Time for a cuppa with eco-kind teabags

While some of us prefer a good leaf tea, there’s no denying the convenience of a tea bag, and most of the six cups a day we drink in Ireland are from bags.

As well as test tasting, we looked at how committed tea producers were to eliminating plastics or other non-biodegradable sealants from their bags. If paper bags are sealed with plastic glue, they are not recyclable or compostable. This goes for plastic tea bags too, so check the labels.

If producers don’t say it on the box, it’s more than likely the plastic has not been removed (you can at least empty the contents of the bags into your compost heap or around your plants).

It’s a large investment for blenders and some have invested heavily to do what is right for the environment and for us. We don’t even need the possibility of plastic leaching into our favorite cuppa. Some of those who did not make the Top 8 due to poor flavor had no mention of sustainability or forest protection.

Tea is a delicate product, the best tea leaves found at the tops of trees, handpicked by laborers who need protection from meagre wages and poor working conditions. Responsible blenders say their farms are well managed and visit them frequently to check up on them.

Barry’s Tea Master Blend 250g 80 bags €4.29

With teas from certified Rainforest Alliance farms in Rwanda, Kenya and the Assam valley of India, this tea ticks all the boxes, as do all the teas (even the decaf) in this Cork family-owned company. The Gold Blend (€3.60) was just as popular with tasters, but the connoisseurs favored this by a whisker for the full, rounded, clear-tasting, multi-layered flavors. The teabags are fully biodegradable.

Score: 10

Aldi McGraths Fairtrade Reserve 250g 80 bags €1.39

In biodegradable bags and with the Fairtrade logo, Kenyan tea is packed in Ireland. Most were impressed with this nicely rounded, full-flavoured, well-balanced tea. Strong tea drinkers didn’t favor it as much as those who wanted a refreshing drink. Good price.

Score: 8

M&S Fairtrade Assam 50 teabags €2.90

We liked this Assam tea even more than the Luxury Gold, for its clarity, rich flavor and interesting nuances, The bags are made from polylactic acid (PLA), bio-sourced plastic made from corn or sugar cane. After some science is applied it becomes a fiber that is biodegradable and compostable.

Score: 9

Thompson’s Signature Blend 80 bags €4

This Northern Ireland 120-year-old family company has a number of offerings. Tasters particularly liked this smooth, mild-flavoured, easy-drinking tea. In October the company will roll out corn-based adhesives for its new tea bag paper which will be completely compostable.

Score: 8

Bewleys Gold Blend 160 bags €5.89

Established in 1840 in Dublin, this company is moving with the times, using heat sealable biodegradable raw materials (wood and cellulose fibers). A used tea bag is over 99.5% biodegradable. There was a bit too much of an edge for some black tea drinkers, yet what the strong tea drinkers who add milk expected of their morning tea.

Score: 8

Lyons Original Blend 80 bags €3.69

In biodegradable tea bags, commendably there is no plastic in the box either. Rainforest Alliance certified. Originally a Dublin company, since 1996 it is owned by Unilever. Smooth and easy drinking, not exciting flavors but that only mattered to a few tasters.

Score: 8.5

Robert Roberts Luxury Gold Kenyan Tea 80 bags €4.09

Deep, round flavors with an edge of bitterness on the finish made for a strong tea and tasters liked it. Rainforest Alliance certified, bags are packed in Britain for Valeo Foods, owned by Dublin-based multinational Bain Capital.

Score: 8.5

Twinings English Breakfast 100 bags €7.95

A blend of tea from Sri Lanka, Assam and Africa, tasters liked the clear flavors and finished their cupfuls with and without milk. Not yet compostable but plans to be so by 2025.

Score: 8.5

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