Last week I was ranting about how we coffee drinkers need to be more aware of how our habit affects the environment. Of course, we here at the Coffee Shop of Horrors also drink a lot of tea, and I would be remiss if I didn’t take good look at tea drinking and its environmental impact as well. Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, so it’s important not to take it for granted.

Fortunately, tea has a couple things going for it when it comes to environmental issues. For one, it’s a very sustainable crop. Only the top tender leaves of a tea tree are picked, which means they can be harvested yearly, and a tea tree can be viable for harvest for around 100 years. No need to chop down and replant trees regularly, which means less waste to deal with. Also, there’s not a lot of processing required for tea. Pick leaves, dry out leaves in the sun, roll leaves, dry leaves out further in some kind of furnace. Very simple processes tend to produce less waste, so on these counts, tea is a rather ecologically friendly crop. Hooray!

Unfortunately, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns pooping out marshmallows. Tea production does have its negatives. First off, it’s a monoculture crop. Tea trees spreading as far as the eye can see! And monoculture does have its negative effects. The soil doesn’t get the variety of nutrients it would naturally get from a more diverse plant cover, requiring the use of fertilizers, which can be harmful if not applied properly. Trees and plants that would benefit the local fauna are removed, forcing animals out, and pests become an issue as well. Also, drying out the tea in the furnace requires fuel, usually wood, which isn’t so bad if the wood is collected appropriately, but that’s not always the case, and more habitat can be lost if that’s not taken care of.

Evening it all out, however, and tea is, in general, much better for the environment than most other beverages. There are, of course, a few things we can do to make sure we keep it as friendly as possible.

1) Use loose leaf tea
Tea bags are just an extra unnecessary processing step. They add waste to landfills, energy and supplies are needed to make them, and really, let’s face it, loose leaf tea tastes better. Toss the bag!

2) Reuse your tea leaves
There’s a lot you can do with used tea leaves. Compost for the garden. Dry them out and leave them in a bowl to absorb foul odors. They can even be used for skin care. Don’t just toss them.

And finally, I need to mention working conditions. Tea workers face similar challenges to coffee workers; low pay, poor conditions, and so on. Fortunately, Fair Trade concepts are coming to tea as well as coffee. Tea is currently dominated by a small number of large corporations, but that’s starting to change.

I regret that I do not have solutions to everything, I do not have the power myself to demand change. But together, if we change our habits, we can change things for the better. And that starts with being more aware of things in general. I hope I’ve helped raise your awareness.

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