How Toxic Is Your Tea? + Why I Don't Shop at Trader Joe's
Tea-drinkers, don't shoot the messenger, but you could quite simply be brewing a potent cup of pesticides, bleach and questionable "natural" flavoring. I always decline tea at a restaurants and even friends homes unless I recognize the brand as one with clean ingredients.
Now I'm not the biggest tea-drinker but I do enjoy the occasional hot tea when the weather gets chilly or I have a cold, not to mention my love of a good chai with almond milk. Yummm!
What are the concerns? I'll break down my top three:
Many top conventional tea makers don't even wash the tea leaves before they are bagged which means that while your tea is steeping, so are up to 23 different types of pesticides...right into your cup.
One of the bigger controversies over the years was when lab testing showed 100% of Teavana and 91% of Celestial Seasonings teas were contaminated with pesticides that exceeded the U.S. limits for human consumption. Teavana has even claimed to be pesticide-free or organic in the past! Not so much.
One would think purchasing organically grown and harvested tea should be enough to escape the chemicals, but not quite. Plastic, GMO and bleach are also worrisome contaminates from the tea bag.
To save on cost, and in some cases, add visual appeal, the tea bags themselves have evolved into a toxic delivery system. Many tea bags are made from bleached paper or plastic/silk/nylon mesh made from PLA (polylactic acid), made from corn, most likely GMO corn unless it has a non-GMO verification.
The heat from the hot water used in the steeping process also causes a breakdown in these ingredients which are inevitably consumed when you sip your tea.
The organic brand Mighty Leaf Tea uses these types of bags and so I gave them the boot.
If you look at the ingredient list on the tea box, it should contain flavorings from real ingredients like fruit, herbs, flowers and/or spices. If you see "natural flavoring" it means that the flavor is derived from a natural source. Sound harmless? One of the more popular natural flavoring ingredients is Castoreum, derived from the anal glands of beavers. It's natural, right?!
The FDA's guidelines for using the "natural" terminology simply means the flavor can be derived from pretty much anything in nature, including animals and genetically engineered foods. Apparently, my definition of "natural" doesn't align with their vague definition.
Organic Yogi teas are another example of seemingly clean brands that will add "natural" flavoring to some of their teas.
How do you source a toxin-free tea?
- Ensure the tea is certified organic by a credible third-party source like, USDA,
- Does not contain added "natural" flavoring and, if bagged,
- Uses unbleached paper tea bags
Though there are several others, personal favorite traditional tea brands are:
- Buddha Organic Teas
- Numi Organic Tea
- Traditional Medicines Organic Tea
- Mountain Rose Herbs Organic Loose Leaf
I recently discovered TeaTank, a double walled glass container with a removable infuser (and lid!) for steeping tea or infusing fruit and veggies for on the go or in the home! I was packaging my loose leaf tea into a disposable non-bleach paper tea bag multiple times a day, so it was equally annoying and messy. The TeaTank is now an absolute necessity in the home! It's construction of glass, stainless steel and wood make it safe for consumption!
The code jannyorganically will help you save $$ at checkout! Shop it here!
Buddha Teas sent me a couple boxes of their amazing tea including Dandelion Root. I went straight for it because it is:
- Caffeine Free
- Liver Cleanser
- Blood Purifier
- High in Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium
- Great for digestive systems
- Helps reduce UTIs
- Helps fight bacteria
- Treats bronchitis
- Helps lactation
I'm sure there is more that I'm missing. Please tell me below if you use Dandelion Root! Many use it as a coffee substitute and when you add in grass fed butter (healthy fat and great source of vitamin K) along with coconut oil (who doesn't know the benefits of this stuff? Fatty acids, brain health, energy...) and some other goodies, you get a delicious treat that you can even give the kiddos!
(Anyone with an allergy to ragweed, chrysanthemum, marigold, chamomile, yarrow or daisy should avoid dandelion)
While we're at it, I had someone ask me about Trader Joe's recently and I told them I won't eat anything by their private "Trader Joe's" label. Around the time I started questioning their verification-free organic claims, Vani Hari published an article about Trader Joe's third party organic verifications. Her article is correct that they manufacture "Organic" and "Non-GMO" private label items, however, they will not disclose the companies that verify these standards.
Even the Non-GMO Project team can't make any headway. Their Executive Director, Megan Westgate told Vani:
"The Non-GMO Project has reached out to Trader Joe's a number of times over the years, and we remain hopeful that at some point we will be able to forge a meaningful partnership with them. To date, it has been very difficult to ascertain the credibility of the non-GMO claims. We know that many consumers believe Trader Joe's to be a GMO-free store, but without transparent standards or third party verification this is impossible to confirm. Many other retailers - independent grocers, co-ops and Whole Foods Market - are leading the way by requiring rigorous testing and labeling, and it would be great to see Trader Joe's follow suit."
Do you think it's a coincidence that the unverified "organic" and "non-GMO" options from Trader Joe's also boast some of the lowest prices when compared to their competitors? Many people buy Trader Joe's "Organic" Tea, which is why I included this section here. Their tea, by the way, also contains "natural" flavoring while the source of their tea bags cannot be verified, just like their claim to be organic.
Fortune Magazine obtained a copy of Trader Joe's Vendor Agreement which states: "Vendor shall not publicize its business relationship with TJ's in any manner." Though, interestingly enough, when ConAgra purchased Ralcorp, financial records were publicized disclosing their key customers, namely, Trader Joe's and Costco.
Why does this matter? Well, ConAgra is no stranger to GMO labeling efforts, specifically, Proposition 37, a mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative in California.
Take a look at the donor list opposing this campaign:
While I'm not promoting a "boycott", I am sharing my shopping practices as I refuse to fund organizations with shady business practices. I'm happy to be proven wrong on this - I hope they decide their consumers are worth verifying their products for. Until then, I'm happier to take my business elsewhere.
Until next time, my friends. Read your labels! ;)