A hot cup of tea can bring us comfort, joy, and warmth when we need it most — and choosing fair trade, organic, and zero waste tea can help ensure that we’re sipping in good conscience.
The conventional tea industry faces no shortage of problems between well-documented labor issues, including child labor and environmental destruction, such as land degradation and deforestation. There are also health concerns to be aware of when it comes to what may be lurking in our tea like high levels of pesticide residues or microplastics.
While there are significant challenges facing the industry, there are sustainable and ethical tea brands paving a better way for the planet and the growers behind our tea.
What is sustainable tea?
“Sustainable” is a broad word, but for this guide, it means:
- The tea was grown organically, regeneratively, and/or biodynamically without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or insecticides. Most brands included here are certified organic and there are a few using regenerative farming practices.
What is zero waste tea?
- Generally, zero waste tea is loose-leaf tea. Bonus points if you can get the loose-leaf tea from a bulk store! However, when shopping online for zero waste tea, it’s not possible to go completely package-free, though reusable and recycled options can make it lower waste!
- Or, the tea comes in plastic-free and compostable zero waste tea bags.
What is fair trade tea?
For this guide, it means that the tea was sourced ethically either through transparent direct trade from farm to brand or through a fair trade-certified partner. Many brands included in this guide source from Fair Trade-Certified farms, which is included in their descriptions.
All brands in this guide follow one or both of these standards — you’ll see which one (or both) of the standards each brand follows in their descriptions.
Now let’s dive in so you can get to sipping on some sustainable tea!
Note: This guide includes partners and affiliates. As always, all brands included meet high standards for responsibility and all opinions are my own.
Ethical and Sustainable Tea Companies to Know
1. Art of Tea
The Art of Tea imports high-quality organic teas, including many loose-leaf options. Their eco-friendly loose-leaf tea options include many different varieties — like green, black, herbal, yerba mate, and caffeine-free — as well as multiple flavor note options — such as citrus, floral, crisp, refreshing, and fruity. The ingredients used in the brand’s teas are USDA-certified organic
Conscious Qualities: Certified Organic
My personal favorite spot for finding loose-leaf tea, BLK+BOLD is a coffee and speciality tea company with black, green, and herbal teas. I love their Earl Grey Black Tea and Chai Green Tea. I drink their Earl Grey nearly every day and the Chai is delicious hot in the winter and iced in the summer.
The Certified B-Corp also donates 5% of profits to organizations serving in-need youth. You can subscribe to their subscription plan to save and make sure you never run out of your tea!
Conscious Qualities: Black-owned, loose-leaf tea (not individually packaged), B-Corp, Gives Back
Equal Exchange is a worker-owned company with ethically-sourced food and beverage products. A worker co-op structure means that Equal Exchange’s employees and farmer partners all have a voice and vote in the operations of the for-profit organization.
Believing in social responsibility throughout their supply chain, Equal Exchange also follows fair trade standards, like increasing and stabilizing wages and promoting safe farming practices and working conditions. Equal Exchange’s teas are also USDA Organic-Certified.
Conscious Qualities: USDA Organic-Certified, Fair Trade Practices, Worker Co-Op Structure
Guayakí goes a step beyond organic, using regenerative practices to grow their tea. The brand is actually in the Regenerative Organic Certification Pilot Program!
And, by using sustainable, ethical sourcing practices, Guayakí is helping preserve the South American Atlantic Rainforest and promoting the self-sufficiency of Indigenous communities.
Conscious Qualities: USDA Organic-Certified, Regenerative Practices
Sacred Blossom Farm is a localish-to-me (about 300 miles away) small-scale farm in Wisconsin producing herbal teas free of pesticides, herbicides or flavor additives using low-input, sustainable, innovative farming practices.
Working to mimic natural systems practices, Sacred Blossom Farm relies on the interconnectedness of nature to maintain the fertility of their fields and to support the health of their plants instead of synthetic fertilizers.
Using practices like minimal tillage, innovative polyculture systems, inter-seeding strategies, intensive cover-cropping, and hand-scale harvesting, Sacred Blossom Farm is really challenging the status quo when it comes to quality botanicals.
In addition to all of this, beginning this year, Sacred Blossom Farm is tracking ALL of the inputs used on the farm. This includes not only the tangible inputs used on the farm but also the fuel for the tractor and even all the miles the owner drives for the business.
Sacred Blossom Farm will also be launching completely plastic-free and biodegradable packaging this summer.
Conscious Qualities: Organic, Biodynamic Farming Practices
Numi sources fair trade-certified and USDA-certified organic teas. The brand is also B-Corp certified (which is a holistic certification for companies ensuring social and environmental responsibility) and they’ve partnered with farming communities to ensure access to clean drinking water through an initiative called Together for H(2)OPE.
On top of all of this, Numi also uses packaging made up of 85% post-consumer waste and biodegradable paper tea bags and they invest in carbon offsetting through Carbon Fund.
Conscious Qualities: Certified Organic, Certified Fair Trade, B-Corporation, Gives Back, Offsets Carbon Emissions
Yogi sources quality botanicals and spices for their exceptional teas. The teas all include organic ingredients and many teas are USDA Certified-Organic. There are also specific teas from Yogi that are Rainforest Alliance Certified. Yogi also donates to multiple nonprofit organizations.
Finally, let’s talk packaging: Yogi’s cartons are made from 100% recycled paper and their tea bags are compostable (minus the staples on the tags).
Conscious Qualities: Certified B-Corp, USDA-Organic Ingredients and Teas, Some Rainforest Alliance Certified Teas, Gives Back
Pukka is a B-corp with a lovely range of organic, fair trade teas suited for any situation or time of day, including “Tumeric Active”, “Clean Matcha Green”, and “After Dinner”. Each package of organic tea comes in plastic-free tea bags and a recyclable envelope.
Pukka is also a member of 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of revenue to environmental causes.
Conscious Qualities: B-Corp, Soil Association Organic-Certified, Member of 1% for the Planet, Fair for Life-certified
9. Arbor Teas
Arbor Teas offers an exceptional selection of organic loose leaf teas, including black, green, white, oolong, Pu-erh, rooibos, and herbal teas. Many of Arbo Teas tea options are Fair Trade-Certified as well (about two thirds).
In addition to sustainable sourcing, Arbor Teas offsets their carbon emissions from transportation through Carbon Fund, powers their packaging facility using solar energy, and has backyard compostable packaging.
Conscious Qualities: USDA Certified-Organic, Many Fair Trade-Certified Teas, Compostable Packaging, Offsets Carbon Emissions
10. Organic India
Organic India is another tea brand going beyond organic and sustainable by using regenerative, biodynamic farming practices. Committed to sustainability throughout their supply chain, Organic India’s facility is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum Certified.
Having partnered with both Ayurvedic and Western physicians, Organic India has tea formulas specifically created with both traditional wisdom and modern science in mind.
Conscious Qualities: B-Corp, USDA Organic-Certified, Regenerative Practices
Choice Organic Teas were truly industry pioneers, having been the first exclusively organic tea company in the U.S.! The brand also purchases renewable energy credits for 100% of the electricity used by their facility and packages their teas sustainably, using 100% recycled paperboard and unbleached tea bags made with natural fiber.
The majority of Choice Organic Teas tea varieties are Fair Trade Certified and the brand has a map where shoppers can get more information about the farms that Choice sources from.
Conscious Qualities: USDA Organic-Certified, Many Teas are Fair Trade-Certified, Eco-Friendly Packaging
On a mission to think consciously outside of the box, Outwoken sells looseleaf teas that are grown by small-batch farmers around the world in at-home compostable packaging. This sustainable small tea business has unique teas that you don’t see elsewhere, such as Purple Kenyan Tea, a Colombian black tea + Colombian coffee mix, Chocolate Besos (my personal favorite!), and Bold Blue, which is a Chinese black tea mixed with butterfly pea powder from Thailand.
If you can’t decide, go with Outwoken’s gift box, which contains 5 different teas! (Pictured above.)
Conscious Qualities: Sourced from Small-Batch Farmers, Compostable Packaging, Donation Initiatives