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Chinese coal is 1000 times higher in lead than American coal, and half of the coal burned in the world is there. Why does this matter in a discussion about tea? Most of the green tea sold around the world comes from China, and research shows that it is where it has been grown that is most important.
Does Green Tea Contain Lead?
Nearly a quarter of the green tea samples exceeded safety levels for lead. The study looked at 30 common teas and found that green, white, black, and oolong contained levels of lead considered unsafe in pregnant or nursing women. The organic green tea had higher levels of lead than the standard green tea.
This isn’t shocking. Leaded gasoline was banned in China. Roadside dust is still contaminated two decades later. Coal burning and residual lead in soils are more likely to contribute to lead levels in tea than certain pesticides and fungicides.
Many in the tea industry are taking steps to make sure they are safe. Some companies test their tea to make sure it is lead-free.
If you are pregnant or drinking green tea for its health benefits, you don’t want to worry that it might harm your fetus. The extremely low levels of lead allowed under California’s Prop 65 regulation are based on research showing brain tissue and cognitive impairment in children.
The best organic green teas: our top picks
There are some of the best organic and lead-free green teas. Wondering how we rate products? Our methodology is about voting with our money to fight climate change.
Traditional Medicinals teas are the most sustainable buy pu erh tea, eco-friendly, socially responsible tea company in the world. 100% of the electricity used by Traditional Medicinals comes from renewable resources and even their company cars are EPA SmartWay Certified.
Traditional Medicinals is a B Corporation and part of the Green America’s Green Business Network. The company offers a lot of information in their annual report.
The company has been committed to sustainable agriculture for more than 45 years. Traditional Medicinals still buy herbs from the farm, which was America’s first major organic Medici Plants farm.
In the mid-2000s, Traditional Medicinals transitioned almost all of their wild-collected botanical ingredients to USDA Organic certification. Most of the company’s herb purchases were certified organic.
The tea bags and strings are non-genetically modified. Since 1998, when the first of their products was certified by Fair Trade USA, Traditional Medicinals has been committed to fair trade. The company increased the amount of Fair Trade certified botanicals.
Five schools in India have been built by Traditional Medicinals and serve 850 students. The company has installed 548 water and storage devices to help provide water security for 3,300 people in Rajasthan, India, as well as giving 570 bicycle scholarships to students in India to provide transportation to school. There were contributions made to domestic and international non-profit organizations.
All of their products are tested to make sure there are no heavy metal orMicrobes. I reached out to the company to find out more about their testing procedures and they told me that all incoming herbs are tested for heavy metals. The company’s processes comply with those set out in the United States in the United States Pharmacopoeia 233.
Darjeeling green tea is grown on the tea estate of Ambootja in the Darjeeling District. The farms on this estate run on organic practices that help prevent soil erosion, enhance soil fertility, and use only natural fertilization to ensure the safety of the tea, the farmworkers and the environment.
In order to achieve Zero Waste Certification, Traditional Medicinals need to divert at least 90% of their waste from landfills. The company was honored by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature China for helping to establish the world’s first panda friendly
The workers are provided housing, cooking fuel, footwear, protective clothing, winter blankets, and basic medical treatment free of cost because they use hydroelectricity to power farm processes. There is an Infant Nutrition Program that provides food to young families, free primary education and scholarships for children, and social security in the form of pensions and support for dependents. There is more information on Traditional Medicinals corporate social responsibility in their report.
Frontier Co-Op Tea has a 30-year history of buying botanicals. The program involves direct trade with farmers to promote fair compensation, as well as greater social responsibility.
The company is committed to restoring the environment. In 1992, staff at the Co-Op volunteered to plant 21 acres of tallgrass prairie at their Norway, Iowa headquarters, which became part of the United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary Network.
The Frontier Co-Op Tea buys certified organic ingredients wherever possible. Heavy metals are tested in their in-house laboratory. Post-harvest treatment and processing is covered in our standard. They don’t buy herbs or spices that have been treated with irradiation.
The company started as a two person operation in a river cabin. Teas, spices, essential oils and more are sold by Frontier Co-Op.
The first Fair Trade Certified spices were introduced to the US by Frontier Co-Op. The University of California Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and sustainable food systems has established a Simply Organic Scholarship, as well as publishing aSustainability Report, which helps improve transparency and accountability. Over the years, the Co-Op has built schools, wells, and other infrastructure in Madagascar and Vietnam, donating more than a million dollars.
A founding member of Frontier Co-Op.
- The Organic Trade Association (OTA)
- Iowa Sustainable Business Forum
- Sustainable Packaging Coalition
- GreenBlue, and the Natural
- Organic Health & Beauty Alliance (NOHBA)
Frontier Co-Op has a wide range of green tea. India, China and Japan are their sources.
A Direct Trade importer of organic teas and botanicals, Rishi Tea has been around for over a decade. They cultivate and maintain long-term relationships with growers to help encourage sustainable gardens.
Almost all of the products from the company are now certified organic. The sachets were introduced after a long search for a tea bag that was eco-friendly and perfect for tea.
The company is engaged in Direct Trade and can trace all tea back to where it was grown. In order to minimize energy use, the new headquarters had motion-controlled lighting, reclaimed materials, and other sustainable building techniques. Excess products are used to feed trees and plants in the community.
The tea bags are made from a plant-based material called polylactic acid. PLA doesn’t pose a risk to tea or water supplies because it’s not derived from petroleum. The tea bags are not home composted. They use a cotton string and a printed paper tag, which are heat-sealed.
There are no artificial flavors in the tea. They detail their latest test results online, using an independent, third-party laboratory in the US. Their general company ethos suggests they would have strict quality control for all teas, but they don’t mention testing for lead or other heavy metals. I will update this review when I have more information.
There is a green tea called Jade Cloud that is both USDA Organic and Fair Trade and is available in a pouch. They also offer various types of green tea, as well as Yuzu peach green tea and others.
Yogi Tea Leaf is mostly certified organic, non-GMO Project verified, and is available in plastic-free tea bags and recycled packaging from a well regarded B Corporation. You can view on Amazon.
Yogi Tea has a wide range of blends of green tea. Most of the time, their teas are USDA Certified Organic and non-GMO Project verified, but others are not. Yogi Teas are free of artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners.
The tea bags at Yogi Tea are made with wood and manila fibers and are plastic-free. All packaging is printed with vegetable-based inks and is heat-sealed, meaning no glues, and tea cartons are made from 100% recycled paperboard and case boxes are made from 60% recycled materials. The staple used to seal the bag and attach the tag is not composted.
The parent company of Yogi Tea is East West Tea. East West Tea was honored for Best for Overall and Changemaker. A high of 125 was achieved with a B Corp score of 108.6. The company is located in Oregon and has a green building.
Many Yogi Teas are already certified by the Non-GMO Project. The company tests all the raw ingredients to make sure they are what you want. National Organics Program standards mean that there are no artificial ingredients, or ingredients contaminated by ionizing radiation. They don’t mention testing for heavy metals, so I contacted them.
Quality Assurance International (QAI) is an independent certifier that checks the organic integrity of all ingredients at every step of the production chain.
TeaPigs was the first tea company to earn the Plastic-Free Tuskmark from A Plastic Planet, which certifies some of their packaging as free from conventional plastic derived from fossil fuels. The loose-leaf tea pouch and sample envelopes are hard to recycle because they are made with paper and plastic. The packaging is being replaced with a material made of wood.
The TeaPigs tea temples are made with vegetable-based inks and are sealed with heat, making them completely non-toxic.
Teapigs claims to test 100% of the tea for pesticides, but not all tea is organic. Some of the tea is Rainforest Alliance certified and they are trying to extend it across their teas. They put solar panels on the roof of their tea tasting room.
TeaPigs is a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership, a non-profit that works to improve the lives and livelihoods of tea growers. They are an approved supplier of the Living Wage Employer.
TeaPigs also sells Mao Feng Green Tea.
Carbon neutral B Corporation with a whole host of certifications and socially responsible policies and initiatives, but their tea bags and packaging may still contain some undesirable components There is a view on Pukka.
Fair for Life certification for all teas, the Soil Association organic certification for most, and Fair Wild certification for 89% of the wild-sourced herbs they use are some of the certifications Pukka Tea have. They have been around since 2001, a B Corporation since 2016 and are certified for life.
In order to figure out science-based carbon reduction targets, Pukka mapped their entire carbon footprint from crop to cup. The company used 100% renewable energy at their head office in order to become carbon neutral in 2019.
Through 1% for the Planet, they give 1% of revenue to environmental and social causes. Pukka Herbs bought more organic herbs in the last year. There is a lot of information in the most recent report.
The tea boxes are printed with vegetable-based inks. Tea envelopes can be recycled in paper recycling bins, but they are still made from plastic. The tea bags are made with 99% plant materials, but are treated with a resin, which leaves a bit of a problem. The tea bags are made with organic cotton, which is a good sign. The tea bag tags were made with a card. The tea bags, string, and herbs can be composted, but the tag should be put in the recycling bin.
One of the best places to work in the UK is Pukka. Everyone at Pukka took part in training on understanding unconscious bias during the year, as the company launched a new Inclusion & Diversity policy.
Where to buy green tea and other things.
The export of green tea from Japan has increased dramatically in recent years, making it one of the best green tea options. The lowest levels of lead in both organic and standard green tea were found in a study done in Sri Sri. The price of green tea from China has gone up after the Trump administration put tariffs on Chinese tea imports.
Some of you might be wondering if the earthquake and subsequent nuclear power plant disaster would make Japanese green tea a bad choice. There is little to no chance that the country’s tea-growing areas would have been affected by radiation. The US Food and Drug Administration as well as Japanese authorities have put in place checks to make sure tea and other products are not contaminated with radiation.
Before I pick my top picks for organic and lead-free tea, I need to think about microplastics. Many green tea bags release plastic particles. A recent study found that a single plastic teabag at a temperature of 95 C releases over 11 billion microplastics and over 3 billion nanoplastics into a cup of beverage. Microplastics can enter wastewater streams and affect aquatic life.
The best way to avoid microplastics is to drink loose leaf tea. If you like tea bags, you should avoid them that are made of nylon and have fancy shapes. Some tea bags are made of natural fibers. Ask questions and get answers from companies. You might want to ask about epichlorohydrin, which is used to strengthen tea bags.
The organic cotton tea bags are both eco-friendly and non-toxic.
It is best not to brew your tea in an unsafe pot after you have gone to great lengths to source organic, lead-free green tea that is not contained in plastic tea bags. cookware imported to the USA has to undergo certain kinds of testing to ensure that it doesn’t contain harmful levels of heavy metals, but pottery you buy while on vacation and bring home yourself isn’t subject to such testing. If you are buying a ceremonial teapot or cups from overseas, make sure it is certified to cookware or food safe standards or use it for decorative purposes only.