Rachel J said

Is organic important to you?

So, I don’t eat exclusively organic or anything, but there are certain foods that I always get organic because I know they are the ones most likely to contain pesticides. Chocolate, peanuts, leafy greens, coffee, off the top of my head…

Now that I’m drinking tea daily, I am wondering if I should try to stick to organic tea.

Wondering about other people’s thoughts on the subject. Also if anyone has info on the pesticide levels in non-organic tea, that would be great too!

34 Replies
Lala said

If you just search the work “organic” in the discussion threads it brings up a lot of discussions. It’s easier to do that then cut and paste the url’s for those discussions.

My personal opinion is “organic” does not necessarily mean organic. So I think it is important to know where your food is coming from. I don’t think the label “organic” is all what we think it means.

I am personally more interested in seeing if the product was sustainably produced and packaged vs organic. Although those two go together a lot of the time.

Just my opinions.

Rachel J said

Thanks! Should have searched first. I don’t usually act like such a noob.

if you’re in North America for something to be considered organic it has to undergo really strict processes. IE the land has to be kept free of all non organic fertilizers and seeds for three years prior to receiving certification. They are inspected regularly and must pay for certification. Lala, I appreciate that you’re trying to help, but if you don’t know, maybe don’t say anything, as it does a diservice to organic farmers to spread the mis-belief that it doesn’t mean anything.

I do agree with Lala. There are always people who try to cheat when there is profit to make. I think USA is one country that doing better job to control this.

@Teavangelical: We aren’t talking about North American farms here. An organic certification from China or other countries may not hold as strong as one from the US. This is why some tea vendors test their teas independently for pesticide contents even if they might be labelled as organic. I would say Lala’s statement is perfectly valid and in fact following sustainable production can lead to the discovery of non-certified but actually organic tea!

Uniquity said

Eating chemical free food that was grown/raised naturally is important to me. Organic specifications, not so much. Many large companies in North America essentially ‘buy’ that label without ever achieving truly organic practices. I prefer to eat locally and avoid GMO/overly processed and altered foods.

As for tea, organic is nice but doesn’t seem to really mean much (just like in food). Keep in mind that different countries have different standards and I am definitely not familiar with the regulations in China (where much of the tea I drink is produced). Soil runoff and contamination from chemicals on fields next door also damper my enthusiasm for organic tea. Yes, it is better than consuming something we know to have pesticides but it is not necessarily as good as it sounds. :(

Uniquity said

As an afterthought, there doesn’t seem to be much concrete data on pesticides in organic tea let alone non-certified organic tea. There was some hubbub recently regarding Teavana teas which were theoretically organic but tested to have lots of pesticides. Then the lab was called into question (there was an issue of bias) so those results are sort of useless but no-one seems to have bothered proving that the organic teas ARE pesticide free. Because of runoff and contamination, organic foods can be almost as heavily dosed as non-organic, I would imagine it is much the same with tea. Thus I tend to stick to eat local. Support your local farmer/market. Eat in season. If only I could grow tea in Canada!

Rachel J said

Thanks for your input!

Hi Rachel,

Our opinion is yes—organic certification matters.

Here are some facts to keep in mind (both for and against organic):

1. Regarding Teavana’s “Organic” teas testing positive for pesticides: Teavana’s Teas are not registered as Organic with the USDA or any other certifying organization. This means that their tea isn’t technically “organic.” So we cannot use this example to judge anything. You must look for the USDA Organic Seal, or the words “100% Organic.”


2. Chinese and Indian teas are notorious for testing over the limit for approved pesticides and chemicals. More terrifying—they often test positive for chemicals that have been banned for use in the the USA and other countries for several years.



3. True Organic certification (by the EU or USDA), is virtually the only way to extend the quality control of the USDA to the unregulated fields of China and India. This is your best bet at guaranteeing that you have no chemicals/pesticides on your tea when you steep it in your cup. And, FYI, the chemicals do get in your water. There have been several academic studies on the degree to which chemicals on tea leaves actually get ingested when brewed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11714347. This report is locked, unfortunately, but you can read the abstract. Gross.

4. The issue with run-off and cross-field pollution: The agencies that grant organic certification on behalf of the USDA take these factors into account when granting certification. Organic certification is a rigorous, and, yes, expensive process which is quite thorough.

5. The claim that “Organic” is a scam or a marketing plot, etc. This is simply not true. Many other food claims are scams: “natural,” for example, means virtually nothing. “Organic” is a highly, highly regulated certification that controls all touch-points from farm to market.

6. Organic isn’t more nutritious: This is partly true. Organic tea probably won’t have more antioxidants than non-organic tea.

7. Even though there are standards for acceptable levels of chemicals on non-organic tea—only a very small percentage of tea is tested. It is prohibitively expensive to test every batch of tea exported from China/India, etc. When testing IS done—some pass, some don’t. (see above).

8. Organic is too expensive: Not true. Organic tea cost 5-10 cents more per cup than a comparable non-organic tea. That is worth it in our book.

9. There are bigger considerations here: we’ve been drinking tea for 3000 years. That is a long, long time. (we’ve only been drinking coffee for 500 years). For 99.9% of this time, tea was grown “organically”. Tea farms and gardens were clean and pristine places. Organic certification matters for the environment and for the workers who spend 12 hours in a day in the fields.

10. We get pesticide reports often from perspective organic growers, almost all who are verified as having 0 (nil) apparent chemicals on the leaves. And we get pesticide reports from non-organic growers who meet minimum standards and, of course, there are pesticides on the leaves, albeit at an acceptable level. But then we ask ourselves—why not buy the tea with no pesticides at all? Why not support organic agriculture?


In all, the most important thing is to buy tea from a company that you trust, and from a company who has direct-trade relationships—this assures that, even if the tea is non-organic—their is accountability and things can be tracked and verified.

We hope our opinion helps!


Rachel J said

Thanks very much for your point of view! I like your philosophy, and am leaning towards selecting certified organic for my daily teas.

looseTman said

Hello Tyler, Excellent reply! Kudos!

Donna A said

This is very informative and makes a lot of sense. I agree with you about Teavana-their teas are not certified organic nor does their website claim that they are. If its not certified organic, then what a random employee may tell someone is bogus.


A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about various types organic certification for tea:

I still think organic certification (from credible agencies) holds a lot of credibility. In contrast, a simple claim of “organic” may not mean much. I would generally trust USDA organic certification. There are some certification agents that are even more strict than USDA (such as those of EU and Japan). But basically, I think USDA is already one of the most trustworthy in the world.

In practice, I don’t look for certified organic tea. But with a lot of drinking and comparison, very often from the texture of the tea liquor, you would be able to tell if the tea uses good organic fertilizer. Synthesized fertilizer usually leads to fast growth of tea but doesn’t make the tea more nutrient-rich. Besides, organic fertilizer is richer of carbon-nutrient while synthesized fertilizer mainly just supplies nitrogen-nutrient.

As for pesticide, most high quality teas are harvested before there could be any insect attack, so I wouldn’t worry much about pesticide problem. But low grade tea produced in nearly summer time could have big problem in this aspect.

About the Green Peace report about pesticide in Chinese tea, I participated a discussion on TeaChat last year:

My responses with data are mainly in the middle of the first page of the above discussion.

In short, I think the Green Peace report is poorly organized and poorly worded. After looking up data in USDA database, I’ve found that most of the teas reported by Green Peace to have pesticide had very low amount that are well below USDA regulation level. Almost all the reported pesticide levels in the Green Peace report are lower than 10% or even 1% pesticide found in most fruits and vegetables.

After that small investigation on USDA database, I don’t have any problem drinking any tea, but I have to say, it cast shadow in my heart for me to eat my beloved nectarines and blueberries :-( These directly eaten fruits are allowed to contain so much more pesticide than tea, where pesticide in tea, if there is any, is barely soluble in water.

There is a long way to go for us to get clean tea. But there is a much longer way to go for us to get clean blueberries and peaches :-o

Donna A said

I’m not at all surprised about what you have said about Green Peace.

Rachel J said

All very interesting! I generally follow the guidelines recommended by the Environmental Working Group regarding which foods it is most important to eat only in certified organic varieties.

looseTman said
Rachel J said

Thanks! Those were all very interesting!

looseTman said

Here’s another link:
http://verdanttea.com/organic-and-fair-trade/ – 4/20/11 by David Duckler

Alexandra said

Rachel, I found these articles below why choose Organic Tea instead of Regular Teas. I samples a tea from www.EthiqueNewYork.com recently since they were giving it out promotion for free. I just started buying the sample size to try the other teas they have till I buy the big size.





I encountered several trader/plantation who growing organic and selling none organic as organic… Do you think farmers are planting organic tea for the environment? at least I have not find a single one yet in China. The idea of growing organic is nothing just for the money, which is fine, as long they follow the rules and not cheating. Last time I find out their tea has pesticides, I was really upset! I wondering how many of tea retailer are selling none organic as organic without know it.

Alexandra said

Some farmers are concern about the environment and also their health. When you are growing teas that are GMO or non organic, you are dealing with pesticides. That means they have to come in contact with these chemicals themselves. The farmers that grows non organic teas inhales and touch these chemicals which causes them to have health problems as well. So, I guess it is safe to say that some farmers do like to grow organic products because not only for the environment, for other people who eats their product but also for their own health as well. Here are documentaries on Food Evolution. Perhaps you should watch… I hope this helps! :)



Thanks for the video.

Alexandra said

You’re welcome! Glad I can share and help! :)

There are a few misconceptions here:
1) There are no commercial plantings of GMO tea (Camilla sinensis)
2) Having GMO plants do not nessesarily mean pesticides are used.
3) Organic does NOT mean pesticides were not used.
4) Not all pesticides are equally detrimental to human health.

Good points! Do you have more information about pesticides they use in organic farming?

elena-z said

Thank you Gooseberry Spoon!

Bitterleaf said

Gooseberry has excellent points. I think it’s important to pay attention to those and dig a bit deeper. So many terms (like organic, GMO, etc) have become buzzwords that are used without considering their actual meaning or impact. A lot of people don’t realize that organic can (not always) mean that pesticides are not only used, but used in larger quantities and potentially more toxic to humans. The main distinction “organic” makes is between natural vs synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. GMO doesn’t necessarily mean pesticides are used – in fact, GMO is one way of preventing pesticide use by creating crops that are naturally resistant to pests. And yes, I don’t believe there are any GMO tea trees, but even if there were, it’s not necessarily a reason to panic.

I’m absolutely not an expert though, and I’m certainly not saying organic is never better/healthier, just that it’s good to be aware of what that actually means.

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