Hate to break it to coffee lovers, but do you know that tea is the world’s most consumed beverage? Not including water of course, tea, in all its varieties, is now more popular than ever.
Tea USA estimates that more than half of the US population drink tea every day. That’s over 159 million each day!
So it’s only right to ask, is tea vegan?
Are you ready for this? Not all teas are vegan! If you’re still yet to notice, it’s hard to trust food (and drinks!) these days, thanks to food processing! Well, no thanks, really!
How Are Teas Made?
Commercial tea production comes in many ways, but they all come from a single plant: the camellia sinensis. This plant’s leaves are what gives tea its flavor. You might think that there will be different plants for each tea flavor. It only makes sense, right? But would you believe that all tea flavors came from just this one plant?
All teas, black, white, or green, come from the popular evergreen shrub. Their manufacturing process just varies to create a different color and flavor.
There are many different ways to produce tea from the plant’s leaves, but these 2 are the most common methods:
Production methods may also exclude or modify some of the steps above to create different flavors. These variations work by altering one or more of these factors that affect the end product’s flavor and color:
- Ripeness level of the leaves
- Amount of oxidation
- Wholeness of the leaves
- Heating method
- Brewing technique
- Degree of withering
Locations and seasons, on the other hand, can make or break the quality of tea. Most of the tea products with the highest quality are grown in tropical climates.
Now you know how tea can come in so many different flavors!
Main Types Of Tea
These are the base types where dozens of tea flavors are made from:
Adding infusions for aroma and flavor in any of these base types create more variety. Some of the most popular flavors are jasmine tea (jasmine blossoms), earl grey (bergamot), and mint tea (mint leaves). Teas with flavor usually have black, green, or white tea as the base.
Ice tea (or iced tea) is perhaps the most popular of all. It is made by extracting the tea leaves to get soluble tea solids and adding flavors. It can also be made by steeping tea leaves in lower temperature.
Have you seen the milk tea craze yet? It seems to have taken the world by storm, especially Asian regions. Milk tea has also given rise to dozens of new tea flavors, all with cream or milk in it. I’ve honestly lost count already. There’s just too many!
The term tea has also been associated with any beverages that require a bag for steeping. For example, herbal teas which come from other plant species like hibiscus tea, chamomile tea, etc. However, any infusions like these that do not use tea leaves are technically called tisane and NOT tea.
Ethical Issues In The Tea Industry: Is Tea Vegan?
For vegans, it’s not just the addition of animal products that can make food non-vegan. The practices that surround its production and use also matter. Taking that into consideration, what are the things (or practices) that can make tea NOT vegan?
Plain tea, coming from leaves, before all the flavors and infusions, is naturally vegan. However, there many things that can make tea non-vegan:
1. Silk tea bags
Although silk is known as a luxury material for fabrics, it also has many uses in food and medicine. You also probably know already that they come from silkworms. But do you know that you also have to kill at least 6000 silkworms just to make 1 kilogram of silk?
For tea connoisseurs, using silk in tea bags (or sachets) instead of paper filters is often preferable. This is because many believe that paper tea bags can leave a “papery” taste that spoils the tea’s real flavor.
Silk, on the other hand, is said to have a neutral taste. Its larger holes also releases more flavor from the tea leaves inside. This may vary, however, as there are fine mesh tea bags that also make brewing difficult.
Luxury tea brands usually opt for silk for these reasons. However, there are also “fake silks”, which are actually just made of nylon and plastic fibers.
Most paper tea bags also have an amount of plastic and chemicals in them. This is either a seal or coating to make them stronger in water and not tear easily. The problem is some of these chemicals can leach into your tea especially when you use hot water.
A good alternative? The good ol’ gauze, which is what tea bags were made of a long time ago. Or better yet, choose loose tea leaves! No need for sketchy tea bags that often take a lifetime to decompose. Plus you get fresh flavors, and much less waste!
2. Food color
Yes, some manufacturers do use food color! Food processing, especially mass production, can often damage tea leaves, making it inferior in quality. So to improve its appearance, many producers consider adding colors back.
The use of food color in tea is actually a cause of concern, since it may include toxic chemicals. The most common ones are black lead, Bismark brown, Prussian blue, indigo, and turmeric yellow. These are mostly non-animal products, but can be dangerous to health.
Red food color may also be found in ice tea, especially red tea varieties and teas with red fruit flavor. Common examples are berries and pomegranate which may contain red food color from insects.
Food color from insects is often disguised as “natural red food color” which you may see in ingredients. This food dye also specifically goes by the names cochineal, natural red 4, carmine, carminic acid, or E120.
3. Wax in tea bag strings
Back to tea bags! Some manufacturers may also treat tea bag strings with wax to make them waterproof. This makes the string more durable and also prevents it from absorbing water.
Not all brands do this of course, but those that do may use waxes from animal products. The most common ones are beeswax and shellac, which are both from insects.
4. Flavors with animal products
A lot of the flavors that you (or the manufacturer) can add to tea are animal products. The most popular? Milk and honey! There’s also vanilla and other dairy creamers. These aren’t the only ones though. There are vegan-sounding tea flavors that hide some animal product in it.
There are also lots of tea flavors that contain “natural flavors” in its ingredients. This may or may not contain animal products but these specific details are often left out. You can either contact the manufacturer directly about it, or just find an alternative.
Other tea ingredients to avoid: gelatin, lactose, sodium caseinate, casein, dyes.
There are also flavors that seem even when you look at its ingredients, but turns out non-vegan for some reason. Check the brand lists below for example.
5. Animal testing
Surprise, surprise! Animal testing is not just for cosmetics, medicines, and the likes. Food testing can be done on animals too! Have you ever heard of all the health claims about tea? Guess how those “benefits” came to be? By animal testing!
To do this, scientists will first have to give animals (mice, rabbits, piglets) different kinds of diseases. Intentionally, of course. Afterwards, they will be given tea to find out what “good” it can do over time. When done, the animals will be cut open to look for any “positive” changes.
All that and more just to say tea is good for us. Well it may be good for humans, but I can’t say the same for animals whose lives have to be on the line unnecessarily.
Many popular brands are known to have done this in the past. Thanks to animal welfare protests, some of them actually made a change. However, you can only wish that everyone will follow suit, because some companies still continue the practice. So as much as possible, look for cruelty-free tea brands.
1. Is green tea vegan?
Plain green tea is vegan. However, watch out for green tea variants that contain additional flavors. For example, Twinings’ Green Tea with Coconut and Mango is not vegan, although its ingredients look okay.
2. Is Earl Grey tea vegan?
Yes. Early grey is a mild black tea with bergamot flavor. Bergamot is a flavor from a citrus fruit, which makes Earl Grey vegan. Again, just watch out for additional flavors and ingredients that may contain animal products, especially food colors and dyes.
3. Is Twinings tea vegan?
Not all of them. The good news is, Twinings has made it easy for vegans with their own Vegan Teas & Infusion Shop. Also check out the exceptions in the brand list below.
4. Is Teavana tea vegan?
Teavana is known for their wide range of flavors. However, these flavors are from “natural flavors”, artificial flavors, or both. Currently, no information is available to give us vegans a green light on their products.
To make sure, I sent a message to Teavana to verify this. However, after days of waiting and following up, the answer seems to be elusive.
This is probably because Starbucks has chosen to close down the brand’s stores back in 2017. I will post an update if they ever give an answer.
5. Is Pure Leaf tea vegan?
After an inquiry I made with Pure Leaf about their tea products being vegan or not, this was their answer:
“While there are no FDA established standards or legal definition for the term vegan, we can confirm that there are no animal by-products in our Pure Leaf products.”
6. Is Celestial Seasonings tea vegan?
Celestial Seasonings’ tea varieties contain “natural flavors”. Since their website did not provide enough information about this, I of course had to sent out another email to ask. Here’s what they said:
“Besides honey in the natural flavors of several of our teas (see below), we don’t use animal ingredients. Teas containing honey are: Sleepytime Honey, Honey Vanilla Chamomile, and Honey Lemon Ginseng.”
7. Is Bigelow tea vegan?
Not all Bigelow Teas are vegan. Some of the flavors in their products contain butter esters. However, they have a handy guide on their website for their non-vegan products. Check the table of brands below as well.
8. Is Yogi Tea vegan?
Yes! Yogi Tea is one of the few brands with an all-vegan range. However, some of their products contain barley malt, although no more than 20 mg/liter. While this makes it fall under the gluten-free category, those with higher gluten sensitivity may want to check labels first.
9. Is Gold Peak tea vegan?
The brand Gold Peak is under the giant company Coca-Cola. As I didn’t find enough information on the web about their tea products, I sent an inquiry too. Here are the details from their answer:
Some of their beverages (everything under Coca-Cola), contain animal products. Specifically, these are:
- Vitamin D3 from lanolin (sheep)
- Gelatin (from pig skin, which some of their suppliers use to clarify grape juice)
So for any tea products under Coca-Cola, just watch out for these ingredients.
10. Is Lipton ice tea vegan?
Lipton, through Unilever, has a history of testing their tea products on animals. Many websites would say their products are vegan, but I can’t find a reliable source to support it.
So I sent an inquiry via email (for both hot and ice tea) and this was the answer from one of their :
“Fresh brew leaf teas are completely plant-based product, and herbal and flavored teas are naturally vegan friendly as well. And there is no animal testing.”
However, i think the term “naturally vegan” is used a bit loosely here since it also mentions “flavored” teas. Teas with flavor aren’t always naturally vegan. I’d say go for the plain tea flavors instead, if it’s Lipton. Check the label too!
11. Is Peace Tea vegan?
Peace Tea is another tea brand from Coca-Cola. Please refer to number 9.
12. Is Fuze tea vegan?
Fuze tea is also a Coca-Cola brand. Please see the answer in number 9.
13. Is PG Tips vegan?
One of Unilever’s brands, PG Tips is a popular tea brand in the UK. Their website contains little information too so I went on to ask them and this was their reply:
“All our teas are suitable for vegans but our New PG tips Perfect with Dairy Free is blended to perfectly complement dairy free alternatives – giving more people a great tasting cuppa!”
A lot of brands, especially the big ones, don’t seem to bother about much product details on their website. Are they hiding something?
Consumers deserve to know what goes in any food product they want to buy. It should be easy to add an FAQ section on a website that’s been running for years, right?
This only means:
(1) They’re not sure what their products exactly contain (common when there are 3rd party suppliers).
(2) They just don’t care about such details, meaning they don’t care if they’re selling something with questionable ingredients.
Oh well, good thing there are now far better brands who do care.
Best Vegan Tea Brands
This list only includes all-vegan brands, which means all their varieties and flavors are totally vegan-friendly!
I found that a lot of vegan blogs have made quite a long list of vegan teas. However, in most of the brands’ websites, I cannot find anything that says vegan. Most of the blogs also do not contain links to verify it.
So for this list I only have brands who have clearly said in their website that they are vegan. You’ll be glad to see for yourself in their FAQs!
Popular Tea Brands And Their Vegan & Non-Vegan Varieties
Still have your hopes high for your favorite popular brands? Go on and check this list (at your own risk)!
Is your favorite brand not on this list? That means they did not publish any information, unfortunately. Also, they may not be popular on the web yet. Don’t worry though! Take a look at the ingredients on your favorite tea, and look at the guide below.
How To Choose Vegan Tea
It’s easy to just stick to a few vegan brands or just choose basic tea variants. But the reality is that’s easier said than done. Sometimes, availability can be a tough issue. So here are some points to help you find a vegan tea in that overwhelming grocery aisle!
Common Animal Product Ingredients In Tea To Watch Out For
- milk derivatives (casein, caseinate)
- cochineal, natural red food color, natural red 4, carmine, carminic acid, or E120 (all from insect shells)
- dyes (not all)
- refined sugar that may contain traces of bone char
- flavors with honey, milk, chai, latte, caramel
- flavored teas with vague ingredients
- teas with red color (including fruit teas, unless they have a vegan label)
- natural flavors with no specific details (unless the brand or label is vegan)
- loose leaf, organic if possible
- cruelty-free brands (no animal testing)
- flavors with straightforward, vegan ingredients
Vegan Milk Alternatives (for milk tea):
- almond milk
- coconut milk
- oat milk
- soy milk
- hazelnut milk
- any other plant milk
Tea leaves are naturally vegan. However, there are tea bags and flavors that contain animal products.
Many companies are also known to practice animal testing. To make sure you only sip on vegan teas, choose loose leaf tea and make sure the brand is cruelty-free.
Are you a tea-loving vegan? What tea flavors and brands do you avoid? Let me know on the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform.