Where Is Tea Grown and How to Minimize the Carbon Footprint on Your Tea Drinking

Are you a passionate tea drinker? And do you care about the environment as well? You might not know everything about this habit of yours, but get ready to find out some facts about where is tea grown and what you can do to reduce your tea drinking carbon footprint.

Tea is usually divided in four main types: black tea, green tea, oolong tea (pronounced wu-long) and white tea. More varieties could be included, such as scented, flavored, scented and “herbal infusions,” but we won’t focus on them in today’s article. What may surprise you is that these four types of tea come from one single plant, not four different species.

All tea starts as the plant called Camellia sinensis. The different teas, tastes, colors, and scents are the result of the way the teal leaves are processed. In this respect, tea is much like wine, depending on the atmosphere in which it’s grown. Tea plants usually thrive in acidic soils and areas with heavy rainfall (around 40 inches per year). However, they can also grow in regions up to 1.3 miles above sea level.

Tea plantation at Cameron Highlands, Malaysia


Where Is Tea Grown?

The largest productions of tea are in Africa, Asia, and South America. Some plantations may also be found around the Black and Caspian Seas. However, the bulk of the tea industry occurs in four tea-producing countries: China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Together, these massive sources represent around 75 percent of the world production.

Before the beginning of the 20th century, tea production was highly concentrated in Asia. However, thanks to the increasing global demand, tea fever has spread to various other regions, including Africa and America. These regions now cultivate their own tea, which remains the second most drank beverage in the world, after water. As a result, more than 40 countries produce tea today.

Consequently, it only makes sense that these countries are also the largest tea exporters on the planet. Japan is the exception, though; in spite of being a major tea producer, the islandic country exports very little. Most of the local production is consumed internally, given the high level of tea consumption within the country. By contrast, Sri Lanka exports a far greater percentage of tea than Japan.

Today tea has spread around the globe. More than 40 countries – starting with Azerbaijan and all the way to Australia – produce their own tea. Despite the great demand, only a few nations produce tea mainly for export. Those are China, India, Kenya, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. As far as major importers go, we must mention the Russians, English, Pakistani, Americans, and the Japanese.

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Tea Drinking & Carbon Footprint

If you’re a conscious citizen and a tea lover, you’ve probably wondered about tea’s impact on the environment. Firstly, the carbon footprint largely depends on the tea drinker’s behavior. Therefore, tea’s carbon footprint – measured by the number of grams of carbon dioxide per cup –varies from more than 200g CO2 per cup to -6g CO2 per cup. Factors that sway the measurements include how the tea is grown, processed, packaged, shipped, brewed, and discarded.

If you drink four cups of black tea each day, your tea drinking carbon footprint works out as 30kg of CO2e each year. That’s similar to taking a 40-mile drive in an average-consuming car. Estimates say drinking a loose tea at a tea lounge means around 20g CO2 per cup. For comparison, think of the carbon footprint of other beverages:

  • a cup of beer – 374g
  • a can of Coca Cola – 129g
  • a cup of cow’s milk – 225g.

Therefore, drinking loose tea is a far better choice – eco-wise – than any of the ones above.

how to make your own tea bag


How to Reduce Tea Drinking Carbon Footprint

1. Choose loose tea instead of teabag

When measuring the carbon footprint of your tea drinking habit, the selection of tea makes all the difference. According to experts, teabag tea is, in fact, 10 times harsher on the environment than loose tea (when all other variables are equal). Reversely, loose tea has just one tenth the carbon footprint of teabag tea. Why is this the case? Loose tea doesn’t require so many carbon-intensive packaging materials (nylon or paper, string, the box and the plastic wrap around the box). And many say loose tea tastes better than teabags, anyway!

2. Don’t boil too much water

Of course, boiling water is the other major part of the picture. Most people boil more than they need, which means they’re easily adding 20g to the carbon footprint of each cup of tea. Any excess water means wasted money, time, and carbon. If you’re not sure yet of the perfect kettle-filling judgement, we recommend using a mug to measure the water into the kettle.

How you boil the water can also influence the carbon footprint. Using an old-fashioned stove-top kettle on the appropriate gas hob is the least expensive and most carbon-efficient method. It’s greener than using an energy-powered tool because our distribution systems make electricity a rather wasteful and high-carbon way of producing heat.

3. Reuse & Recycle

Evidently, re-using tea and recycling it can also help improve its carbon footprint. Loose tea, for example, comes in minimal, re-usable containers. Why not use the packaging for other purposes before discarding it in the recycling bin? Mother Earth will also thank you for composting tea instead of throwing it in the trash. If you don’t have a garden to use the compost, your gardening neighbors or friends will be more than happy to take your used tea leaves.

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Meanwhile, the tea drinker can also re-use tealeaves. One of the best uses of steeped tealeaves is fertilizer for backyard gardens or houseplants. They’re also terrific for cleaning the house and for natural skincare. Tea leaves can also reduce odors in the home or in the fridge. Simply leave them out in a bowl or cup, like you would do with baking soda.

What is your favorite fact about tea? Do you employ any of these tips to reduce your tea drinking carbon footprint? Let us know in the comments below! 

Header Image: Crane Medicine

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Pablo Rodriguez

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