RETHINK: Tea: Zero Waste Style

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world next to water, and can be found in almost 80% of all U.S. households. It is the only beverage commonly served hot or iced, anytime, anywhere, for any occasion. On any given day, over 159 million Americans are drinking tea.

Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. Tea Fact Sheet

Loose leaf tea is a small action you can take to reduce tea packaging and/or plastic that comes along with this delightful beverage.

We shop at Anderson’s Coffee Co in Austin, Texas for our loose leaf tea and whole bean coffee . They have the best jasmine tea out of all the jasmine teas I’ve tasted! They will weigh out the amount of tea leaves you request and will pour them into your own container. This makes the tea leaf part zero waste. Anderson’s is also a good local business for tea, coffee and chocolate along with all the gadgets, cups and paraphernalia that go with these items. I’ll be writing a separate post on coffee. If you live elsewhere and want the tea shipped, or don’t want to be zero waste and just have good local tea and coffee, they have plastic lined paper bags.

Zhi Tea in Austin also sells loose leaf tea. Most grocery stores with a bulk section have the common tea flavors in loose leaf. Wheatsville Co-op has a decent and more herbal-focused selection, and Central Market has an enormous tea corner. You can use the containers or bags from the store until they wear out then recycle them in the appropriate receptacle, or if the store lets you bring in your own container do that. Weigh the reusable container first before filling it and write the weight on the container so the weight can be deducted at the register. Depending on the container, I’ll use a wax crayon or painter’s tape and a permanent marker. HEB is not currently set to deduct weight from your own container so please don’t try this there. Always ask the store if they can deduct the weight of your own container at the register before beginning bringing your own.

My research on Wirecutter for the Best Tea Steeper resulted in us purchasing the Hario Cha Cha Kyusu”Maru” Tea Pot, 700ml. It’s Wirecutter’s “for company” choice but I usually drink two cups at a time so this worked better for me than my steeping cups. I tend to break steeping cups and even though this tea pot is glass, the handle is sturdy and well designed and it’s never slipped on me. If you prefer a steeping cup, I love The Tea Spot’s Steeping Mug. It lets the leaves move around more for a better steep and the leaves come out of the ceramic easier than the steel in my opinion. The Tea FortĂ© KATI Cup works well too, though the older models had a rounded-bottom basket that made a bit of a mess. The new flat-bottom basket looks like it may have fixed that issue but the holes are still small and tight, and the tea doesn’t look like it can move as well as The Tea Spot’s mug. I also seem to do better with a handle; it took me a lot longer to break my Tea Spot mug over the Tea Forte cups.

The general consensus on the internet is loose leaf tea should be stored in a dark, cool, and airtight container. We store our loose leaf tea in the tin pictured here. This tin will barely hold 4 oz. of loose leaf tea. Unfortunately the container does not hold the amount of dry material listed on the website so be careful if you order something to hold your tea.

If you want to use an easy and convenient container at the store like a mason jar or plastic-ware (Anderson’s stores their bulk in large plastic tubs with lids) and then take your tea home to store in a more beautiful container such as a tea caddy, just remember to make sure what’s at home is cool, dark and airtight too. The history on the tea caddy is super fascinating so check it out!

If you want to use prepackaged tea bags, try to find a box or tin that is not shrink-wrapped in plastic, though the plastic overwrap on a box and the plastic safety seal on a tin can go in plastic bag recycling.

This box is all cardboard and you break the perforation to open the box.

Depending on the brand, tea bag paper envelopes tend to include a very thin coating of plastic to help keep moisture out. You can see the curling edges here where it’s torn. The plastic is so thin that it can be recycled with normal paper, but this is another area to consider if you are trying to avoid plastic for health or environmental reasons. Some brands like Lipton do have a tri-fold paper-only envelope. The box doesn’t usually say what the envelope is made of and the websites don’t always either.

If you use a tea capsule, K-Cup®, pack, pod, or disc TerraCycle has a recycling program for tea and coffee capsules that you mail in. For lighter carrying to and from the car and shipping store, I recommend you let these dry out first.

Make sure to read the box to determine how the tea is bagged. The tea bag here from Trader Joe’s is nylon. If removing plastic from your life is important to you this is an area to pay attention to. The bag is not recyclable in the plastic bag centers, it will need to go in the trash. You can empty the tea leaves into the compost.

Austin Resource Recovery lists tea bags as compostable. Compostable tea bags are the paper-based tea bags, not nylon tea bags. Yes, sometimes there are tiny staples holding the paper tag to the tea bag string. If you want to remove the staples that would be great; however it is not a requirement nor does it seem to cause a contamination concern.

Fun Facts:
– Uncle Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender loves jasmine tea.
– Hilda in Netflix’s Hilda prefers mint tea.
– Nana in Sing drinks only lapsang souchong tea.

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