Ethical shopping guide to Tea, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Tea, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This guide to tea includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 30 brands of tea, including black tea and green tea
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Caffeine in tea


The guide is part of a special report on Tea and includes features on:

  • Environmental impacts - damaging biodiversity and overuse of pesticidies
  • Fairtrade Foundation v Rainforest Alliance
  • Profile of a fairtrade estate
  • Wages for tea pickers
  • Ethical Labeling

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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Best Buys

as of December 2013

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the score table may have changed since this report was written.

Best Buys are teas that are both Fairtrade and organic:

Hampstead Tea teas (Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam, English Breakfast, Chai, Oolong, white tea and green tea),

Qi teas..

Hampstead Tea and Qi  are mainly available from wholefood shops or from their websites.

Next best are the Fairtrade and organic loose leaf varieties from Steenbergs – English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Black Chai, Green Chai. They are sold in some Booths supermarkets and from their website.

Clipper Fairtrade and organic speciality and green teas follow close behind.

Fairtrade pioneers, Cafédirect and Traidcraft, are also best buys but are not organic.
Cafédirect is a Fairtrade blend and is sold in selected supermarket stores and Oxfam shops.
Traidcraft sells Tanzanian, English Breakfast, Earl Grey, blended and green tea from its website.

to buy

Image: Clipper


Image: Tea


Ethical Consumer makes a small amount of money from your purchase. This goes to fund our research and campaigning. We ethically screen all the sites we link to.


Buying Better Tea 


Alex Zorach, Founder and Editor of blog site RateTea.com, explains that, in addition to buying Fairtrade tea, there are other conscious decisions that tea drinkers can do to influence where their money flows in the tea industry.


image: tea leaves in ethical shopping guide

  • Buy direct sourced tea – avoid buying from companies that do not identify anything about the origin of their teas. Farmer-owned cooperatives with a retail presence, which may or may not be Fairtrade certified, can also be a good source of tea, like the Makaibari Estate in Darjeeling, India).
  • Buy single origin tea, rather than blends – blending is a practice carried out primarily in wealthy countries. Blended tea is a generic tea from two or more geographic areas and marked only as 'tea', 'green tea' or 'Everyday tea'. 'Earl Grey' and 'English Breakfast' tea may also be blended tea.
    Single origin tea, like Assam or Darjeeling, is a tea that hails from a single geographic region, estate, garden or small country. With single origin tea, it is more likely that a greater portion of the price you pay will reach the original producer.
  • Buy loose-leaf tea rather than tea bags – the packaging of tea into tea bags, besides using energy and resources that are discarded, also tends to concentrate profit in wealthy countries. By buying loose-leaf tea, you not only reduce waste and resource usage, but you make it more likely that a greater portion of the price you are paying reaches the producers.
  • Grow your own herbs for herbal tea or buy locally-grown ones.



Price comparison




Pence per teabag

Tetley [RA]



PG Tips [RA]



Co-op [F,O]



Cafédirect [F]



Traidcraft English Breakfast [F]



Hampstead Darjeeling [F,O]



Pukka green chai [F,O]




[F,O] = Fairtrade and organic

[F] = Fairtrade certified

[RA] = Rainforest Alliance



Caffeine in tea


Teas from the Camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine. Caffeine protects the tender young leaf buds of the tea plant from being eaten by insects.

Heavy caffeine use is known to have unpleasant effects and negative impacts on health, including anxiety and insomnia, and for this reason some tea drinkers seek to moderate their caffeine intake.

The caffeine content of tea varies widely from one tea to the next, and depends on how the tea is brewed, but tends to be within the range of 15-70mg per cup (a typical cup of coffee contains 80-135 mg of caffeine).

Tea can be made from different parts of the tea plant, and these parts contain different quantities of caffeine. Leaf buds (tips) and younger leaves are higher in caffeine than older, mature leaves.

The quantity of leaf used and the length of time the leaves are steeped both directly influence the caffeine content of the final cup of tea. Using more leaves and steeping for a longer time both increase the caffeine in the resulting cup.

It is a widespread myth that black tea contains more caffeine than green tea, and another myth that white tea contains the least caffeine of all teas.

Caffeine levels generally vary more among individual teas than across broad categories of tea such as black, white, green, oolong, or pu-erh.

One exception to this is matcha tea which is known to contain very high levels of caffeine. This is due in part to higher caffeine levels in the leaf used to produced matcha, but also because matcha is a powdered tea, and so the entire tea leaf is consumed when brewing. So a cup of matcha tea contains 100% of the caffeine in the leaf.



Company Profile


Life for Hambleden Herbs began back in 1982 on an organic herb farm in the small village of Hambleden in the Oxfordshire countryside. In 1985 its dried herb range was launched and at the time was the only certified organic range of dried herbs in the UK. Organic herbal tea was launched four years later. It only sells Soil Association certified herbs, spices and teas.


See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the Score table.  

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This product guide is part of a Special Report on Tea.  See what's in the rest of the report.





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