Organic Vs. Conventional Tea: What’s The Difference?

As conscientious consumers, many of us look for the “organic” label when shopping. While we know that organic products have certain benefits, the extent of those benefits isn’t always obvious. When it comes to organic tea and conventional tea, you might ask: what’s the real difference? What makes organic tea a smarter choice than conventional tea, and why does it matter for you? Here are three reasons to feel good about choosing to buy and drink organic tea.

1. Organic means no chemicals. One of the clearest distinctions between organic tea and conventional tea is that organic tea is grown without the use of chemicals fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. These chemicals have well-documented harmful effects on the environment, farmers and consumers who may ingest residues. Conventional tea-growing methods may maximize production in the short term, but there is a serious environmental and human cost.

Choosing organic tea, on the other hand, means supporting growing methods like plant- and microorganism-based natural fertilizers and pest deterrents, which are safer for the environment and for the farmers who work on the land. The benefit to you? No chemicals end up in your cup!

organic tea nursery
An organic tea nursery on the farm of Sarath Bandar, member of the Small Organic Farmers’ Association (SOFA).

2. Equal Exchange organic tea is grown on biodiverse small-scale farms, while conventional tea comes from mono-cropped plantations. Small-scale farmers promote biodiversity by using organic and biodynamic farming methods, allowing wildlife and local flora to flourish alongside tea farming. Since conventional tea is farmed in a way that prioritizes mass production in the short term, it is grown on large-scale plantations dedicated solely to growing tea. These plantations overtake large pieces of land, eliminating any variety of plant and animal life. Mono-cropping strips the soil of nutrients, destroys forests and leaves wildlife with no place to thrive. In the long term, this is is unsustainable and creates lasting damage to the land.

picking tea with a member of SOFA
Leif Rawson-Ahern, Equal Exchange Tea Supply Chain Coordinator picking tea with a member of SOFA in Sri Lanka.

3. Equal Exchange organic tea is grown by small-scale farmers who belong to democratic co-operatives. Co-op membership and land ownership empower farmers, support healthy communities and strengthen local economies. Choosing small farmer-grown organic tea means choosing more than just a farming method – it’s a way to support an entire alternative system of production.
Conventional tea, grown with mass production in mind, relies on the plantation model – which is not only bad for the environment, but bad for farmers, too. This notoriously exploitative system disempowers workers, subjecting them to unsafe living and working conditions in the name of profits for plantation owners.

farmer members of SOFA
Leif with the farmer members of SOFA’s Beenside Society.

The differences between organic and conventional tea are extensive, and that’s just the beginning! You can do your part to support our environment, healthy farmers and stronger communities by choosing small farmer-grown organic tea whenever you shop.
Not sure where to start? Check out Equal Exchange’s full line of organic, small farmer-grown teas.

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Sara Fiore

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