Sense and Sensibility...and SustainabiliTEA! Understanding Tea’s Carbon footprint to reduce it.


  • 01 June 2020

 

Tea - the world’s oldest beverage is not only the world’s most widely consumed beverage (after water), but also has one of the lowest carbon footprint amongst other popular beverage like coffee, cocoa and colas.

 

As the world faces a daunting challenge to feed an ever-growing population, our scarce natural resources are being put under tremendous stress. With over 25,000 cups of tea consumed every second, understanding tea’s carbon-footprint will enable us in becoming more sensitive and sensible, as we realize how simple steps in making daily cups of tea can reduce our personal carbon footprints for a more sustainable planet.   

 

Understanding Tea’s CO2e Footprint

Generally speaking, tea has significantly lower CO2 emissions (CO2e) than other beverages like coffee or cocoa or cola. Experts in the field have estimated tea to have a CO2e of between 20g to 200g, depending how you drink your tea, how you prepare your tea and how your tea is produced and packed. Compare this to around 130g CO2e for a can of sweetened cola, 230g for a cup of milk and almost 240g for a pint of beer. Coffee, on the other hand, has between 130g to 340g  of CO2 (milk coffee to a tall latte).


Tea’s CO2e footprint is lowest at around 20g when :

 

  1. Black Loose leaf tea is used

  2. Exact amount of water is boiled

  3. Water is boiled on a gas hob

  4. Tea is consumed without milk or sugar 

 

However, the footprint increases to around 50-55g when tea is White Tea, and goes up to 70g if the boiled water is double than what is used. The big rise in tea’s CO2e footprint comes from the use of cow milk, which has a higher CO2e footprint. A typical cup of milky black tea in a mug would have a CO2e footprint of around 90g.

 
When tea is prepared using the ubiquitous tea-bag, there is at least an 8-10 time jump in the CO2e footprint. While loose black tea has for 20g footprint, a black tea bag can have as much as 160-200g carbon emission. Needless to say, the extra C02e comes from the extensive use of packaging and packing materials, as well as the extra energy to run the tea-bagging machines.

 

The Impact

While a 20g CO2e carbon footprint per cup might seem negligible, it is when we start annualizing our total consumption and comparing the CO2e footprint with other activities that we start to get a clearer perspective of the impact.


Here is a quick guide :

 

Two or more cups black tea consumed daily and prepared by boiling the exact amount of water will generate an annual CO2e footprint of around 30kg. This is equivalent to driving a regular petrol car for about 80 miles, or heating an average home in the UK for about four days. Compare this to having two or more cups of coffee every day, and your annual carbon-footprint goes up to 311kg! That is equivalent to driving a regular petrol car around 800 miles, or heating an average UK home for 49 days.


You can find out more about how your daily food consumption affects your annual carbon-footprint at Climate change food calculator: What's your diet's carbon footprint?

 

Reducing Your Tea’s CO2e Footprint

 

Reducing your tea’s CO2e footprint is actually much easier than generally believed. This is because a large portion of tea’s CO2e footprint comes from how tea is prepared rather than how the tea leaves are processed. In fact, processing tea leaves only accounts for about 15% of CO2e footprint, while 65%-75% comes from preparation, of which, boiling water is the most prominent.

 

So, being more sensitive and sensible while brewing your cup of tea can go a long way in reducing your tea’s CO2e footprint. Here are some simple steps :

 

  1. Use loose-leaf over tea bags - remember a tea-bag has between 8-10 times higher CO2e footprint

  2. Boil exactly the amount of water you need  - boiling extra water than needed greatly increases the CO2e – and which is all wasted!

  3. Boil over a gas stove instead of an electric kettle - electricity is produced from high-carbon resources and its distribution also entails power-station and transmission – all of which make electricity a high CO2e footprint source for boiling water for tea.

  4. Reduce the amount of milk you add to your tea

  5. Choose sustainable tea brands that are Climate Neutral

 

While the CO2e footprint from cultivation, harvesting, processing and transportation of the tea you buy is not in your hands, what you can do as a responsible global citizen is make your cup of tea more smartly. Also, by preferring responsible tea brands that are committed to the planet ensures your own commitment to the planet.

To read more about how Climate change can affect your cup of tea as well, read our Editor's blog here.

 

Sustainable tea brands, like Vahdam,can easily be identified on the shelf as their packs will prominently display certification labels like Climate Neutral certified and Plastic Neutral certified. When you choose these packs, you are assured that these brands are helping green projects like renewable energy as well as ethical disposal of plastic and reduction of plastics.

 

Tea is one of mother nature’s most precious gifts. We can show true appreciation and respect for it when we become more aware of how small, simple steps can help reduce the CO2e emissions. Every tiny bit helps, every small effort counts – after all, we drink 25,000 cups of tea each second!

 

About the Author :

Ketan Desai | Chief Educator |  ketan@vahdamteas.com

  

Ketan Desai is the Chief Educator at VAHDAM Teas. After a brief stint with the family tea business, Ketan went on to work with some of the top tea planters, tasters, blenders and marketers across India, Sri Lanka, Russia and the CIS countries, the UK, Bangladesh, Indonesia  and Africa. 

A seasoned tea-taster and a passionate raconteur, Ketan conducts tea workshops and events, regaling participants with amusing stories while explaining the finer nuances of tea during live tasting sessions.

At VAHDAM Teas, Ketan spearheads content and community initiatives. He leads TEAch Me, VAHDAM’s social initiative focused on education of children at tea estates.

Ketan's favourite tea is Darjeeling First Flush, which he prefers to have without milk or sugar. He can be contacted at @ketdes on twitter or at ketan@vahdamteas.com