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The Ecologist Top Ten... organic and fair trade teas

Laura Sevier

11th November, 2010

Our fortnightly new series of Ecologist Top Tens begins with a look at the best organic and fair trade teas your money can buy. Laura Sevier puts the kettle on...

Drinking tea is a national obsession, whether it’s a builder’s teabag dunked in a mug with three sugars, or delicately brewed loose-leaf green tea with honey.

Without a daily cuppa (or three) many of us would feel dazed and disorientated. We Brits are the biggest tea-drinkers in the world, along with the Republic of Ireland. The nation brews around 165 million cups of tea a day, according to the UK Tea Council.

As well as its ability to console, uplift, relax and simultaneously give you a buzz, tea is a wonder ingredient, containing high levels of antioxidants. The health benefits for a wide variety of ailments (including cancer and heart disease) are well documented, and green tea in particular has been the subject of much research.

Whatever the flavour or blend, black, green and white teas are all made with the leaves of the same plant, Camellia sinensis, but have been processed differently. Black teas are the most processed through fermentation. Green tea is steamed to prevent oxidisation, and as a result contains more antioxidants. White tea, the least processed of all, also contains a high level of antioxidants.

Although there are plenty of good reasons to drink tea, not all brews are equal. Tea production can be labour-intensive, with low wages and poor working conditions. Buying Fairtrade obviously helps – find out why here

How the leaves are grown is another issue. Mass-market tea is grown in monocultures and sprayed with chemicals that impact waterways and wildlife. It may also contain pesticide residues. Organically grown tea has less of an impact on the environment – and the end result.

And of course, there’s more to infusions than cups of Camellia sinensis. Below the Ecologist chooses its top ten teas, including four herbal brands.

Qi Ginger Green Tea (£1.60/25 bags)

Unless sweetened with honey, neat green tea can taste bitter to the uninitiated. Adding a twist of ginger, mint or lemon is a simple way of getting a taste for it. Qi’s Ginger Green Tea is particularly moreish, with its warming, stimulating ginger ideal for winter months. The company has a close partnership with a Fairtrade Association of small independent farmers in southern China. The range is 100 per cent organic. Also recommended: White and Spicy Tea (white tea with added cinnamon, cloves, ginger and orange). www.qi-teas.com 

Steenbergs Organic Green Tea with Peppermint (£4.80/125g)

This loose-leaf tea was a favourite in the Ecologist office and quickly ran out due to popular demand. Bypassing even a teapot or strainer, a teaspoon of leaves in a glass with some hot water makes for a refreshing brew and a gentle green-tea buzz. Steenbergs Organic is the Yorkshire-based, family-run firm best known for its extensive range of organic herbs and spices. Tea-wise, its speciality is tins or bulk bags of loose-leaf tea, including chai, black, green and white teas. www.steenbergs.co.uk

Clipper Fairtrade Everyday Tea (£1.49/40 bags)

Clipper is the organic, Fairtrade range you’re most likely to see on supermarket shelves. The flagship blend of the range is the ‘everyday tea’ available as either Fairtrade or organic. Started in 1984 by Mike and Lorraine Brehme, with just two chests of Assam tea from a single tea estate, Clipper has grown to encompass a huge range of teas, both plain and exotic. Also recommended: Organic Nettle and Mint (the cooling mint takes away the grassy taste of the nettle). www.clipper-teas.com

Tregothnan Earl Grey (£8.31/50g)

Tea grown in Cornwall? It sounds unlikely but the Tregothnan estate near Truro use tea leaves grown in the grounds and blends them with imported leaves to create classics such as Earl Grey (blended with Assam and Citrus Bergamia). Tregothnan’s hand-processed special blends contain the first true English tea grown in the UK. Attractively packaged in a silver tin, the loose-leaf tea (also available in teabags) may be pricey, but the novelty – and taste – factor makes it a good present. www.tregothnan.com 

Lahloo Amber Oolong Tea (£6/50g)

This range is all about loose-leaf tea from small, artisan tea gardens. Oolong tea falls halfway between green and black tea, partly oxidised. Amber oolong tea comes from Ming Jian village in Nantou County, the finest tea-growing region in Taiwan, where the moist hills, cool weather and soils are ‘perfect for tea-growing’. Charcoal-roasted, it has a smokey, chocolatey, passionfruit flavour. Lahloo tea is fairly traded and organic. www.lahlootea.co.uk

Hampstead Biochai (£1.89/25 bags)

Based on a traditional Indian recipe, this chai is made with Fairtrade biodynamic black tea, root ginger, lemongrass, pepper, cardamom seeds and cloves. It hails from the Makaibari tea estate in India’s Darjeeling province, the world’s first certifitied biodynamic estate and the last owner-managed estate in the district. Sixty-six per cent of the acreage is undisturbed rainforest. Hampstead was the first 100 per cent Fairtrade tea range in 1995. All teas come from biodynamic growers. www.hampsteadtea.com 

HERBAL AND CAFFEINE-FREE

Heath & Heather Apple and Cinnamon Tea (£1.39/20 bags)

Herbal and fruit tea fanatics will know this range well. Heath & Heather is ideal for those who want to venture beyond the usual chamomile and peppermint, and experiment with liquorice, pomegranate, rosehip, fennel and nettle. ‘Herb specialists’ Heath & Heather has been around since 1920, established by brothers Samuel and James Ryder, who have written specialist books on herbs and their benefits. There are no artificial flavours, preservatives or colouring in the teas. Apple and Cinnamon has a festive taste perfect for the Christmas season. www.heathandheather.co.uk

Wild Rooibos (£6.50/50g)

Also known as ‘bush tea’, rooibos is a native South African herb, whose colour and deep, rich taste make it a good caffeine-free substitute for black tea – especially as you can enjoy it with milk and sugar. Unlike most rooibos, which is industrially farmed as a monocrop, Wild Rooibos comes from a small farm in the Cederberg Mountains, grown without pesticides or herbicides and harvested by hand. Leaving the mountains uncultivated and ungrazed encourages local endangered leopards to survive and thrive. www.rareteacompany.com

Neal’s Yard Remedies Lemon Balm and Rose tea (£3.80/50g)

These medicinal teas are sold ready-to-go in paper packets or can be measured out from glass jars behind the counter of Neal’s Yard stores. The extensive range includes Lemon Balm and Rose tea, a nerve tonic that ‘helps to relieve the symptoms of tension and stress’, Coltsfoot and Sage tea, to ‘support the respiratory system’, and Dandelion and Red Clover tea, to help ‘detoxify the body’. www.nealsyardremedies.com/tea-blends

Pukka After Dinner Tea (£2.09/20 bags)

This calming blend of fennel, chicory and cardamon is designed to help soothe and support the digestive system. Pukka herbal teas are based on the ancient wisdom of ayurveda, ‘the art of living wisely’. Its range of organic teas pack a punch in the flavour department, particularly its Three Ginger, Three Mint and Three Berry blends. www.pukkaherbs.com

Laura Sevier is a freelance journalist

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