High Quality Tea, from Leaf to Cup

Tea provides a taste of place – the growing region’s soil and elevation, its rainfall, the season. Cultivating it requires hard work and skill. And it’s a crop which can be vulnerable to climatic variation and environmental pollutants. That’s why we source 100% organic tea from small scale farmer co-ops. Processing and packaging steps maintain its high quality. And we want to help you learn to store and brew your tea in a way that brings out its best characteristics.

Shop Fair Trade and Organic Tea >>

Step 1: Growing and Harvesting

Both green tea and black tea comes from the same plant. Native to Asia, Camellia sinensis thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. Our small-scale farmer partners in India and Sri Lanka know what they’re doing. Their communities have grown this crop for generations. Our partners — TPI in India and BioFoods in Sri Lanka — provide farmers with agricultural support.

When tea is produced conventionally, chemical residue can end up in the cup. Nobody wants to drink that! All Equal Exchange teas are certified organic. Instead of spraying chemical pesticides and fertilizers, our partners use natural pest deterrents, companion planting, and composting to make sure their tea plants remain healthy. These practices are better for worker safety and for the surrounding natural environment and eco-system. And we believe they lead to a high quality cup of tea.

In some parts of the world, the tea harvest is mechanized. But our partners, often located in the most remote places, continue to pluck tea by hand – selecting only two leaves and the fresh bud to ensure the finest quality. That means a human being with knowledge and experience selects each leaf that gets plucked. In our supply chain, women typically do this work.

A group of women harvest fair trade tea on a green hillside in India
Tea pluckers in India harvest their crop.

Step 2: Processing, Shipment and Quality Control

Tea must be processed within hours of plucking to maintain its high quality. Equal Exchange tea is prepared using the orthodox method. This involves a series of precise and traditional steps focused on preserving the characteristics of the tea leaf. It’s slower than the more mechanized CTC (cut, tear curl) method, but the quality is far better. Workers wither the leaves, steam or roll them, and control the level of oxidation to determine if the finished product will be black tea or green tea. Then, they fire the leaves to halt oxidation.

View the Infographic to learn more about the steps!

When processing is complete, workers sort the tea leaves by size and grade and seal the loose leaves into large tea sacks for storage or shipment. Equal Exchange employees “cup” the tea (a process of tasting tea)  and select every lot that we purchase.

Equal Exchange tea utilizes a dual-chamber tea bag for a better steep. The bag is a special blend of abaca (a relative of the banana tree family). It’s free of potential adulterants like plastic and chlorine bleach. We’ve chosen an organic cotton string that’s attached to the bag without the need for glue or a metal staple. We don’t want anything to flavor your brew but tea!

Rows of white china cups hold different grades of organic tea
Tea is cupped in Sri Lanka

Step 3: Your turn!

After you buy tea, proper storage and brewing techniques will help you get the best taste. Store your tea away from heat, light and moisture. When you’re ready to brew a cup, make sure to use the right temperature water for the variety of tea you’ve selected! Learn more! In this video, Equal Exchange Food Safety Coordinator D Walls demonstrates their tips for brewing green tea, black tea and herbal tea correctly:

Now that you know how our farmer partners produce and harvest this organic tea, how we prepare it for sale and how best to brew it, only one step remains. Enjoy!




  1. Britta D | 14th Jan 20

    Thank you for all this information! I saw the reply to Joan’s question- does this mean that the bags the tea comes in are not recyclable since they are plastic coated? Thanks.

    • Kate Chess | 14th Jan 20

      Hello Britta. Yes, that’s correct — the tea bags themselves can be composted, but the bags they’re packaged in have to go in the trash.

  2. Pete Haase | 3rd Jan 20

    Hi Kate,
    So just to make certain, the bags don’t contain epichlorohydrin?

    • Kate Chess | 3rd Jan 20

      Hi Pete. Thanks for your question. Equal Exchange tea bags do not contain epichlorohydrin and are not treated with it. Happy sipping!

  3. Joan Cole | 17th Oct 19

    I have been drinking your organic teas for some time. I am very pleased to read here that you do not use plastics, glues and other harmful substances in your tea bags. I have noticed however, that the packaging around each tea bag does not seem to be biodegradable in my compost. After what should be long enough and everything else has decomposed, I am left with a thin, filmy, “plastic” form of what I thought was a paper package. Can you please explain what I am finding and consider not using it in the future.. Thank you. Joan

    • Kate Chess | 18th Oct 19

      Hello Joan. While every part of our tea bag (bag, string and tag) is compostable, the envelopes are not — as you have noticed, the paper is lined with EVOH, a type of plastic. We’re always looking for more sustainable packaging solutions, but we also need to keep the tea fresh until the best-by date so that we can continue to buy tea from our farmer partners and pay them fairly. I’ll pass your comment on to the product team.

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