Herbal Teas

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 28 brands of herbal teas, fruit and roobios tea

We also look at decline in fair trade labels, loose teas, shine a light on the ethics of Yogi Tea 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.

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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? Synthetic pesticides and herbicides threaten insect populations, contaminate water sources and can have ecosystem-wide knock-on effects. Look for organic certification to avoid ingredients grown with these chemicals, and to support farming methods that are more in tune with nature.

  • 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 Buys for herbal teas are the double-certified organic and Fairtrade teas from:

Recommended Buys

Also recommended are the organic herbal teas from Hambleden Herbs, Hampstead Tea, Eleven O’Clock (rooibos only), Steenbergs (loose teas), Tick Tock (rooibos only), and the Fairtrade herbal tea from the London Tea Company.

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 loose leaf tea to avoid this unnecessary use of resources and unfair distribution of wealth.

  • Is it blended? Teas may be blends from multiple sources. Opt for a single source tea or a company that identifies its growers, as it is likely that a greater portion of the price you pay will reach the original producer.

  • Are you overfilling your kettle? Discounting the milk, the biggest portion of the greenhouse gas emissions from a cup of tea comes from boiling the kettle.

     

Companies to avoid

Companies to avoid are the three at the bottom of the table:

  • Associated British Foods (Twinings, Jacksons of Piccadilly)
  • Unilever (Lipton, PG Tips, Pukka)
  • Tata (Tetley, Teapigs)

Score table

Updated live from our research database

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

Hampstead Tea herbal tea [F,O]

Company Profile: Hampstead Tea & Coffee Co Ltd
17

Hambleden Herbs herbal teas [O]

Company Profile: Hambleden Herbs
16

Hampstead Tea herbal tea [O]

Company Profile: Hampstead Tea & Coffee Co Ltd
16

Clearspring Mu tea [O]

Company Profile: Clearspring Ltd
15

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 loose herbal tea [O]

Company Profile: Steenbergs
15

The London Tea company tea [F]

Company Profile: Cafédirect
15

Tick Tock organic rooibos [O]

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
15

Eleven O'Clock rooibos tea [S]

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
14.5

Dragonfly herb & rooibos teas

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
14

Essential herbal teas [O]

Company Profile: Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd
14

Steenbergs tea

Company Profile: Steenbergs
14

Tick Tock rooibos

Company Profile: Tea Times Holding Ltd
14

Higher Living Herbal Tea [O]

Company Profile: Only Natural Products Ltd
13.5

Thompson's organic loose peppermint tea [O]

Company Profile: Punjana Ltd
13.5

Brew Tea Company tea and herbal tea

Company Profile: Cafeology
13

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

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

Redbush Rooibos Tea

Company Profile: Redbush Tea Co
11

Taylors of Harrogate herbal teas [O]

Company Profile: Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate Ltd
10.5

Clipper herbal tea [O]

Company Profile: Kallo Foods Limited
9.5

Taylors of Harrogate Herbal teas

Company Profile: Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate Ltd
9.5

Tetley Rainforest Alliance tea [S]

Company Profile: Tata Global Beverages Services (was Tetley Tea Group)
7.5

Teapigs herbal tea

Company Profile: Teapigs Ltd
7

Tetley herbal/redbush tea

Company Profile: Tata Global Beverages Services (was Tetley Tea Group)
7

Jacksons of Picadilly herbal tea [F]

Company Profile: R Twining & Co Ltd
3.5

Pukka Herbs teas [O, F]

Company Profile: Pukka Herbs
3.5

Twinings herbal tea [O]

Company Profile: R Twining & Co Ltd
3.5

Twinings herb teas

Company Profile: R Twining & Co Ltd
2.5

Lipton tea

Company Profile: Unilever
1.5

PG Tips herbal tea

Company Profile: Unilever
1.5

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

This guide will help you ensure that when you treat yourself to a nice hot drink, people and planet have also been taken into account.

It’s worth noting that not all of the colourful alternatives to plain black and green tea are caffeine free, or vegan. Some blends will contain black or green tea, or dairy products, so do read the ingredients. If you are avoiding caffeine and dairy but craving a hot milky drink, rooibos is a great alternative that can be drunk with (plant-based) milk. 

At the top of our table are a good number of certified organic or Fairtrade herbal teas. Several varieties from Essential and the Hampstead Tea Company are both organic and fair trade. Their teabags are also all plastic free. See our feature on plastic in tea bags

Image: Herbal Loose Tea

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
 
Hambleden Herbs
Steenbergs
Tick Tock rooibos
Brew Tea
Higher Living
Thompson’s (peppermint only)

Table highlights

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:

Equal Exchange

“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.”

Dragonfly

“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.”

Clipper

“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.”

Essential

“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.

Making your own herbal teas

Rhona, from the Grass Roots Remedies Co-op in Edinburgh, gives us a guide to why and how to pick and dry plants for tea yourselves.

Why make your own?

It’s an act imbued with ethical principles: by foraging for or cultivating your own herbs to include in your herbal teas you can be sure of the origin of the plants. Some plants incorporated into herbal teas are harvested from unsustainable sources, using unknown labour and environmental practices, and over-harvesting of endangered species. And of course, it’s cheaper, fresher, and more empowering to make your own.

What to harvest

Common wild plants, naturalised plants and some cultivated plants (which can be easily cultivated in a small garden space, window boxes or pots) are all used in commercially available herbal teas.

In general, the best time to forage foliage from plants is when they are just coming up in spring – before flowering and when the leaves are fresh and green.

Herbs to harvest from the wild include:

Leaves of dandelion, nettle, yarrow, plantain (Plantago major) and mallow, wild rose petals, elderflowers, lime flowers (Tilia cordata /T. platyphyllus/T.vulgaris), and both the flowers and surrounding leaves of meadowsweet and hawthorn.

Growing herbs to harvest and dry for tea:

Mint, sage, chamomile, lemon balm, calendula, hops.

You can use your foraged or cultivated herbs fresh and just pop a couple of tablespoons of them in a tea pot but, in order to have wonderful herbal teas all year round, it’s common to dry and store them in airtight containers until you’re ready to blend and drink them.

How do I dry my herbs?

Herbs can be tied in bunches and dried in a warm dry environment – ideally in the dark (or not in direct sunlight), but by far the best way, if you want to produce a good quantity, is to buy a herb-drying rack. These are commercially available online. The herbs are ready when they are completely dry to touch, which can take up to four or five weeks, depending on conditions. Spread the herbs out on the drying racks, ensuring they do not overlap.

How to drink

When you grow and prepare your own dried herbs for tea, they do not then come in a tea bag! So, it is time to splash out on an infusion teapot or dedicate a cafetière to brewing teas. If you prefer your tea one mug at a time, get a tea ball. Herbal teas, ideally, should be left to brew for eight to ten minutes before drinking; that way you can be sure of extracting the useful compounds from the herb. 

Grass Roots Remedies is an Edinburgh-based workers co-operative whose central philosophy is that herbal medicine is the medicine of the people and should be accessible to everyone. We offer a series of practical courses and workshops including CommuniTea foraging, run the only fully integrated Community Herbal Clinic in Scotland, operating alongside NHS provision, and produce simple resources to enable folks to practice herbalism at home.

Company Profile

Yogi Tea is part of a group of non-profit and for-profit organisations under the oversight of the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation (SSSC), connected to Sikh Dharma International, a religious organisation. This group includes the East West Tea Company who manage Yogi Tea in the US, and also Akal Security Inc. SSSC appoints candidates to the boards of the various organisations and monitors and assesses the performance of those boards, in order to manage and grow the assets of the organisation.

Akal Security is one of the largest contract security companies in the United States and provides security for federal government facilities, state and local government agencies and military installations. It also works with ICE, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

In the wake of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy, which led to child separations at the southern US border in the spring of 2018, a petition was set up, calling on Akal to:
‘Immediately divest from all financial interest in ICE in order to end any profiting or appearance of profiting from mass incarceration & detention. We also call on SSSCorp and Akal Security to eliminate any business relationships, associations, and contracts associated with the detention of human beings in the prison-industrial complex, which disproportionately affects communities of color including immigrants and now asylum seekers.’

Akal Security has also been accused of saving “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars by implementing a national policy of using jailed migrants as a source of cheap labor. Not convicted criminals, mind you; these were simply ICE detainees”.

It is for these reasons that Yogi Tea lost marks under Arms & Military Supply, Human Rights and Workers’ Rights.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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