This is our third season growing, harvesting, drying, and selling our own herbal teas from our wonderful farm here in the Piedmont of North Carolina. As our farm business has grown, we have continued to try to find ways to make the farm and our farm products the most sustainably produced possible while also giving customers the best products possible. Over the past year, we’ve focused more on selling our teas in loose leaf bulk bags and focused less on packaging them up into individual tea bags for the customer-on-the-go type. At first, the decision to go bulk was mainly dictated by our lack of time to hand stuff and iron shut each individual tea bag (yes, it’s a brutally tedious process). But as we’ve continued to explore more sustainable options for packaging our teas, we’ve run into more and more evidence that suggests that buying loose leaf, sustainably grown teas instead of individual tea bags is the best alternative for your household health and for the environment than any individually packaged single serving tea bags.
When first exploring individual tea bag options, I was really excited by the “silk” tea bags that some high end tea purveyors use. I mean, what could be better than drinking tea packaged in a textile woven from string from a caterpillar’s bum? In looking for wholesale suppliers for these bags for our own teas, I stumbled upon a number of articles that explained that the “silk” in these tea bags is actually a plastic or bioplastic made from either petroleum or corn,not, alas a byproduct of silkworms. Although all of it is considered food grade material, it’s still worrisome that you are essentially boiling a plastic tea bag when steeping your tea. Even for those who don’t think it’s a potential health concern, there are also the environmental and geopolitical negatives of using plastic (petroleum) or bioplastic (mostly from genetically modifed corn crops).
So what are tea drinkers to do? Even if you are one of our on-the-go customers, there are many great solutions that will turn you into a loose leaf tea afficionado… Here are three ideas for the efficient tea drinker:
1) Buy a vacuum infuser mug
I purchased a vacuum infuser mug at REI a few years ago and it literally has changed my life. In the morning on my way out the door, I put a teaspoon of dried herbal or regular tea into the mug, add the cap, and go. When I’m ready to sip, I just open the top lid, and the bottom lid strains out all the tea while I’m drinking it. Of course, this works best for mild teas like herbals, whites, or greens that don’t get quite as bitter after steeping. Of course, it also holds my iced tea and keeps it way cold too.
2) Strain, strain, strain.
Most of the year, I’m more of an iced tea drinker than a hot tea drinker (part of the fun of living in the sunny, humid South). So at the beginning of each week, I simply heat up a saucepan of hot water, throw in the herbal or regular tea leaves, and let it steep until I’m happy. I add some honey to sweeten it up a bit (but not too much), then let it cool off enough to pour into my pitcher. As I pour, I strain out the tea leaves and I’ve got myself a big, fat pitcher of iced tea goodness for the week.
3) Try tea balls.
Tea balls… ok, the name makes some people giggle, but they are a great way to make a nice cup or pitcher of tea without a lot of mess. Who knew they came in multiple sizes too? Big balls, medium balls, small balls. Ok, enough… sorry. Hint: Southern Season in Chapel Hill has a great selection of tea balls AND sells our bulk loose leaf tea on a seasonal rotation!
So that’s the story of why we (mostly) drink and sell loose leaf tea on the farm. We still package some teas individually and will continue to look for ways to do that as sustainably and healthfully as possible, but in the meantime we feel bulk loose leaf is the way to go.