Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Carbon Footprint of Tea: How Green is Green Tea?

In Asia drinking tea is often seen as a way to harmonize with nature. Drinking green tea in the spring and chrysanthemum in the fall is a way to harmonize your energies with the energies of nature. Often the tea that is the most popular in a particular region is the tea that grows nearby, or is at least produced in the same country. Drinking local teas that share the energies of that geographical area is not only more healthy for the individual but also more healthy for the environment. Drinking local tea creates less pollution because the tea isn't shipped long distances.

Tea drinking in the west is a different story.

Unlike most foods and beverages that one consumes, tea cannot be grown locally. Because tea can't be grown locally it must be shipped long distances. Shipping long distances displaces more pollutants into the atmosphere through longer transport. Longer shipping also requires extra packaging. As far as tea goes, excessive packaging seems to be the norm. The production of this packaging requires more energy and therefore more pollutants produced. When this packaging is disposed of it goes back to the earth. The shipping of tea pollutes the earth.

When drinking tea one never takes a sip for granted. The tea that touches ones lips, however minute, is at the cost of the earth. And as such, much reverence should be afforded to it.



Bret said...

Bravo Matt! Very well said and point taken. I agree with your sentiment that the growing, packing, shipping takes it,s toll and we should appreciate it. But come on now, you have to admit that with some teas that isnt an easy thing to do. Just think of the most horrible shu you have ever tasted. Even in some very inexpensive teas that Ive had I can usually find something that I like about them and I dont dismiss them because of their lack of status. But truth be told there has been once or twice that Ive just thrown tea in the garbage can also, because thats where they belonged.

Jamus said...

Very interesting post. I guess the best thing that can be done to counter that is to try to lump orders together into a single shipment if possible. If we wait until we have a bigger order, it will cut down on the costs of transportation, although to be fair, I doubt the airplane that is carrying my tea is carrying ONLY my tea. Often times I think we exaggerate the impact of a carbon footprint by leaving out this detail and calculate it as if each item were being shipped to us individually. Many of the shipping companies have also been working to reduce their impact on the environment. We can even make a point to reuse the boxes and packaging later on down the road.

Usually I am drinking pu-erh, so aside from box and bubble wrap, it's a paper wrapper and the leafy goods. That's about as stripped down as international shipping can get, I suppose. ;-p

This definitely gives me one more reason to savour every sip and find balance for whatever impact I have on the world around me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

Matt said...



That notorious 'shitty-shu'. One has a few of those cakes in the ol' tea closet.

Just can't bear to put them to waste though. One has a few ideas for them.

Using them for potting plants. Or just using them to hang on the wall or to give to a friend to hang on the wall.

Hope your bings at least hit the compost bin. ;)


Yes, lump ordering and reusing packaging are good ways to reduce the impact.

Also, as you mentioned, the kind of tea also matters. Tongs of puerh really don't have that much packaging, especially the ones that use the traditional organic packaging. Korean teas are notorious for over packaging.

The country where the tea is produced also matters. Anything produced in China goes through some sort of packaging and transport- fuel and energy in China is much less refined then in other countries and produces much more pollution.

The transport and production in Japan on the other hand is much more clean but every step of production is usually mechanized thereby using more energy than a tea produced by hand.

Thanks both for your ideas and comments.


Brett said...

I have a lot of strong opinions on carbon emissions. I think people should try to eat mostly local produce, time their showers, walk more, take mass transit as much as possible, cut out meat (or at least limit themselves to only occasionally eating local, or self raised/killed meat) and never dine at international chain restaurants.

All of that, and here I've devoted my life to "imported produce." A luxury item at that!

I guess I believe that Tea is the only true exception. I don't know why exactly but those rules just don't apply to Tea. If there was more decent tea grown in my neck of the woods then I'd drink it, but I'd still import Tea too.

Tea gives the world so much pleasure and is so good for us. It is a necessary part of life.

Thanks Matt for getting people talking!

Matt said...


One was meditating on this issue a while back. Really its a tricky one.

There are so many positives about tea but, like everything, there are also some slightly negative aspects.

To see both the positive and negative brings clarity of mind- keeping us mindful of our actions.

Thanks again for your comments on this tricky issue.


Jamus said...

Brett, I really agree with you on so many points, but I think that has a great deal to do with where one lives as well. To live somewhere that puts such emphasis on the use of land to grow tea is a testament to how different the mindset generally is between the orient and occident. Simply put, 'tea as far as the eye can see' would likely never happen in America. Aside from Hawaii and a speckling on the east coast, I'm not familiar with anywhere else in the US that even grows tea, let alone anything I'd really be interested in consuming and storing. Even still, many of my friends have no idea that there is more to tea than bags or the cylindrical pouches at Panera.

I also noticed your tweet the other morning about waiting for the train and thought to myself how splendid it would be if I could take a train to work regularly, but there just isn't the population density to support it where I live. The nearest bus stop to where I live is 4.4 miles away. :-\

Matt, I find it ironic with so much talk of balance that the countries that put the most emphasis on minimizing the carbon footprint for shipping also use the most extravagant packaging and processing for their teas.

I must reflect. I'm desperately fighting the urge to write volumes in this little comment box. :-)

Matt said...


Yeah, it's a tough one.

You would have to really crunch the numbers to find out what nations and teas are the most environmentally friendly.

Just for fun...

What teas and tea nations do you readers think leave the biggest carbon footprint? and why?

What about the smallest?