To avoid tea bags altogether, you can opt for loose teas, or even make your own, see the box below on how to make your own.
|Of the brands which scored above 10 on the score table, the following sold loose fruit/herb teas
|Tick Tock rooibos
|Thompson’s (peppermint only)
The very top of the table is populated by smaller companies selling all (or almost all) organic products. We recommend organic as it is a regulated certification that aims for more sustainable management of the natural environment.
Small companies seen as offering an environmental and social alternative were given a best rating for Environmental Reporting and for Supply Chain Management.
Tea Times Holdings, another smaller company, also got best ratings. Only some of its Dragonfly and Tick Tock teas are certified organic, but it discusses this and states that “pesticides and fertilisers are only used when absolutely necessary”. It also states that “over many decades” it has “built longstanding relationships with tea-makers and growers in China, Japan, India and Africa”. Higher Living, although all organic and a smaller company, was not given best ratings as its sister brand, Dr Stuart’s, is not certified.
The remaining companies on the table are larger or uncertified, and/or lost marks under other categories for activities within their company group. Companies above the £10 million turnover threshold are expected to have environmental targets, and publicly available supply chain policies. For example, Essential, London Tea Company, and Floradix lost marks for their lack of reporting or policy in one or both of these areas, despite selling only certified teas.
Where have the fair trade labels gone?
You may have noticed that a number of Fairtrade teas which used to be available, such as Equal Exchange or Dragonfly Rooibos, are no longer around, or that companies like Clipper, apparently the world’s largest Fairtrade tea brand, has no herbal teas with the Fairtrade logo. Also, some companies whose herbal teas are otherwise all Fairtrade, such as Essential and Hampstead Tea Company, have one or two products that are not.
We contacted all these companies for answers:
“Sadly, we no longer sell tea in any form …"“…Unfortunately it’s not easy to get tea from small farmers on to the retail shelf at a price people are willing to pay. Most tea these days, even Fairtrade-certified tea, is from plantations and people expect a similar price for any tea now. Very sad, yes, but we couldn’t continue with sales the way they were. We don’t support plantations, particularly Indian tea plantations where workers are exploited daily.”
“Unfortunately, our Fairtrade Rooibos tea has been discontinued and is no longer available – there was simply not enough demand for it.
“...we are pleased to say that our remaining three Dragonfly rooibos teas – Breakfast Rooibos, Earl Grey Rooibos and Vanilla Rooibos – will only use rooibos from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms as of January 2019. Rainforest Alliance certification helps protect the environment as well as ensure sustainable livelihoods. Having spoken at length with rooibos farmers, we feel that Rainforest Alliance’s approach is one that we would like to support.”
“All Clipper infusions are organic-certified, and this is core to our range, but dual certified ingredients (e.g. both Fairtrade and organic) are often not available in the volumes or quality that we need. We are in regular discussion with the Fairtrade Foundation about this challenge.
Clipper also sources a range of different herbs, e.g. elderflower & nettle, from developed countries where Fairtrade certification does not apply. Although not always Fairtrade certified, rest assured that we will only ever work with progressive suppliers who look after their workers.”
“The only reason that we have shortage in some fair trade items [is] because mainly we cultivate according to customers plan but actually needed more than [this] quantity… actually in next cultivation season we take [the] decision [to double the] quantity... to avoid shortage if [orders are] more than forecast”
Hampstead Tea Company
“Our first preference is to find biodynamic ingredients, and then organic and fairtrade. As biodynamic and fairtrade camomile [isn’t always available] we buy biodynamic where possible and organic is for the rest. Because we can’t guarantee the availability of both we certify it as organic only.”
It seems that these companies are clearly aiming to source and provide certified products where possible. We would recommend choosing products from such companies, rather than those companies who only provide limited certified options to get in on the trend.
Ideally, (like Equal Exchange) we would like to see more companies using and discussing direct sourcing from small farmers rather than plantations, and have chosen Clearspring’s Mu tea as a Best Buy for addressing this. Essential tea, also a Best Buy, sources herbs from the SEKEM sustainable development initiative in Egypt, which has a cooperative of employees.