Small Farms & Organic Tea Farming

small farms and organic tea farming

Small Farms Rule

In Pursuit of Tea directly sources looseleaf tea from small farms, not only because we want to support traditional farmers, but because their teas taste better. Large estate teas are often blends of machine-harvested and -processed leaves with a wide range of grades; in the cup, tea will taste only as good as its weakest component. When modern technology is introduced to tea-making, it generally serves to increase efficiency at the expense of flavor.

Small farm teas, on the other hand, are carefully tended, with leaves handpicked and then crafted with great care and pride. Traditional tea producers, utilizing centuries-old techniques passed down by their ancestors, are devoted to the quality of their product.

In many areas of Asia, economic pressures are intense for small tea farmers. Traditional agriculture is a rapidly shifting industry, as younger generations depart for alternative employment in urban centers, and farmers are faced with increased effort and expense for processing. Combined with the trend of higher commercial yields, the ever-lowering prices for looseleaf tea can lead to an unsustainable business. At times, farmers may even have to leave tea to wilt on the bush when there's not enough people to pick the leaves. When you purchase tea from us, you are helping to directly support threatened tea farming traditions, and to provide a fair price for an artisanal agricultural product.

What's Up With Organic Tea?

We are very concerned about the increased use of dangerous chemical pesticides and fertilizers that are used to grow tea throughout the world.

Organic Agriculture and Tea Processing

These days it's easy to find organically grown produce. At local farmers' markets, where organic farming is often the norm, the direct interaction with farmers presents an opportunity to talk to producers and understand how our food is grown, and to ask any questions directly to the people growing it.

Shopping for organic tea is more complicated, because unlike the fruits and vegetables sold at farmers' markets, tea must undergo significant processing after harvest. These factors are independent of each other; not every organic farm makes great tea, and plenty of great tea isn't made organically. 

Our mission is to find amazing traditional teas from small farms and share them with you. While we always want tea that's grown organically, we also want to have the tea processed well. We've found that many tea brands sold as organic use this designation primarily to market and sell the tea. In other words, consumers are increasingly seeking organic tea, and the growers respond by producing a high volume but low quality organic crop. Flavor and fragrance are not significant considerations.

When possible, we source organically grown and masterfully made tea, though it's important to recognize that organic and conventional agriculture are not black and white categories, but two ends of a diverse and complex spectrum.

The Cost of Organic Tea 

The price and process for organic certification is financially impossible for many of the small producers that we work with. This is not a one-time cost, either; farms must apply to be certified as often as every year. That's why both spending time with the farmers at origin and spot testing the teas is our strategy. Testing everything we source is cost prohibitive, so we spot test if there is any uncertainty about the purity of the tea.

Some of our teas do have organic certification, but as our warehouse is not an organic-certified facility, we do not label them as such. We rely on our close relationships with the farmers that we source from, and spend time with them on their farms and in their homes. We choose to work with producers who care for the land, their families and workers, and their tea plants. In addition, the methods for making traditional tea are hundreds to thousands of years old, so by nature these agricultural practices are already in line with the modern concept of organic.

We've gathered all of our organically grown teas for you to explore. Due to unique agricultural pressures, some producers of these teas do rely on occasional conventional pest deterrents and fertilizers, despite a mostly organic farming regimen. Others exceed the standards for organic farming, but cannot afford to be annually certified. All of them are superb examples of traditional production. The taste is incomparable.