Update: Making Kombucha? Organic Tea vs. Lipton

by Ann Marie Michaels on August 24, 2009

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Making Kombucha? Organic Tea vs. Lipton

Last week I posted about how to make kombucha. There was some discussion about using Lipton tea instead of only using organic tea when making kombucha. Sally Fallon-Morell, in her book, Nourishing Traditions, recommends only using organic tea. After all, kombucha is considered a health tonic. The last thing we want to do is drink pesticides. I mean, it’s not exactly anyone’s idea of healthy. Right?

I believe the advice to use Lipton came from an interview Kelly the Kitchen Kop did last year with Betsy Pryor of Laurel Farms.

I want to preface this post with the following: I have absolutely nothing against Kelly the Kitchen Kop. I LOVE Kelly’s blog. I love Kelly, too — like a sister! Of course, I don’t blame her for this incorrect information.

I sent this post to Kelly before I published, to get her reaction, which follows:

Ann Marie, you’re so sweet to check with me before posting this, and of course I don’t mind if you post it – I’m all about finding and getting out the TRUTH! Your points make good sense. While I believe that Betsy gave me information she fully believed to be true at the time (she’s really sweet and I don’t believe she’d lie), after reading your information, I’m guessing that either a person at Lipton gave her a line of bull OR she was going by outdated information. Either way, I’ll be sure to update my post with a link to this one! Thanks, Kelly

Making Kombucha: Should We Use Organic Tea Or Lipton?

Betsy advised against using organic tea when making kombucha. She said we should use plain black Lipton tea.

According to Kelly’s interview with Betsy Pryor:

Betsy recommends plain Lipton black tea (“100% Natural”) – Lipton does not use tea brokers or middlemen. (They’ve owned their own plantations for over 200 years – this is important because all green and black tea is grown outside the U.S.) She tells me that Lipton tea is never sprayed with pesticides, so it is organic without the organic label. (Although they now sell black and green tea labeled “organic”, but at the store I see they are the exact same price.) Because of how most organic or decaffeinated tea comes into the U.S., it usually isn’t really organic (50% are sprayed with pesticides at customs as a precaution), and this can cause the Kombucha to mold. (Source)

Is Lipton Tea Organic?

I was skeptical about this when I first read the interview. Specifically the bit about how Lipton tea is organic but doesn’t use the organic label. I couldn’t imagine why a multinational corporation wouldn’t use the organic label if they had the right to do so. Just using the organic label means you can charge more. Plus, Lipton sells an organic brand of tea — so why wouldn’t they just label everything organic?

I searched online but did not find anything. I didn’t have any information about Lipton and whether or not their tea is organic. Eventually I forgot about it — but I kept making my kombucha with organic tea, not Lipton.

However, the issue came up again last week when I recommended using only organic tea for kombucha. Commenters brought up the issue of Lipton vs. organic tea — wondering if Betsy Pryor’s advice was correct — or if we should be following the advice of Sally Fallon-Morell and use only organic tea.

One of my longtime readers (and now a friend), Julie D., emailed me this morning with some information about Lipton that documents that their tea is not organic.

According to the Unilever (Lipton is owned by Unilever) website:

Current best practice is mainly based on integrated farming principles, and involves appropriate use of fertilisers and pesticides to optimise yield while minimising environmental impacts.

Recent updates to Unilever’s Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines on pest management have incorporated a strategic commitment to Integrated Pest Management (IPM). (Source)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, includes “the judicious use of pesticides“. (Source)

Also, on this page of the Unilever website, you can download a PDF, a “Lipton Tea Supplier Sustainability Assessment”, which states:

“We are looking for evidence of an integrated approach to pest, disease and weed management. We want to see that the main way you manage pests and diseases is to manage the crop and farm in such a way that problems are minimized, and that pesticides are only used when necessary.

It is admirable that they are minimizing the use of pesticides. However, in my book, that ain’t organic. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want pesticides in my kombucha.

Is Organic Tea Really Organic?

I cannot speak to Betsy Pryor’s claim that organic tea is sprayed with pesticides at customs (I am quoting Kelly here):

…most organic or decaffeinated tea comes into the U.S., it usually isn’t really organic (50% are sprayed with pesticides at customs as a precaution), and this can cause the Kombucha to mold.

I find it very hard to believe that organic tea coming in to the U.S. is being sprayed with pesticides at customs “as a precaution”. I find it very implausible that the Organic Consumers Association and the Organic Trade Association would not be aware of this — and if they were aware of it, I’m sure they’d be making a big stink about it.

However, I don’t have any information on whether that is true or false. If there is anyone out there reading this who has more information, please post in the comments.

Which Tea Should We Use For Kombucha?

I have been using organic tea for my kombucha for over a year now and I have never had any problems with mold.

You can make your own decisions about what kind of tea to use when making kombucha. I’m going to follow Sally Fallon-Morell’s advice and stick with only organic tea.

Photo credit: Proggie on Flickr
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