Tea is humanity's oldest flavored beverage and remains its most popular. The fragrant leaves have linked hemispheres, spawned revolutions, and inspired religious rituals. But the global tea industry also has an ugly history of deforesting, damaging biodiversity, and overusing pesticides. To promote more-enlightened sipping -- and, by extension, production -- we at Sierra magazine beseeched five tea experts to name their most preferred brew. As with last issue's coffee connoisseurs, we imposed two caveats: they couldn't plug a product to which they have financial ties, and the endorsed tea had to come from a company immersed in environmentally responsible practices. Here are their recommendations.
DAVID KARR is the cofounder and director of Sebastopol, California's Guayaki, the top North American seller of yerba mate. His teas are organic, rainforest-safe, fair-trade certified, and produced with solar power.
"TEN TEA's Organic Oolong is from Wuyi Mountain in China's Fujian Province and a favorite among gong fu tea drinkers. This handpicked oolong is organic, which is rare in the world of oolong teas but gaining in popularity. Prepare the tea according to the instructions and the resulting infusion will be full-bodied with floral notes and a
long, nutty finish." Organic Oolong, $11.50 for 4 oz.
GRETCHEN ILER is a certified tea sommelier, a designation that requires three years of study and testing. She works as a consultant for tea companies, restaurants, and spas and lives in Lake County, Illinois.
"My favorite eco-friendly tea is the Pu-erh Ginger loose-leaf tea,
imported from Yunnan, China, by RISHI TEA. It's USDA organic, fair-trade certified, and harvested from ancient trees. A zesty combination
of ginger and orange peel complements the pu-erh's earthiness. It's
mellow, with a hint of citrus and just enough spiciness." Pu-erh Ginger $4.50 per ounce
AHMED RAHIM is the CEO of Numi Organic Tea, a minimal-waste company that sells fair-trade, pesticide-free specialty teas and herbs obtained directly from farmers. Rahim, a master tea blender, lives in Oakland, California.
"I admire the ability of TRADITIONAL MEDICINALS to produce excellent
functional teas while committing to sustainable business practices.
They are a pioneer in our industry, established in the mid-1970s and
still a leader in reducing environmental impact. They have the world's
largest solar-powered tea factory. Each winter I stock up on their
Organic Echinacea Plus, which has a mild, minty taste and keeps me
going through cold-and-flu season." Organic Echinacea Plus, $5.49 for 16 tea bags
DIANA ROSEN is the founding publisher and editor of the Tea Talk newsletter and has written five books about tea, including Meditations With Tea: Paths to Inner Peace (Citadel, 2006). She lives in Los Angeles.
"Swaraj 'Rajah' Banerjee, the owner of MAKAIBARI TEA ESTATES, uses
Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic farming techniques. His efforts show in
resilient earth, glossy tea leaves, and a healthy workforce. Banerjee
lives with his workers, supervising every step. His hand-processed
Silver Tips tea has a delicate sweetness rarely found among
Darjeelings; its lighter essence speaks to me. Prices vary but are
always reasonable for such quality." Silver Tips, price varies (around $8 per ounce)
BEATRICE HOHENEGGER is the author of Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea From East to West (St. Martin's, 2007). An Angeleno, she curated an exhibit at UCLA's Fowler Museum called "Steeped in History: The Art of Tea."
"My choice is the Organic Ceylon High Grown Black Loose Leaf Tea from EQUAL EXCHANGE. It's produced by the Small Organic Farmers' Association
in Sri Lanka. I believe in supporting small-scale farmers with
noncorporate models. Equal Exchange is a sustainable, democratically
run cooperative. As for the tea itself, the rich, malty flavor of the
Assam plant is my preferred morning taste." Organic Ceylon High Grown Black Loose Leaf Tea, $10.49 for 3 oz.