The Truth about Tea
We here at Voće® Tea are thrilled to give you the natural, refreshing taste of real fruit through our clean label fruit teas. But there are plenty of other things we would prefer not to give you—like added sugar, preservatives, flavorings, and chemicals. In the past ten years or so, people have become increasingly concerned about how their tea is sourced and produced. We share their concerns, and we're trying to do something about it. With Voće® teas, you get delicious herbal fruit tea without all the unnecessary baggage.
Are pesticides your cup of tea?
Recent studies have suggested that commercial teas, even those from large, reputable tea manufacturers, contain shocking levels of pesticide residue. For example, a recent study commissioned by Greenpeace found that 94% of forty-six teas grown in India contained some pesticide residue, including banned pesticides like DDT. Similarly, 59% percent of the samples “contained ‘cocktails’ of more than 10 different pesticides, including one sample which contained residues of 20 different pesticides.” An earlier Greenpeace study discovered similar problems with tea from China with every single sample from eighteen tea manufacturers testing positive for at least three different pesticides. These findings have been corroborated elsewhere. A recent investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found that of the ten teas it tested, eight contained multiple pesticides—one tea had residue from 22 pesticides! Moreover, half the teas had pesticide levels that exceeded the legal limits in Canada. A comprehensive report on this topic concludes, "The presence of pesticide residues in tea leaves may undermine the popular beverage's status as a health tonic." Of course, it’s not just tea that includes alarming levels of pesticides. Many fruits contain similar levels of pesticide residue. For example, a recent Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis of USDA testing discovered that nearly 70 percent of conventionally grown produce samples in the United States contained pesticide residues. The EWG found that more than 98 percent of the sampled strawberries, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and apples tested positive for residues of at least one pesticide, with a single sample of strawberries containing 20 different pesticides.
Natural Flavorings: The Known Unknown
People are understandably concerned about ingesting pesticides with their tea, and we can't blame them. What few of them realize is many of their teas—fruit teas in particular—use “natural flavorings” or "essences" to achieve their fruity taste. But what exactly are these natural flavorings? According to the Environmental Working Group, natural flavorings don’t really differ all that much from artificial flavorings. In fact, they really cannot be distinguished from one another on a molecular level. Just like artificial flavorings, they are synthesized in a laboratory, although unlike artificial flavorings they must be derived from plant or animal products. The problem is that natural flavors can include as many as 100 different chemicals, including solvents, emulsifiers, and additives.* Moreover, these chemicals do not need to be declared by food companies if they fall into a category known as “generally recognized as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration. Thus, consumers rarely, if ever, know precisely what is in a natural flavoring. As the Environmental Working Group stated in a recent article, “Overall, thousands of flavor chemicals are being added to foods without FDA oversight or review of the available safety information or the concentration used.”
Exploitation of Tea Workers
As if this wasn't enough, research has revealed that workers on tea plantations are routinely deprived of basic necessities and forced to work in appalling conditions that in some cases resemble modern day slavery. A recent study by Sheffield University in the UK, for example, discovered that workers on tea plantations are paid extremely low wages, sometimes as low as 30% of the poverty wage; subjected to physical violence, including sexual violence; and deprived of basic necessities, like drinking water and bathroom facilities. Indeed, as many as 40% of the tea workers in the study had unfair deductions made from their wages, and 47% did not have access to water that was safe to drink. Many workers are subjected to various forms of forced labor, such as debt servitude. The study also found that conditions on plantations certified by organizations such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Ethical Trade Partnership, and Trustea did not differ substantially from other non-certified plantations, and according to some metrics, they were actually worse for workers. Genevieve LeBaron, the lead researcher on the study, says, "It is hard to believe that they face such terrible conditions and suffering in the 21st century—especially when this is completely preventable."
The Voće Difference
We here at Voće strive to provide you with a product that is free from all of this unnecessary baggage, and we are committed to providing our customers with information about how our herbal fruit teas are produced. We use only organic ingredients in all of our teas. In addition, Voće teas contain no flavorings and no preservatives. When you taste berry flavor in our tea, you can rest assured that flavor is coming from actual berries grown on the land, not berry flavor produced in a laboratory. Our teas also contain no added sugar. Of course, if you want to add a sweetener, we’re cool with that, but we thought it was polite to at least give you the option. And we try to source as many of our ingredients from nations with more reliable labor regimes. Although it is difficult to ensure that the cultivation process is free of all abuses, we try our best to seek out reliable suppliers and to make our practices transparent. Drink well!
*One of the more disturbing things we discovered in writing this piece was this list of commonly used ingredients in natural flavorings compiled by the EWG: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, ethyl butyrate, various aliphatic acid ester, ethyl acetate, ethyl valerate, ethyl isovalerate, ethyl pelargonate, vanillin, lemon essential oil, citral, citronellal, rose absolute, geraninol, orange essential oil, geranium essential oil, aldehyde C10, ethyl heptanoate, acetaldehyde, aldehydes C14 and C16, styralyl acetate, dimethyl benzyl carbinyl acetate, benzyl formate, phenyl ethyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl isovalerate, anise essential oil, esters of colophony and benzaldehyde and may contain terpenyl isovalerate, isopropyl isovalerate, citronellyl isovalerate, geranyl isovalerate, benzyl isovalerate, cinnamyl formate, isopropyl valerate, butyl valerate, methyl allyl butyrate and potentially the synthetic ingredients cyclohexyl acetate, allyl butyrate, allyl cyclohexylvalerate, allyl isovalerate and cyclohexyl butyrate.