So tell me, does it REALLY matter if it’s organic?

I am primarily interested in the question as it relates to tea but am also interested in anything organic.

Here is one interesting article: It offers the standard theoretical perspective (non-organic farming CAN cause harm in this way, it CAN cause harm in that way, …). I see the value in more eco-friendly farming. I’m already sold on that.

Yet, from what I have heard in the media (mostly NPR) and read on-line and from tea books, my understanding is that the standards for certification are still pretty loose.

I dug deeply into the discussion archives and found very little that address opinions/judgments/experiences of organic vs. non organic (even with seven pages of results from search on ‘organic’).

What I want to know is, How does it (being organic) affect the final product?

One way to answer that is, Does it taste better?

I am hoping for objective data, and/or experiences where there is no conflict of interest (i.e. not replies from those who sell organic unless you can give me facts and/or references to information elsewhere) :)

I live on a very limited budget. Yet, I AM willing to pay more. I WANT TO support the industry. I LIKE the concept. However, without more information (and more direct experience) I still haven’t answered one critical question about organic: How much MORE am I willing to pay for ORGANIC TEA (or other products)? If they’re the same price, it’s a ‘no brainer.’ But if it’s not …? If you can tell me how much more you are willing to pay and why, you will help me with formulating my own answer to the final question: Is it worth the price difference?


17 Replies
Cofftea said

YES. Now in it’s simplest form, this can be divided into 2 subcategories: Does it taste better and is it better for you. The answer to both these questions is ABSOLUTELY YES.

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I have tasted organic rooibos vs. conventionally grown rooibos side by side to see if there was a difference in taste and the answer is absolutely, yes. That is the only product that I’ve compared side by side.

With tea, though, it is not so simple. Because another issue is where the tea is grown… the soil, the climate, the air, the surroundings… all play a part in the flavoring of the camellia sinensis leaf. So, I cannot say with absolute certainty that it is the organic farming method or if its the other details that would influence the taste if I were to do a side by side taste test with tea. You could take one yunnan that is conventionally grown and one yunnan that is organically grown, and the flavor would be different, but is that really the organic farming that is responsible, or is it the other factors? I can’t say.

I will say that I generally do prefer organic, simply because I feel it’s better for the environment and it’s better for me. But will that preference deter me from purchasing a conventionally grown tea? No, it has not, and it will not. If the prices are the same, I will generally choose organic, however, if the prices are extraordinarily higher for the organic, that may influence my decision.

What it really boils down to for me though is the taste. I will pay more for a better tasting tea. And that isn’t always the organic option … for the reasons I’ve mentioned above.

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Actually Organic has absolutely no bearing on taste. It also is not proven that it is any healthier for you either. That said, it would seem to be healthier as there are fewer pesticides, but like any other product there are both great organic teas and not so great organic teas. Our store carries an overwhelmingly large amount of organic teas as many of customers prefer organic over non – organic. What is sad is that there are so many misconceptions about organic that it is really now used as a marketing tool. There is no market for organic wine and that does not seem to be an issue whatsoever, and grapes are one fruit that it is suggested to eat organic as it has a thin skin and is more prone to absorbing pesticides.
Another issue is who is determining the organic standard….it could be organic but then exposed to other non organic products when in a store or via transport where the tea may come into contact with diesel or petroleum. So as you can see there is no simple answer…rather a conclusion that the individual consumer needs to make.

Cofftea said

“That said, it would seem to be healthier as there are fewer pesticides,”, so yes. healthier.

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OolongLily said

“Organic” is more of a marketing term at the moment and has pretty willy-nilly standards. For me, it really just comes down to if I can taste the difference. If I like a tea more (or other food for that matter) I’ll pay more for it, organic or not. All things being equal, if I like the practices of one company over another (i.e. eco-friendly farming), then I’ll purchase that. It requires a little research on the companies though and more than the word “organic” being on a box or sign. So far, the only consumables where I’ve really noticed a benefit in flavor is produce. Farmer’s market produce is far, far better than the typical grocery fare. Although, I can’t say if it’s more delicious because it’s organic or because it’s local or something else altogether. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the final product at the time of consumption. I’d like to think that the best practices usually contribute to the best taste though, which is why I usually go for taste vs price.

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Uniquity said

I know it doesn’t answer what you’re asking, but in my personal choices about organic vs. non, I break it down into a preference for local small scale farming operations over others. With the “willy nilly” regulations you mention, many large growers are able to essentially buy the organic certification even if they do things I don’t consider organic (such as use certain kinds or amount of chemical pesticides). However, many of the places at my local market where I buy food are not organic certified because even though they use no chemical pesticides and practice farming ‘the old way,’ the organic certification is too expensive and not worth it for them. It’s a nice thought, but I think that it’s another system that is being manipulated by large scale growers and chain stores (Superstore, Sobeys, Walmart, etc.)

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“Well Bob I’ll take door number three.”

Interesting topic with people, in general, people are adamant that each others opposing view points is the right one. In answer to your question does organic tea taste better than non organic tea, the answer is no one knows, nor is there any definitive way to test it. As LiberTeas stated tea is very subjective to its environment, so the only way to test it would be to have a farm grow half of its bushes organically and half of them non-organically. Or better yet take one bush and have half of the bush be organic and the other half be non-organic.

Yes I know its ridiculous but that’s the point, it isn’t done, nor is there really a practical way to test this. So anyone who says that it does or doesn’t taste better really has no basis for their opinion. Sure an organic tea may taste better than a non-organic tea, or vice-verse, but there are a plethora of other variables that are at play as well.

And as OolongLily mentioned the standards are still quite willy-nilly, so if it’s a big deal to you than you have some research ahead of you, as you have to start examining all of your sources, and their sources.

One interesting tidbit I’ll leave you with is most pesticides are water soluble, and since you brew tea in, wait for it … yep, water. Than the simple fact remains that you will be drinking pesticides, mmmm, tasty. Would you like some tea with your cup of pesticide?

But of course its not as bad as all that, as always there are many factors at play, and by the time you brew your tea much if not practically all of the pesticides has dissipated. For more information might I recommend an article from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, a bit old, 2004 I believe but interesting nonetheless.

Cofftea said

I’d like to know if there was a scientific study done comparing the pesticide content of non organic teas that were rinsed vs. organic teas. It would certainly be interesting.

Great article. Thanks!

Indeed it would. Tea in my opinion does not receive the proper recognition and time in the scientific community that it deserves. But even so there are a number of articles and studies about tea and tea with regard to pesticides, you may be able to find what your looking for by scouring scientific libraries.

Unfortunately to do this online it often times costs you money, and as much as I like to read, if I’m going to spend money its going toward drinking tea, not reading about it.

Cofftea said

I agree with you to a point. Reading about it helps me appreciate it more. The trick is to find the reading material that really does that. I picked up 2 books from Teavana I’m actually pretty excited about. And I have a couple people that really enjoy tea that I can pass the books off to when I’m done.

I should clarify, I do have a number of books about tea that I have bought, I was referring to not wanting to spend money on scientific papers about tea studies.

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Angrboda said

From a flavour perspective, no, it doesn’t matter to me. I can’t tell a difference.

From an environmental perspective, the less pesticides and poisons out there the better.

From a human perspective, the less pesticides and poisons the plantation workers are subjected to the better.

I don’t pay attention to whether or not something is organic if it’s not a danish product. Different countries have different rules for when something can be called an organic product and I don’t know what the rules are in other countries. Takes years to convent a conventional farm to an organic one here, and if in other parts of the world the rules are more strict or less strict, then what does the word ‘organic’ really mean in the big picture?

Ask me again when there are world wide international unity on when something can be said to be organically grown and when it can’t. Until then the definition of the word is too blurry. Presently I can only form an opinion on things grown to danish standards of being organic, because that’s the only system I know well enough to semi-trust. (And there are still problems with it, because an organic farm can still be neighboured by conventional farms, and what does that mean for the outlying fields? Can they really be said to be truly organic?)

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All of your responses helped me, thank you! Seattle, I think you hit the nail on the head. Well put! (I totally agree with, “Yes I know its ridiculous but that’s the point, it isn’t done, nor is there really a practical way to test this.”) At first I was surprised by the conflicting views: yes, there is a taste difference, and then, no, there is no taste difference. This third perspective, so to speak, which a few of you have alluded to, resonates with me.

I also appreciate the ‘interesting tidbit,’ and the article reference, Seattle. Thank you.

I agree with you, it sounds like there is more legwork for me to do. And then I’ll eventually just have to make a decision (of how much more I’m willing to pay for organic) based on what I find (which may not be much) on how much organic really makes a difference in the final product, or if they are really practicing what they say their practicing on their farms. At the moment, depending on many factors, I can justify paying anywhere from nothing to maybe a third more for organic. And as Angrboda and others have mentioned, when the standards get more locked down (which may be never), maybe I’ll be willing to pay even more (I also agree with buying things locally. Unfortunately, that’s not possible for tea :(. But it is an interesting subject (for me at least) so thank you all for jumping in making this conversation a lively one. I got what I wanted. :)

Angrboda said

Mind you, you can’t go by what other people say about whether or not there’s a taste difference, because people don’t taste things the same way. Remember there are also lots of people who can easily taste the difference between Pepsi Cola and Coca-Cola, and then there are lots of people like me to whom both of them simply taste like cola with no discernable difference… So you’re really the only one who can say whether it matters to you from the flavour perspective.

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I believe organic fertilization is the key to tasty tea. But not every organic tea growers knows the art of fertilization, and many non-organic tea growers use organic fertilization to a large degree. So overall I think organic matters, but what it matters should be eventually reflected by the quality of the tea.

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april-girl said

Quality and taste are top considerations for me. However, I prefer not to ingest pesticides! Great discussion. Informative article. Thanks, everyone!

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