Updated: Jun 16
Organic products have become really popular during the recent years. I remember eating natural food made from scratch most of my childhood and teenage years, at the time, everything seemed to be natural and therefore was also organic. However, both terms do not mean the same.
A natural product is usually found in nature, minimally processed, grown naturally, does not contain artificial flavours, hormones or antibiotics. However, they can still be grown using chemical fertilizers. They come from the nature yet there is not such a heavy regulation in place as with organic products.
An organic product however is heavily regulated within the EU. I will talk about the EU since this is the market I know the most of, however is worth noting than other countries also have their very own organic certification bodies such as USDA (USA) JAS (Japan) KRAV (Sweden.) The EU organic certification is one of the strictest available in the market. There is a large testing mechanism in place to ensure that an organic product sold as such is actually organic. Organic products aren't allowed to use GMOs, ionizing radiation, hormones, must limit the use of artificial fertilizers and restrict the use of antibiotics (they can only be used when necessary for animal health.)
Organic food producers must do crop rotation, cultivation of nitrogen fixing plants and other green manure crops to restore the fertility of the soil, cannot use mineral nitrogen fertilizers, must reduce the impact of weeds and pests, must choose resistant varieties and breeds and techniques encouraging natural pest control, encourage the natural immunological defense of animals and prevent overstocking.
But not only farmers and producers need to abide to these rules in order to trade with organic products. The whole supply chain is strictly regulated. There must be a separation of processed organic products in time and space from non-organic ones, a minimum organic content of 95% of organic agricultural ingredients and strict conditions for the remaining 5%, clear rules on labeling and on which products can and cannot use the organic logo and also specific limits to the substances which can be added to food and feed and a limited list of approved additives and processing aids to be used in organic production. Tea is considered food even though is a drink. For this reason, organic teas must also follow the strict organic regulation in place. All organic products sold within the EU, must undergo thorough checks before reaching consumers. From special tests to ensure the teas do not contain any of the banned substances to the way the organic logo can be used, the organic foods authority makes sure that organic products are safe for consumers.
When searching for organic products in the past, I have encountered a number of products claiming to be organic. However, when I checked closely, they were not using the organic produce logo, neither they had the certification code for their products in sight. It is illegal to sell products as organic without a certification number issued by one of the organic certification bodies authorized to issue such certifications within the EU. Even if a product is organic certified outside the EU, the products sold within the EU must have the EU Organic certification.
It is organic tea better than non-organic tea?
Organic teas have a different flavour profile than non-organic teas do. According to some tea producers, the flavour is milder in some organic teas, this is why is difficult to sell organic teas in the traditional way in Japan, though the tea auctions. Tea flavour, scent and colour are directly impacted by the type of fertilizer used when growing the teas. This is why organic tea farmers like to experiment with a wide variety of organic fertilizers in order to obtain organic teas with more umami flavour. From seaweed to horse manure to give an example.
Different doesn't necessarily mean bad. In fact I drink both organic and non-organic teas alike, I do enjoy their different flavour profiles and also the fact that as a consumer I have a choice. For years there was only one choice, to get what was available in the market no matter what was in it. Sometimes, many of the ingredients were hidden and we didn't know what was going into our bodies. Nowadays, I can easily choose if I want to buy organic products or not and it is up to me if I want to buy organic.
For many organic produce buyers, it is not only about the flavour but also about the strict checks and the way the products are being produced as well, by looking after the soil to ensure that stays healthy. So should I only buy organic teas?
In my eyes it all depends about everyone's personal preferences. If you as a consumer are concerned about how the teas have been cultivated, the substances that go into your body and want to have a peace of mind, definitely organic teas are the right choice for you. My advice on this topic is to ensure those teas are really organic by checking the EU approved organic logo and also the organic code issued by an authorized certification body. If they are not available, demand the seller claiming to sell organic products to show a valid organic code to you. As a consumer you have the right to know if what you are buying is what they say it is.
Nowadays there are many organic teas available to choose between, some of them have really good taste. Since the teas are organic, this means that the flavour profile might vary from one batch to the next. Some consumers complain about this since they prefer to always get the same flavour profile for their teas. Specially in Japan where customers pay a lot of attention to this sort of things. Unfortunately, there is no way to control this since the teas produced each year vary in flavour. I don't think this is bad, in fact it makes the teas more enjoyable for me.
Many tea farms choose to continue using conventional farming due to the high costs involved in converting a conventional farm into an organic one. First of all, the soil must be free of chemicals for three years before getting the certification. Products produced during the conversion period cannot be sold as organic. All seeds must be organic and plants might yield less product that cannot be sold as premium. All and all is a lot of hassle for the conventional agriculture farmer to move into organic farming.
The EU is looking into making things easier for farmers to encourage them to convert their fields into organic due to the amount of work and investment currently involved. By 2021, new measures will be introduced aiming to implement stricter controls while easing the process for conventional farmers. What do you think about this? Do you prefer organic or non-organic teas? Share your thoughts with us!