When buying loose leaf tea, many tea enthusiasts wish to go the extra mile and ensure they purchase organic tea. Of course, this means that farmers don't use pesticides or chemicals at the tea farmers. Thus, the tea leaves are clean and pure. It's a great practice to buy certified organic teas. Still, we wish to shine a light on the world of quality tea — many teas are fully organic, even if they aren't officially certified as such. In fact, this happens more than you think!
What Is An Organic Tea?
Organic teas use zero chemicals. These include pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers when growing or processing tea after harvest. Such chemicals are not only harmful to the environment but also to the drinker. Since tea leaves aren't washed after harvest, essentially, the first "wash" is when we brew our tea. Thus, all of this residue goes directly into our cup. Whether certified organic or not, mindful farmers who pride themselves in growing quality tea know to avoid these chemicals. The next thing we will get into is the actual certification.
Certified Organic Tea
Getting certified as an organic tea producer is a costly and challenging process. Don't be surprised if certified organic tea is relatively pricier than its non-organic counterpart. It takes the producers time and money to ensure their teas are certified organic, not to mention the extra steps they take to grow teas in pristine conditions.
However, what sometimes happens in the world of cha is that organic tea producers use the clout of their certification to produce subpar teas at higher prices. For this reason, many seasoned cha drinkers choose to stay away from the "organic" label and use their own knowledge of purchasing organic teas without being labeled as such.
Of course, plenty of farms produce quality loose leaf teas and are certified organic, too.
Why Does An Organic Tea Farm Avoid the Organic Certification?
1: The Cost.
As we've mentioned, getting certified as organic is a very costly process. Some farms simply choose to put their money elsewhere —like in continuing to produce delicious teas.
This is especially the case with small purveyors who don't grow much tea. Many boutique tea farms, which proudly produce unique and delicious teas, often entirely by hand, don't have a big yield. They don't sell that much tea every year, so paying for the organic certification would take a big chunk out of their income. In many cases, they wouldn't be able to focus on producing such tended-to, high-quality teas. Getting certified organic usually makes more sense for bigger tea farmers that have a hefty yield.
2: The Criteria.
The criteria for being certified organic is indeed rigorous. Even the most minute traces of a foreign substance can cost you your certification. For example, space is scarce in popular tea-growing regions on mountain slopes, and many tea farms are planted closely together. One farm might go through every step to ensure their tea is pure and organic.
Still, unfortunately, they can't stop pollutants from entering from neighboring farms or even from nearby roads. This amount of residue isn't crucial for us as tea drinkers. However, in the strict terms of organic certification, it might cost the farm their certificate. This, in turn, means a tarnished reputation and wasted time and money. Most farmers choose to continue to grow their teas in the best practices and not go through the hassle.
3: The Risk.
Let's get real. Many quality tea farmers entirely rely on their tea gardens for their income. No tea this spring = no income. Plenty of farmers tend to their small farms by hand and always ensure the best practices. However, you never know what nature has in store for you.
Let's say there is a sudden bug infestation. The farmer is left with the choice of losing all of their trees that they spent years tending to, along with their income for years to come. Or, they can use a minimal amount of pesticide to keep the pests at bay. Of course, the second option will cost them their organic certification.
Considering that many tea enthusiasts know of these hardships, it usually makes more sense for the tea farmer to save their precious bushes and their income. After all, pest outbreaks aren't constant.
Organic Tea, Without The Certification
Many tea farms produce organic teas without being certified. These are usually the farms that grow excellent small-batch teas and tend to their gardens by hand.
Here are some teas which are usually organic, without the certification:
High Mountain Teas.
To be certified as a high-mountain tea, the farmers have to plant their bushes at an elevation of 1000 meters (3,300 ft) above sea level or higher. In fact, pests and bugs cannot survive at these elevations. Thus there is absolutely no need for pesticides or any other chemicals. Furthermore, these farms are surrounded by nothing other than pure mountain air, forests, and fogs. You can be sure that your high-mountain tea is as organic as you can get. Learn more about high-mountain teas.
Pu-erh is a post-fermented tea that farmers can only produce in the Yunnan region of China. There, the pu-erh tea trees grow in ancient and untouched tea forests. The farmers head into the forests to pick the tea leaves, after which they proceed to ferment them. It's undoubtedly not in the farmers' interests to pollute these forests with such a rich tea history. Furthermore, the government has many laws in place to protect them. While not all pu-erh comes from these tea trees, a good amount of it does. You can always find out from the tea descriptions or ask the producer directly, and we encourage that you do. Learn more about pu-erh.
In conclusion, use your best judgment when purchasing teas. By buying certified organic tea, you can be sure it is indeed 100% organic. Furthermore, if it tastes great, you've hit the jackpot! However, don't exclude teas just because they aren't officially certified. You don't know what you might be missing out on!