Herbal Teas

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 26 brands of herbal teas, fruit and roobios tea

We also look at conflict minerals, toxic chemicals, shine a light on the ethics of Hambleden Herbs and give our recommended buys.

About 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.

What to buy

What to look for when buying herbal teas:

  • Is it Fairtrade? Tea plantation workers often receive poverty wages and extremely poor conditions in return for their labour. Look for Fairtrade tea to ensure that the person growing your tea is receiving at least minimum standards of employment. 

  • Is it organic? Often made from petroleum, chemical pesticides threaten bee populations, contaminate water sources, and cause large-scale destruction of habitats. Look for organic to avoid teas grown with these chemicals. 

  • Is it home-grown? While this is obviously not an option for traditional breakfast varieties, many herbal teas can be grown in your own garden. This is a good way to cut down on food miles and ensure that they are grown in an environmentally friendly way. Otherwise, look for locally-grown herbs to put in your tea.

Best Buys

Our Best Buy teas are both Fairtrade and organic:

All Essential’s teas except Fennel are Fairtrade and organic as is Dragonfly’s Organic Rooibos

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying herbal teas:

  • Is it in a tea bag? Almost all tea bags sold in the UK contain plastic. The process of packaging tea also tends to concentrate profits in already wealthy countries, away from tea-growing areas. Look for lose leaf tea to avoid this unnecessary use of resources and unfair distribution of wealth.

  • Is it blended? Teas marked only as 'tea', 'green tea' or 'Everyday tea' are likely to be blends from multiple sources. Opt for a single source tea (like Assam or Darjeeling) or for a company that identifies its growers, as it is likely that a greater portion of the price you pay will reach the original producer.

  • Profits over people? A War on Want report found that tea pickers in India and Kenya received less than 1% of the amount paid for a cup of tea. Look for Fairtrade tea produced on small hold farms to try and ensure that some of the price paid goes back to the workers.

Companies to avoid

We would recommend avoiding tea brands owned by Unilever. In 2011, a report found discimination against female workers, health and safety violations, and issues around the payment of wages on the tea plantations used by Unilever. More recently, the company has been criticised for abuses in the factories and palm oil plantations that it uses. It owns the tea brands:

  • Lipton
  • Pukka Herbs

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Hampstead Tea herbal tea [F,O]

Company Profile: Hampstead Tea & Coffee Co Ltd
17

Clearspring Mu tea [O]

Company Profile: Clearspring Ltd
16

Hambleden Herbs herbal teas [O]

Company Profile: Hambleden Herbs
16

Dragonfly organic herb & rooibos teas [O]

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
15

Eleven O'Clock organic rooibos [O]

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
15

Essential herbal teas [F,O]

Company Profile: Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd
15

Steenbergs organic tea [O]

Company Profile: Steenbergs
15

Tick Tock organic rooibos [O]

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
15

Dragonfly herb & rooibos teas

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
14

Tick Tock rooibos

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
14

Higher Living Herbal Tea [O]

Company Profile: Only Natural Products Ltd
13.5

Floradix/Salus Organic Herbal Teas [O]

Company Profile: Salus-Haus Dr.med Otto Greither Nachf. GmbH & Co.KG
13

Heath & Heather herbal/rooibos/green tea [O]

Company Profile: Typhoo Tea Ltd
13

Dr Stuart's herbal teas

Company Profile: Only Natural Products Ltd
12.5

Thompson's Herbal Tea

Company Profile: Punjana Ltd
12.5

Thompson's organic loose peppermint tea [O]

Company Profile: Punjana Ltd
12.5

Clipper tea [F,O]

Company Profile: Kallo Foods Limited
12

Floradix/Salus herbal teas

Company Profile: Salus-Haus Dr.med Otto Greither Nachf. GmbH & Co.KG
12

Heath & Heather herbal/green teas

Company Profile: Typhoo Tea Ltd
12

London Fruit & Herb

Company Profile: Typhoo Tea Ltd
12

Ridgways herbal tea

Company Profile: Typhoo Tea Ltd
12

Yogi Tea herbal teas [O]

Company Profile: Yogi Tea GmbH
12

Clipper herbal tea [O]

Company Profile: Kallo Foods Limited
11

Redbush Rooibos Tea

Company Profile: Redbush Tea Co
11

Taylors of Harrogate Teas [S]

Company Profile: Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate Ltd
10

Taylors of Harrogate Herbal teas

Company Profile: Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate Ltd
9.5

Teapigs tea

Company Profile: Teapigs Ltd
7
7

Pukka Herbs teas [O, F]

Company Profile: Pukka Herbs
4.5

Jacksons of Piccadilly fairtrade teas [F]

Company Profile: R Twining & Co Ltd
3

Lipton tea

Company Profile: Unilever
2

Twinings herb teas

Company Profile: R Twining & Co Ltd
2

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

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.

  • 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

Brand Pence per Teabag
Tetley [RA] 3
PG Tips [RA] 3
Co-op [F,O] 3
Cafédirect [F] 3
Traidcraft English Breakfast [F] 4
Hampstead Darjeeling [F,O] 7
Pukka green chai [F,O] 10

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.

Spotlight on: Qi Teas

The Tea Industry has been plagued by reports of workers' rights abuses. We talk to a best buy company making tea a little differently. 

Tell us about Qi Teas, why was it set up?

Our small Kent-based company was set up by Joe d’Armenia after retiring from the advertising and marketing industry where he’d worked for 25 years with companies such as Unilever.  He was looking for something different to do and his career went in a very different direction when he decided to go into the tea business after reading a book about the health benefits of green tea whilst waiting for a flight. 

Unaware that the traditional way of sourcing tea was through traders in London or Hamburg, he travelled to China in search of Organic Green Tea. It was his unfamiliarity with the tea industry that led Joe to the Anhui Province in the south east of China and it was during this first trip that he met Yu Jing Hong, a tea-grower and local government minister.  

She agreed to sell her organic tea directly to him rather than through the more established medium of a German wholesale importer; what clinched the deal was Joe’s agreement to put money back into the community. This agreement was honoured by our funding of a number of projects in the region - the building of a new school wing, street lighting and road maintenance just a few of the many investments. Joe and Yu Jing Hong have remained friends ever since.

Herbal Health, the company behind the brand Qi, were instrumental in coordinating China’s first free and democratic elections at village level with the full co-operation of the local government, our pioneering company also focused on the legal establishment of farmers’ cooperatives.

We started by sponsoring the farmers’ application as a Fairtrade Association and helped them to find customers worldwide, we helped each other and from there things gradually evolved and the brand Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) was created.

Fair Trade defines the nature of our relationship with the farmers, Joe knows most of the growers and factory workers personally, many for nearly 20 years. All Qi organic tea is Fair Trade because it is all supplied by the farmers Fairtrade Association.

Why do you think you receive a best buy label?

Because of the ethos of our company; it’s not just about our products being Fairtrade labelled, it’s about our unique business model and the relationships we have built with our producers over many years and our investment in their community.  It was this continued investment in the region and our ethical business model that secured us as the winner of the Social Responsibility category at the Cathay Pacific China Business Awards in 2012.

In association with the Fairtrade farmers we invested in a purpose-built tea factory and unlike other plants in the area, we introduced programs relating to health care, health insurance, pension provision, and paid maternity leave which have made a big difference to the lives of our workers. Not surprisingly, there is a very loyal workforce at the plant and a long list of people who want to work there.

How do you differ from other companies that produce fair-trade tea?

As above, it’s not just about our products having a Fairtrade label, our business is old fashioned in that it is based on long-term relationships with people as partners, rather than just trading with them to get the best deal possible.

We have carried this through to our customer base - we have supplied the independent retail sector since our business was founded, and have remained loyal to them rather than expanding into the multiples and their sometimes less than ethical way of trading.

Unilever uses Rainforest Alliance certified tea. Now that corporations are using ethical labels, does it make it harder to compete?

Not really, it does not change our ethical standpoint, and consumers who are driven by a like-minded attitude will tend to do more research before making a purchase. Any certification scheme which has direct benefits for farmers is better than no scheme at all.

Have you ever had to make a decision that challenged your ethical standpoint?

Luckily no, all our suppliers are audited before we start using them, and if they fail to meet our criteria then we won’t use them.

The Tea Industry is still plagued by reports of worker rights abuses. Where would you like to see the industry in 5 years?

It would be great to see more small farmer organisations perhaps under a nationwide umbrella organisation in each producing country. The idea of farmers and local/national co-operatives being able to produce their own brands which can achieve ethical certification, thus ensuring value can be added in producer countries would be a big step forward.

It would require a change of thinking among some organisations who still see the producer countries merely as exporters of bulk commodities.

For hired labour and plantation workers the only way to prevent abuses continuing is to persuade the global giants of the industry to take the issue seriously and put people before profit.

Subscriber Discount

Did you know Ethical Consumer subscribers can get a 15% discount when they buy from the Qi Tea website? Sign in and go to the account area to access the code. 

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.

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