I have never really been a tea drinker... having my introduction to the caffeine monster 'coffee' during my graduate studies days I've always found the taste of black teas to be, well, weird. I'm a pretty solid peppermint herbal tea drinker as it's been the only thing that has helped with stomach pains... Over time it's become something of a gradual change- it's so rude to say no to tea while visiting someone.
Then I discovered some pretty darn tasty non-milk teas. YUM! Currently steeping? 'Through the grapevine' white tea. Wee!
How can eco-fying your tea drinking habits matter? Well...
In Canada alone we consume over 2 billion litres of tea each year (over 52 million gallons). Like the story of coffee, tea plantations have similar working conditions (i.e. terrible slave labour wages). Monoculture tea farms in places like India have been found to support nearly 50% fewer birds than rainforest-grown tea and pesticides like DDT are still being sprayed on tea leaves. One study found that green teas from China and Japan not only contained high levels of pesticides but lead. Yum (Ecoholic, 2006).
According to the WWF, the main impact of the tea industry is the conversion of habitat. In Uganda and Kenya large areas of forests were cleared to make way for tea plantations which impacted local wildlife and fauna. A decrease in wildlife as well as soil quality (including 50% less earthworms in tea plantations) has resulted in less productive land, decrease in biodiversity and increase in chemicals.
Further, tea processors use wood for drying the tea leaves, and it's not like they're using 'reclaimed wood' to dry these leaves. Nope, natural forests are being cut down for the drying process. Although many plantations are now forced to plant their own personal stash of trees due to a decrease in natural availability (since they cut them all down), 1.5 to 2 kilograms of wood is needed for 1 kilo of tea. According to the WWF, the tea sector has become the largest consumer of fuel wood.
We need to consider the packaging involved in every little steepable tea you use. Each bag contained in an airtight package complete with a small paper and string, those packages contained in a box or container which may be wrapped in plastic. It's ridiculous.
How to have a nice low-impact (and also coincidentally better tasting) tea experience?
First an easy and ultimately yummier step- buy loose tea. As Alton Brown would say, tea is not meant to be squished into a tiny little bag or tea ball... it's meant to expand and grow in something like a tea strainer so the flavours and meld and spread to create delicious yummy-ness. Seriously, it's way less packaging and will give you much better tea. Why not?
I have tried the cloth bags as well as the tea balls (hah) and found them difficult to clean and very inconvenient to use. Although stainless steel has an initial eco-footprint cost, over time and with years of use it will pay off. My favourite tea strainer- a stainless steel open dealy that hooks onto your mug. Super easy to clean and allows the tea leaves to really grow and release all that yummy tea goodness. David's Tea (a Montreal company) sells some pretty awesome ones (I have this one... and this mug for work... love love love).
Buy Fair Trade Organic tea. Once you step into the loose tea world it's actually much easier to find yummy organic tea. Many fun tea shops that have walls loaded with different loose teas also carry fair trade and organic varieties. You just have to ask. In Halifax you have JustUs! Coffee that sells fair trade organic loose tea, David's Tea and Sawadee Tea House on Granville Street (a jem!).
Bring your mug. Tea can be in a reusable mug, just like coffee. You can either put your already steeped tea in your coffee mug and off you go, or you could try a reusable mug specially made for tea. There are different kinds of infusers and I know Andrew had a bit of trouble with his (it leaked....) so really do some research before hand.
What's your favourite tea? (I know you have one, Yogi(ni)s are such tea drinkers!)
article copyright of EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com