Behind the Ratings: Tea

We’ve shared the details behind our coffee ratings, and it’s only fair that we do the same for the tea ratings. In January, we published ratings for over 1600 teas. While the ratings approach is similar to that of coffee, there are some distinct differences.

The environmental component of the tea rating is 50% product level data and 50% company level data. Two factors contribute to the product level data:

1. Product type. Teas are sold in four forms, as capsules, bags, flowering, and loose. Heating water is the primary energy input when making a cup of tea (flavor extraction isn’t as big a deal as it is with coffee). Assuming that a full tea kettle’s worth of water is boiled to prepare your tea, machine capsule teas have the lowest impact out of these four forms.

2. Certifications. As with coffee, tea products were evaluated by whether or not they carried one of six certifications (Fair Trade, Organic, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ). Certifications haven’t permeated the tea market as strongly as the coffee market; we found only Fair Trade and Organic products on shelves.

Just like the environmental score, the social score is built equally from product level data and company level data. Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ were the certifications used to distinguish products that have better social performance. Again, only Fair Trade is visible in the current ratings as the other certifications have yet to appear on tea products.

Whether you drink tea or use it to infuse flavor in your dessert, soup or salmon, check out GoodGuide’s ratings to guide your next tea purchase.

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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5 Responses to Behind the Ratings: Tea

  1. Julien says:


    Very interesting article and important results; I’ll definitely take it into account next time I’ll buy tea.
    However, I’ve a question concerning your statement: “machine capsule teas have the lowest impact out of these four forms.”
    It seems strange to me. Can you tell us more about it?

    • Sheila Viswanathan says:

      Thanks for your comment, Julien. Machine capsule teas have the lowest impact when compared with the other tea types because you typically heat less water (the machine heats just what you need for one cup). Heating water is the most energy-intensive aspect of brewing tea.

      • Julien says:

        Thanks for the clarification, so if I understand correctly, heating just the right amount of water (using a cup machine) compensates for the energy spent producing and recycling the plastic/metal of the machine capsule ?
        Going a bit further, the most energy efficient would then be to use tea bags with a cup machine (using the cup machine to boil water and pouring the water on the bag).
        That’s really interesting, and I’ve to admit I find it a bit strange to believe, as I try to reduce my energy impact, can you direct me with articles that talk about it?

      • Sheila Viswanathan says:

        Not a problem. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that heating less water compensates for the machine capsule packaging, but rather that heating water for the machine capsule requires less energy than heating water for a tea bag/loose tea/flowering tea. The studies we looked at assume that the average person prepares this type of beverage by heating more water than necessary. Using the machine (or microwave) to heat only the water needed would be best, then you could use a tea bag rather than the a machine capsules to minimize packaging. Since that’s not standard practice, it isn’t reflected in our ratings. Unlike coffee ratings, the tea ratings don’t factor in packaging as there is a wide array of packaging types that don’t fall into distinct categories. Below is a reference to one of the studies we looked at that’ll give you more information.

        Sebastien Humbert, Yves Loerincik, Vincent Rossi, Manuele Margni, Olivier Jolliet. Life Cycle Assessment of Spray Dried Soluble Coffee and Comparison With Alternatives (Drip Filter and Capsule Espresso). Journal of Cleaner Production, 17 (2009). 1351–1358.

      • Julien says:

        Thanks, that’s very informative.
        My only fear was that by just saying machine cups are more efficient (to heat the water), people (like me) might think it’s more environment friendly to buy a machine to brew tea rather than using loose leaves, which is apparently a wrong statement (as more than heating the water should be taken into account).
        Thanks for the link too.

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