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Sara Fiore

Our Cup Of Organic Tea: Empowered Farmers, Better Trade

When do you enjoy our fairly traded, organic tea? Whether it’s a warm cup in the morning or tall glass of iced tea on a summer afternoon, tea is a refreshing and delicious complement to any relaxing moment. In every cup of Equal Exchange tea, there’s the story of farmers and workers who are building better lives and a better model for bringing that tea to your pot.

Our organic teas come from small-scale farms in India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. While most tea on the market (even Fair Trade certified!) comes from large plantations and estates, Equal Exchange partners with co-operatives of family farms and small-scale land owners. Purchasing organic tea directly from democratically organized groups of farmers ensures that workers, not plantation owners, reap the benefits.

But the principles that make our tea trade model fair and successful (and blazed a trail in the coffee and cocoa trade) are still extremely uncommon in the tea industry. We believe in trade that:

  • strengthens the autonomy of small farmer organizations
  • promotes among farmers a sense of ownership and control over one’s business
  • encourages entrepreneurship
  • builds and strengthens a sense of community
  • encourages debate and participatory decision making

We believe that “Fair Trade” should mean “small farmer,” and our relationships reflect that.

Each of our producer partners is unique, with a storied history of ambition, struggle and success. Over the years they have worked to set themselves apart in a historically oppressive industry. And we are proud to be working with them and bringing their organic tea to your table.

Producer Snapshot

In India, we work with four organizations. Tea Promoters of India (TPI) are pioneers of environmental and social reform in the tea industry, supporting small tea farmers by helping them gain access to international markets. Through TPI, Equal Exchange has been able to connect with other small tea farmers seeking international market access and support.

This includes the Potong Tea Garden, previously a colonial plantation that has been reclaimed by workers, the Mineral Springs Co-op which is one of the first small tea farming initiatives in the plantation-controlled region of Darjeeling, and the Small Farmers Tea Project in Kerala, which focuses on economic growth and control for its historically marginalized members.

In Sri Lanka, we work with the Small Organic Farmer’s Association (SOFA) and Bio Foods, organizations working toward prosperous communities and a healthy local environment. With over 1600 small-scale, landowning members today, SOFA is a thriving example of small tea growers’ success. Bio Foods, with a mission to provide market access to small farmers, processes and packs all of SOFA’s tea. As part of this system, Sri Lankan tea farmers are able to stay on their land, support their families and maintain vibrant communities.

The Wupperthal Original Rooibos Co-operative in the Cederburg Region of South Africa is a democratically organized group of farmers who have been growing rooibos for generations. Pushed off their land in the 1800s, they have endured the apartheid era and struggled to reclaim their livelihoods and thrive on the fringes of fertile land.

Now they grow their tea in the rocky terrain of the Cederburg Mountains, which presents numerous challenges – though the slow growth of their rooibos actually produces a higher quality tea. Today, 98% of the world’s rooibos is grown on plantations, making the Wupperthal Co-operative a unique example of alternative tea production.

There is still work to be done and progress to be made in making big change in the tea industry – but with your support, these innovative and resilient farmers are leading the way. Brew another cup and enjoy!

Shop for fairly traded, organic tea.

Learn more about our tea farmer partners.

Organic Vs. Conventional Coffee

Coffee lovers are discerning people, and there’s a lot to say about its many flavors, aromas, and origins – but one of the biggest differences between coffees is most striking before it even reaches your cup.

It’s the difference between conventional and organic coffee. Even if you already choose organic in the produce aisle, you might wonder why it matters for your brew.

To put things in perspective, coffee is one of the most widely traded commodities in the world – with over 12 billion pounds of coffee produced annually.

Meeting that demand is no easy task. So over time, farming methods have been developed to maximize production – but often at the expense of human and environmental health. What results is the non organic, conventional coffee that many are used to. So what’s the difference between that and organic coffee?

First, conventional coffee is among the most heavily chemically treated foods in the world. It is steeped in synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides – a real mouthful with a bad taste. Not only does the environment suffer from this overload, but so do the people who live in it. Farmers are exposed to a high level of chemicals while spraying the crops and while handling them during harvest. The surrounding communities are also impacted through chemical residues in the air and water. These chemical presences are not just unpleasant; many are highly toxic and detrimental to human health.

In the case of organic coffee, there are no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals used in growing or production, which means cleaner beans, air, land, and water. The coffee is grown with only organic fertilizers, like coffee pulp, chicken manure, or compost. Organic farms also combat climate change by emitting less carbon than chemical farms, while also sequestering significant amounts of carbon. As a bonus, organic coffee beans are richer in healthful antioxidants, and many people can even taste the difference. Your health, and the health of the planet, both get a boost.

Shop Organic Coffee >>

Second, most conventionally grown coffee plants are hybrids developed to flourish in open sun. Coffee naturally prefers the shade, but a crop grown in thick forest is more difficult to tend and harvest, and cannot be planted as densely.

Forests are cleared to make room for open fields in which to grow mass amounts of this sun-loving coffee variety. Production increases, but the wild ecosystem of flora and fauna is demolished. Natural pest-deterrents, like birds and lizards, are left without a habitat – and coffee-ruining insects overpopulate, leading to more pesticide use. And without the natural fertilizer of these ecosystems (bird droppings, leaf litter, and natural decay) the use of chemical fertilizer increases.

When it rains, the lack of tree cover means there is increased water runoff. Soil washes away, and with it go natural nutrients, eventually eroding and degrading the soil so much that growth is almost impossible. The rainwater carries away not just the soil, but all of the chemicals it has been treated with, and both end up in local water supplies.

Most organic coffee is grown the natural way – within the shade of lush forests, providing a home for wild plants and animals, sustaining soil fertility, and keeping unique regional ecosystems alive. These forested farms also more resilient and better equipped to handle unusual weather patterns that are a result of climate change, making them a safer investment for farmers and their futures. Hundreds of thousands of acres of South American rainforests have already been demolished for various industries, but Equal Exchange has partnered with co-ops that are working to restore the land to its natural forested splendor while growing organic coffee.

So what can you do? The organic coffee market has grown according to increased demand from people who want to drink something they can feel good about. Industries can and do change based on the choices that you make in the grocery store or at your favorite café – so you can vote with your mug! By purchasing organic coffee where you can find it (and demanding it where you can’t), you support systems that value healthy ecosystems, sustainable methods, and superior coffee. Now that’s good taste!


  • Barstow, Cynthia. The Eco-foods Guide: What’s Good for the Earth Is Good for You. Gabriola, B.C.: New Society, 2002. Print.
  • Basic Standards for Organic Production and Processing. Tholey-Theley, Germany: IFOAM, 2000. Print.
  • Benbrook, Charles. Core Truths: Serving Up the Science Behind Organic Agriculture: 2006 Compilation of Research. Foster, RI: Organic Center, 2006. Print.
  • “Coffee in the Global Economy.” Global Exchange.