But tea, despite its touted health benefits, is not as benign as it seems. The documentary, The Bitter Taste of Tea, exposes some of the transgressions of the tea industry. As with many other commodity crops, workers are generally hired temporarily, paid very little, and often exposed to harmful pesticides. On the environmental end of the spectrum, monocrops of tea leaves do not make for very biodiverse ecosystems, and lead to many of the problems other monocultures experience (pests, disease, etc.). For a little more detailed lifecycle analysis, visit this page.
Fair trade primarily seeks to ameliorate some of the social inequities - fair price and working conditions, community development, etc. Sustainability is one component, particularly in how it pertains to the longterm viability of tea-producing agro-ecosystems. Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade USA, and Equal Exchange, among others, are all striving toward a more equitable tea supply chain.
While there are more and more teas falling under the fair trade label, my cabinet currently houses just the Choice Tea Fair Trade Yerba Mate Mint (it's also a Seattle-based brand)! It is also one of their teas that supports the Jane Goodall Institute (my hero...), which works on chimpanzee conservation and educating and empowering local youth!
So, get some water boiling, pop a tea bag in a cup (or go for a less-wasteful loose-leaf), and enjoy a steam cup of tea! Keep your eyes peeled for future tea parties on My Munchable Musings.