For the Love of Organics: Tea

Once upon (almost) 5,000 years ago, an influential man of China sat beneath a tree and boiled water to drink when dried leaves floated into his pot. They infused the water, the aroma enticing our protagonist to take a sip, and that’s how they say tea was discovered.1 2 These leaves were from Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, and this fact is the only detail of the story we know is accurate, for it’s from this plant that what is considered true tea—white, green, oolong, and black—is made.3

Although the serendipitous nature of this legend is enchanting, the modern cultivation of tea begs us to choose the tea leaves that float in our pots with intention, for our health and that of the planet. Consider a few reasons why.

Imported tea and illegal pesticides

Very little tea is grown in the U.S.; it’s an imported product.4 5 Unfortunately, this means there are fewer controls over chemical pesticide residues. According to Tea Steeped in Toxics, a 2015 report by Beyond Pesticides, the FDA “consistently finds high levels of illegal residues on imported tea”—an issue echoed from the European Union to China.6 Contemplate these stats:

  • U.S.: Violations, including pesticides not registered for use on tea and residue levels above maximum limits, were 100 percent for oolong and 50 percent for tea overall, according to FDA monitoring data in 2012 (the latest data available).
  • CHINA: Twenty types of organophosphorus pesticide residues, including seven banned in China since 2005, were found in Chinese tea samples, according to research published in the journal Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, citing data from 2013-2014.7 
  • EU: Thirty-seven percent of imported tea samples in Europe contained pesticide residues banned in the EU due to environmental and health concerns, according to a report from the Pesticide Action Network Europe, citing official 2018 data.8

Choose certified organic tea to reduce the chances of illegal pesticide residues in your brew. Around the world, organic products are held to the same strict, USDA-enforced standards. They’re inspected annually, samples are tested for prohibited substances, such as illegal pesticides, and suspected violations are investigated.9

The destructive status quo

What happens when a single crop is grown year after year on a large piece of land? Loss! Loss of habitat. Loss of biodiversity. Loss of healthy soil. This monoculture approach to agriculture is the status quo of cultivation for many commodity crops, including tea, and it’s accompanied by heavy use of synthetic fertilizers.10 Over time this results in soil acidification, negatively impacting soil structure, metal toxicity, and nutrient availability.11 12 In China, one of the world’s biggest tea-producing countries, this is becoming a serious issue. According to research published in Science of the Total Environment in 2020, 46 percent of Chinese soil samples measured were too acidic for tea growth. However, on organic tea plantations, where synthetic fertilizers are not allowed, the researchers found no significant soil acidification.13


For The Love Of Organics: Tea

Nutritional Sips

Of all the reasons to love a cuppa tea, green tea may lay claim to the most. It’s an excellent source of epigallocatechin-3-O-gallate, or EGCG, which is believed to be one of the most significant contributors to tea’s health-promoting properties, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiviral activities.14 15 16

The organic brew is better for you

A study comparing tea grown organically or conventionally in the same geographical region in China found a clear winner in organic. The organic tea had “significantly higher” concentrations of catechins, including the most potent antioxidant among them, EGCG.17


“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”18
 C.S. Lewis


  1. “History of Tea.” UK Tea & Infusions Association,
  2. “Tea Fact Sheet 2021.”, Tea Association of the U.S.A Inc.,
  3. Sencha Tea Bar. “Tea 101: Camellia Sinensis Tea Plant.” Sencha Tea Bar, Sencha Tea Bar, 2 Oct. 2020,
  4. Published by Jan Conway, and May 19. “Tea: Top IMPORTERS Worldwide 2020.” Statista, 19 May 2021,
  5. Helmer, Jodi. “Pinkies up! a Local Tea Movement Is Brewing.” NPR, NPR, 28 Mar. 2017,
  6. Naik, Nikita. “Tea Steeped in Toxics.” Https://, 2015,
  7. Cao, Pei, et al. “Estimated Assessment of CUMULATIVE Dietary Exposure TO Organophosphorus Residues from Tea Infusion in China.” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, BioMed Central, 14 Feb. 2018,
  8. “Banned and Hazardous Pesticides in European Food.” Https://, 2020,
  9. “Organic Enforcement.” Organic Enforcement | Agricultural Marketing Service,
  10. “Organic vs. Conventional TEA: What's the Difference?” The Equal Exchange Blog, 9 May 2019,
  11. Durgesh Singh YadavBhavna JaiswalMeenu GautamMadhoolika Agrawal. “Soil Acidification and Its Impact on Plants.” Https://, 2020,
  12. Jiang, Yuhang, et al. “Restoration of Long-Term Monoculture Degraded Tea Orchard by Green and Goat Manures Applications System.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 15 Feb. 2019,
  13. Yan, Peng, et al. “Soil Acidification in Chinese Tea Plantations.” Science of The Total Environment, Elsevier, 27 Jan. 2020,
  14. Saeki, Koichi, et al. “In Vitro and in Silico Studies of the Molecular Interactions Of EPIGALLOCATECHIN-3-O-GALLATE (EGCG) with Proteins That Explain the Health Benefits of Green Tea.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 28 May 2018,
  15. Xu, Jun, et al. “A Review of the Antiviral Role of Green Tea Catechins.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 12 Aug. 2017,
  16. Reygaert, Wanda C. “Green Tea CATECHINS: Their Use in Treating and PREVENTING Infectious Diseases.” BioMed Research International, Hindawi, 17 July 2018,
  17. “Tea from Organic Production Has Higher Functional Quality Characteristics Compared with Tea from Conventional Management Systems in China.” Taylor & Francis,
  18. Club, The Tea. “These Quotes Will Make You Fall in Love with Tea.” Dollar Tea Club, 26 Dec. 2020,