excerpt, and the link. I have much respect for David, and so I am excited to see that there is a blog with viewpoints of those of you at Verdant Tea.

I am becoming more and more interested in the topics of Organic and Fair Trade teas, myself.

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Kyle Ponce said

You bring up a few great points in regards to organic tea. Like anything else there is absolutely no way to know if an organically certified producer follows all the regulations and restrictions that make his tea “organic”. Likewise, if a farmer practices all organic guidelines it is uncertain whether the tea remains uncontaminated. Often uncontrollable factors, acts of nature or unforeseen occurrence, can prevent the crop from being one hundred percent organic. Wind blows inorganic leaves from nearby farms, animals and insects carry pesticides, and chemical ridden runoff may arrive from neighboring estates. Although its almost impossible to grow and sell completely organic tea, by and large its to your advantage to purchase organic tea, if feasible. To touch on your question regarding marketing, its true it can be used to market and further the distribution of your tea. Critics of the organic label will argue the certification is damaging to tea growers who raise wholesome, natural, and pesticide free tea but cannot afford credentials. Therefore these artisan farmers struggle within a market where everything without an organic label is deemed “hazardous”. I hope this provided you with a bit more knowledge.

Thank you so much for your reply. It sure helped with more knowledge for sure. Thanks again. Have a nice day my friend.

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For me, the most important factors are direct trade (so you know where the tea is from), family-run/small/single-estate plantation (people are not likely to mess up with these), production region (tea fields in some regions are so precious that nobody mess up with them), production season (tea of the best season is treated the best throughout processing).

With all above factors, the tea is usually organic/fair trade by nature, or very close to the state. Without above factors, organic/fair trade only certify some aspects of the tea but don’t guarantee quality.

Thank you for the reply. I hear what you are saying the more you know about the tea your buying the better off you are. There is a saying “The devil’s in the details.” Thank you again my friend.

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Honestly, when it comes to tea and organic vs. non-organic, I don’t see much of a difference. When I see something advertised as Fair Trade, that means something, because it indicates a clear improvement in conditions for workers. This isn’t to say that every non-official-fair-trade tea plantation has poor working conditions, it just means that I’m guaranteeing fair wages to the people responsible for what I’m drinking.

In any case, organic vs. non-organic in tea don’t seem to be vastly different. There are a lot of non-officially-organic teas that just don’t have the funding to be officially labeled as such, and as far as I’m aware, few of the non-organic plantations, etc. actually use a lot of pesticides and the like beyond traditional means that have been used for ages.

I may not be particularly coherent right at this moment, but when it comes to tea that may or may not be listed as organic, I haven’t seen much in the way of a difference.

Thank you for the feedback I agree with you about smaller plantations that do not have the funds for the organic stamp have very excellent teas. As Gingko said above the more you know about the tea your buying the better off you are.
I am very grateful on all the wonderful response’s specially from people who know tea way better than me. Thanks again my friend. Have a beautiful week.

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A tale of our dilemma as consumers and the very negating despair on a globalized world. Tea is as much for the farmers as it is much to consumers and every little difference does matter no matter small, its important for the producers. Organic teas are definitely worth much for the farmers and all their hard earned efforts won’t be going to waste without so much opportunities and change to allow than companies to decide over graphs and profit margins. Now I know my tea habits goes a long and it sure does for rest of us steepsterans! But when I picture a family of pluckers being replaced by machines, or handling pesticide ridden crops, irrigating crops with same tainted water I know in the hardest of way: what I give is what I get. Definitely I am guilty of buying such products over prices without knowing full well its just not me thats affected but everyone. In a way, its not easy if possible to ever escape such support of unfair and maybe dangerous practices as many of us are part of this Earth in the billions! I understand that sometimes such practices may absolve its inherent problems as its feeding the world entirely with low cost food that nearly everyone will not go hungry not to mention the workers in the pay. But the least we can do is be responsible and take what we need, damage less and be fair as much as possible so that at least it won’t backfire as much on consumers and producers. This is quite the dilemma and not an easy choice as all are affected. Organic or not.

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Will said

I’d prefer to avoid teas produced using synthetic pesticides, but it’s difficult to do in practice. Not only are organic certifications in most tea producing areas somewhat suspect, but, as with growing other types of produce, the process of certifying a farm is often difficult or not financially feasible for small farmers. Also, even if farmers don’t use synthetic pesticides / fertilizers, environmental contamination from polluted water, rain, etc. is a possibility.

So, I try to buy from as close to the source as possible, but I also don’t assume that I’m being told the truth. I also just try to trust my senses – if a tea doesn’t make me feel good, I usually won’t drink it often.

Hopefully more vendors will start to do their own testing for pesticide residue. Unfortunately, from what I understand, you need to give a fairly large amount of tea (maybe half a kg) to do the testing.

Thank you for the reply I appreciate that. Thanks for the information my friend. Have a nice day.

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Will said

ps – Technically, all tea is “organic” [that is, contains carbon], though it may not be organically grown in the sense you’re probably thinking of.

tperez said

hehehe :)

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In reading the replies here, and having bought tea from a number of vendors, strangely enough even on the Web I find myself gravitating towards buying from those that I trust. Trust is hard to build over the Internet, but it is possible. There are a number of tea retailers I have personally come to trust: Verdant Tea, Tea Trekker, Den’s Tea, and Life in Teacup are probably the ones I trust most. I have exchanged correspondence with all of them, and found that the exchange builds what can best be described as, well, trust. It’s really not possible (and therefore not practical or reasonable, to me) to expect 100% validation that I am getting what I am told I am getting (like Organic or Fair Trade tea, coffee or whatever). I mean, even if I could travel to China to see and talk directly to the farmers, I could still be deceived. So, rather than focus looking for what I don’t want (coming from a place of fear of being deceived, or whatever), I choose to focus on cultivating trust.

For me, participation in these discussions builds trust, for example; so, the more I see tea retailers (Like Gingko) respond to threads like this, the more I tend to trust them. Which means, like anything else with value, building trust takes time, and effort. But in the end, I think those who work hard to build trust find it’s worth it (as a teacher I work hard to build trust between my students and myself, and I find it to be very rewarding).

Thank you for your reply I totally get what your saying and it makes a lot of sense and I totally agree with you. Have a great week.

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