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chadao said

Tea, Social Justice, and Environmental Sustainability

I was wondering if there was anyone in this community who, like me, tries to stay aware of the production practices of the tea companies that they buy from.

I always try to buy from companies that buy their teas in a way that ensures social justice, meaning that the producers, growers, pickers, processors, and everyone involved in the making of the tea receives a wage that justifies their existence as dignified human beings. I hope that the tea that I drink is contributing to the well-being of everyone who is involved with the tea.

I also try to buy from companies that actively support environmental sustainability, growing organic when possible, maintaining the best state of the environment form which it comes, and not interfering too much with what is already there.

Does anyone else feel this way about their tea? If so, what companies have met your standards? So far, I have found two companies, Seven Cups and Intelligentsia, that at least come close to meeting my standards of justice and sustainability, both on a socio-political and environmental level.

If anyone has suggestions, I would love to hear them.

18 Replies
JubJubs said

Personally I love buying from companies where the owners actually travel to where they get buy their tea from. They see the fields, meet the farmers, take lovely pictures. That is what the owner does, where I buy my tea locally. The owner provides tea tastings regularly, and he is able to talk about working conditions and standards of the tea production from his experience and what he has heard in the industry. Also when you buy something in the store, there is an option to just have the receipt emailed to you instead of wasting paper.

Also, a funny story actually, the last time I was in the shop, looking for a new tea to try, I found part of a grasshopper leg in one of the sample tins. I thought it was pretty funny, I ended up getting that tea anyway, but I told them at least I know for sure that the tea was grown without pesticides.

I agree with you, strongly, I think that for anything we take into ourselves, we should understand of how it has come to us, and the implications of what it takes to bring to us. Especially for tea.

When you really get into tea, it becomes more than just a beverage, and more of an experience. There is a kind of a sense of being grounded and a connection this history of tea that spans thousands of years. Even though I personally do not have roots in Asia, I have a respect for the tea I enjoy which I could experience because this tradition being upheld by so many people for so long. Also respect for the land that it comes from since it also influences the tea so much.

If the people are treated poorly, and the land is treated poorly, you can sense it in the tea.

I say this as I am transitioning from flavored teas, I find the pure teas to be much more intriguing, and dynamic to me. I find that even my pallet for food, is changing for the better.

Oh yeah, the shop I get my tea from is The New Mexico Tea Company.

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chadao said

Hi lizeepea: I really appreciate your input. Like I said earlier, Seven Cups is a great point of departure. The owners are very knowledgeable about how and why they source their tea. They are very transparent with every customer who interacts with them, and there is a great wealth of information on their website, sevencups.com. I might also recommend the Imperial Tea Court, although I have never tried their teas. Jing Tea shop online is also a good source, but again, I have yet to get tea from them.
Intelligentsia is also good, but their website is not very transparent. I had to get my information on their tea sourcing from the buyer himself, and they have a great buying model.

@JubJubs. Thanks for your recommendation. I checked out the company online. It’s good that you recommended them to me, or else I would never have known of their valid attempt at company integrity. I’ll have to try them out!

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Azzrian said

I received my order today from Samovar and love their packaging! ALL of it box, bag, everything biodegrades within a few months time. Not only that but you can keep the little clip and use it again for other things and I got a sticker in each box, both different. Too cute!

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Although most of their teas are priced beyond what my budget allows, I also really like Seven Cups. And, as you do, I find value in businesses that support concepts like Social Justice and Environmental Sustainability. Based on various interactions in communicating with them (including making multiple purchases), LIfe in Teacup and Verdant Tea are two other tea retailers that I personally believe find these things to be important. I am certain there are many others, but those are two I am willing to vouch for (the owners of both have written extensively in their blogs on such topics).

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chadao said

Azzrian and SimpliciTEA, thank you so much for these suggestions. I will have to check out Samovar and Life in Teacup. I have made my first purchase with Verdant (thanks to rave reviews on this site and a seemingly good infrastructure), but I am kind of bummed that they have such a small green tea selection. Either way, I will be making notes on Verdant very soon!

Azzrian said

Verdant is amazing, as is Life in Teacup as SimiliciTEA suggested!

chadao, the owner, David can speak to this with more authority, but from what they carried last year, they had six green teas: here they are:
http://steepster.com/teas/verdant-tea/20058-first-picking-spring-laoshan-northern-green
http://steepster.com/teas/verdant-tea/20059-laoshan-northern-green
http://steepster.com/teas/verdant-tea/21312-sun-dried-jing-shan-green
http://steepster.com/teas/verdant-tea/20057-dragonwell-style-laoshan-green
http://steepster.com/teas/verdant-tea/21311-early-summer-laoshan-green
http://steepster.com/teas/verdant-tea/24154-autumn-laoshan-green (this one seems to basically replace the early summer green when it runs out)

Hopefully they will have at least the same teas this year (you could always shoot David an email, he is great about responding quickly).

I’ve at least had a sample of every one, and I judge they are all quality teas.

Thanks Simplicitea, and thank you chadao for the order. I hope that you enjoy the teas.

We do have a smaller selection, but the two villages I work with, Laoshan and Jingshan are truly unique. The He family had a really cold spring this year, meaning a later spring picking, but the good news is an even sweeter tea. The first picking is on the way to us now. I posted a live tracking page so that people can check in on when the new offerings will be available: http://verdanttea.com/live-shipment-tracking/

There is also one new village I am looking into which represents another end of the flavor spectrum. Perhaps later this summer, we will be able to start working with them to bring in another unique green.

David,

Another unique green? How great!

While I’m at it, I want to make one want of mine, known. I would like to see you carry a green tea that starts out at something near (preferably under) $5/OZ. For me, other than buying a sampler, I cannot afford your fresh green tea. I am tempted to go into all of the quality-environmental-social-justice-VS-price issue, but not now, at least. And it’s up to you if you want to address that here, or not. Your current customers may or may not be interested in such a tea, but I wanted to let you know that I am.

chadao said

David, I very much appreciate your active presence and input in the tea community and with your customers. Your passion, integrity, and transparency show me that I have found a business that is truly worth supporting. If you keep going like this (which I hope you do), you and your company will have an outstanding reputation that rivals such big and respected names as Intelligentsia and Seven Cups (if you don’t know of these companies, you should check them out! They both have unique approaches to tea sourcing, just as you do, but their infrastructures are set up so that everybody benefits). I am sure that many others of your customers have and will express this same appreciation and gratitude.

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Zeks said

Social justice is actually an interesting question. A while ago while reading the description of this tea: http://jkteashop.com/2011-spring-mingqian-golden-eyebrow-lapsang-souchong-black-tea-loose-leaves-15g-sample-p-989.html?cPath=65_82

I couldn’t help but notice this part:

" A skilled female picker can only pluck about 2000 pieces of tea bud tips per day; However, for 500g golden eyebrow Lapsang black tea, it requires at least 58,000 pieces of tea buds to make 500g finished products. In other words, this skilled tea picker should pluck at least 29 days, so that 500g golden eyebrow black tea can come into exisiting."

29 days for 500g sounds kinda weird considering that end cost of these 500g is only 200$. Makes you wonder how much the picker gets.

Azzrian said

Good lord! That sounds horrible for the worker. I guess then my question is – whatever she does get – is it “good income” for her society, cost of living, etc. One has to wonder. SIGH

Wow – remind me not to get this tea – around here there are houses built in 29 days.

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chadao said

Also consider the rate of exchange in China (a dollar will go much farther in that country), the processing method for a lapsang (usually easily done compared to other teas, such as rock wulongs), the number of pickers employed (I’m quite sure that there are much more than 29 per day), and the social/environmental infrastructure in which the worker is making her wages. Nevertheless, zeks, you bring up a very good point!

This is why I choose to pay a higher price for my tea. Compare the above mentioned price to $525 for 500g of Tai Ping Hou Kui at Seven Cups. I only hope that this money is being made available to the skilled workers who produced my tea.

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You might also check out Arbor teas, I don’t know if they fit your criteria but they offer backyard compostable packaging as well as fair trade and organic teas.

http://www.arborteas.com/pages/why-arbor-teas.html

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I was going to mention Arbor Teas too.

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It’s nice to see that there are tea drinkers that do care about the social/environmental impact of the tea process. I have two kids and am always trying to buy locally grown produce. Tracking down where an apple came from in my own state is hard enough and I know from personal experience that trying to track down a tea leaf grown half way around the world seems near impossible. These companies are wonderful examples of how to do it right and excellent motivation!

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