There’s a lot a discussion going on in the tea world around the Foodbabe article, Do You know What’s Really in Your Tea?

I’m here to tell you its part fear-mongering, part sales pitch, and partly true. Here’s my reasoning: by blowing out of proportion the situation, inflating the dangers, and magnifying the supposed chemicals on tea, she makes a very compelling case for the 2-3 brands of tea/herbs she recommends. All-in-all, a very compelling sales pitch.

That being said, her article, while overblown to stir up fear and controversy, is not wholly inaccurate.

Let me offer a little more insight, depth, and perspective on the situation.  In the article, she brings up 3 main issues.

  1. Pesticides
  2. Artificial Flavorings
  3. Tea Bags

1. Pesticides

tea_plantationThe regulations for pesticides residues, microbes, etc are, for the most part, not clearly defined or widely available. Therefore, its impossible to totally comply with legal standards when no bright line test exists.

The US uses what’s known as USP 561 (US Pharmacopeia for Botanicals) which provides guidelines on how to conduct rigorous experimentation for pesticide residues and provides a table of acceptable tolerances for about 60 pesticides in mg/kg (PPM), including DDT, (which is 1, by the way).  For those pesticides not listed on this table, there is no specific guideline, but the understanding is its supposed to be 0 (zero).

Beyond that, there are also industry standards (such as AHPA) that some companies choose to adhere to and some not.

For the loose standards that do exist in the US, Europe is much stricter.

For the most part, it is the company’s responsibility to ensure cleanliness of leaves and compliance with government regulations and, should they choose, industry standards. From what I’ve seen, short of mass media and mass hysteria over tea/herbs, the government does not closely monitor compliance.

Generally speaking, white tea tends to have the least pesticide residues; black tea the most. That has to do with picking time: the longer the leaves are on the bush, the more they are exposed to, whether intentionally or inadvertently.

In regards to Belight Tea, specifically, it was a concerted effort on my part to ensure that all residues tests came back much lower than is typical for the (non-organic) tea and botanical industry.

Bottom line is, either trust the company whose tea you’re drinking, or if you’re concerned, ask what kinds of checks and balances are in place or have them show you documentation.

2. Artificial Flavorings

First, a point of clarification on this section of the article: she calls out “Earl Grey White Tea” for having added flavors, but how else do we get Earl Grey but by adding Bergamot Oil?!?

Inaccuracies aside, I am in total agreement with the preference for NO artificial flavorings. Ugh!  I always ask, and can taste them immediately if included.

While I do my best to personally avoid consuming artificial flavorings, I suspect most people don’t care.  To them, tea is tea. And tea is healthy. And if its more palatable with some artificial flavorings, then they still think they’re doing themselves a favor.  Who be me to critique? I vote with my $$ and with my product offerings.

In fact, right on the home page, it says Belight contains no artificial flavorings, colorings, or additives.

Read the label and you have your answer as to whether or not a product contains artificial (or even natural) flavorings.

3. Tea Bags

Comparing TeasThis part of the article was most interesting to me as there hasn’t been a lot of research or discussion around this topic.  She brings up a lot of issues here that may be of concern and would be worth investigating further, though I suspect much of it is, again, overblown. Perhaps diving into Google Scholar would tell us what research has been done of the leeching of tea bag derivatives into steeped tea.

In developing Belight Tea, I intentionally avoided the white paper tea bags in favor of pyramids, which look nicer, convey a certain image, and to avoid concerns over sourcing and bleaching of paper. Furthermore, the pyramid tea bags come from Japan, which maintains a certain sacredness around tea and health, and therefore, I suspect (hope) that has carried through into tea bag production.

As a devoted tea and infusion consumer, I personally drink both bagged and loose leaf tea. For convenience, I definitely prefer Belight and other bagged options, especially when on the go.

What does your expertise or insight tell you on all this? Leave a comment below.