A bit of a tea manifesto, regarding Fair Trade

This has nothing to do with yarn.

I’m a tea lover. I’m also a coffee lover. I express my hot dirty caffeinated love kinda differently though, for these two demon brews. And because it came up in comments, I’m gonna talk about why I don’t focus on Fair Trade as the main criteria for my tea purchases.

Lets start with coffee. I buy a pound at a time. I buy ONE pound, then I drink it, then I buy another pound. Unless I’ve gotten extra as a gift, it is highly unlikely for me to have multiple types of coffee in my home. Therefore, buying fair trade all the time is pretty easy. As long as I find it appealing, tasty and I can afford it (and there is always affordable, tasty Fair Trade coffee somewhere) I’m all about that little label. About the only time I’ll buy multiple pounds of coffee is if my mom is coming to visit cos that woman can suck down about a pound of java beans in two days, I swear to god. I’ve never met anyone who drinks coffee like she does. I don’t think she has blood, I think she just has coffee grounds in her veins by now. Must make it hell on her phlebotomist.

Extra points for the use of “phlebotomist” as that’s like, a 96 point Scrabble word if you play it right.

Tea? Tea is a different story. Tea is a lot like wine, a very complex critter. I do not buy it by the pound, one type at a time. The kinds of tea I drink, I can’t afford a whole pound. Maybe a 4 oz tin if I’m lucky. My tea cupboard is crammed full of Assams, Nilgiri, Ceylons, Yunnans, greens, blends, broken leaf, whole leaf, bagged and loose. I buy tea from a bunch of different vendors who buy from a bunch of different gardens and what type of tea I ultimately buy is primarily based on what I thought of samples though I have friends who can get me to buy a pound of tea based on their word alone, they’re that good at tasting.

Tea gardens or plantations are similar to wineries in that lots vary from year to year. Conditions vary. What was spectacular from Garden A one year will suck the next if the weather was bad, while Garden B’s mediocre offering has blossomed into something amazing. It’s a fluid standard for me, that varies from year to year. Garden A may be labeled FT but if their tea sucks and I know Garden B treats workers well and the tea is good, I’ll buy it happily. Some tea gardens treat their workers very well, with nice living conditions, schooling and training for their kids, fair wages and benefits. Families work in tea gardens for generations and there is a real effort going on in the tea world to improve their conditions. Some plantations and gardens are even *owned* by the workers and hey, that’s even better. The FT label isn’t always gonna be there to indicate what’s going on at the garden, though it would be nice if more and more people got certified. More and more vendors are paying attention to this issue. The Harneys, for example, over at Harney and Sons travel to gardens every year, tasting and talking and paying attention. Somehow, I can’t see them buying from someone whose workers are suffering.

Organic tea is available from Special Teas and it looks like they’ve currently got three FT darjeelings available. This is an awesome vendor with good quality teas. But even if it’s not labelled organic or FT, their other offerings often come from gardens that pay fair wages and don’t poison the workers.

I love Taylor Maid Farms for their organic goodness.

Silk Road Teas – organic and biodynamically grown teas from China, fairly paid for. Call them, they haven’t got a website, the teas vary from season to season but they do mail order and the tea is always top notch. They’re happy to talk about what they’re doing in the tea world. 415.488.9017 PO Box 287, Lagunitas CA 94938 or stop by their Marin Farmers Market stand.

And yeah, definitely check out TransFair dot com or these folks for more information about Fair Trade in general.

It’s out there.

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About Maia Rainwood

Owner and Maker at Maia Rainwood Design. Wearable art for wise women, birth keepers, witches, and world-builders.
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4 Responses to A bit of a tea manifesto, regarding Fair Trade

  1. Toni says:

    So, what’s your favorite flavor of tea, if someone were to, oh, want to send you some (I have some samples from Adagio that I didn’t care for, but you might like). Besides, you never know, with the winter gifting season coming up…

  2. Will Pillage For Yarn says:

    I’m fairly big into Assams and Yunnans in general. I used to be quite the customer with Adagio – I haven’t shopped with them in several years though. I got some batches of tea that had been stored next to something – like, flavored teas which had been next to green tea so the green tea really tasted funny and when I wrote to Michael to complain, he refused to do anything about it.

    The tea world is very insular and political and he got into it with some folks I like and respect over some questionable business practices. In fairness, I should ask around and see if that’s improved.

  3. Siel says:

    Thanks for the roundup! I’ll have to refer to this when I shop 🙂 I tried to switch to a morning cup of tea instead of coffee a while back for health reasons, but it didn’t stick. How many cups of tea do you drink a day?

  4. Will Pillage For Yarn says:

    2-3 typically. I make a 4 cup pot of tea in the morning and that gets shared, 🙂 and then a decaffed cup in the evenings. I am trying to make coffee a treat rather than the default drink of choice. It’s so hard.

    Do check out Silk Road and talk to David if he’s in the country. I think you will really groove on what he’s doing in the tea world. his commitment to the farmers and the land is inspiring.

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