How do buy/store your tea?

by Catherine Haug, April 24, 2013

Tea is a very popular beverage, as it is believed to be more healthful and less caffeinated than coffee. But while that topic is debatable, how your tea is packaged and stored can make a huge difference in its healthfulness. 

Modern packaging for tea

Tea bags

  • Synthetic bags may be in the form of nylon, thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene. When the bag is heated, these plastics may leach BPA/BPS or other toxins into your ‘healthful’ tea.
  • Paper bags are often treated with chemicals such as epichlorophydrin. which, when heated, break down into toxins that leach into your tea. (1,2,3)
  • Cotton bags may be made from GMO cotton and treated with toxic chemicals (pesticides, herbicides).

Loose or bulk tea

  • ‘Loose’ tea (not in bags) is typically packaged in a plastic or a chemically-treated paper container and then encased in a box that may also be treated with chemicals. This exposure to plastic or other treatments could contaminate the tea whose resinous oils would attract the toxins in the packaging.

Do you want to risk exposure to packaging that could be carcinogenic or pose other health risks? If you are concerned about the environment, are you aware that the manufacture of these chemicals poses issues with contamination of air, water and soil? Or that these chemicals are made from precious petroleum?

Are there better options?

Before the advent of plastics and synthetic chemicals:

  • Loose tea sold in tins posed some risk of lead poisoning from the solder at the seam. You can still buy bulk tea in tins, but now the inside is coated with BPA or similar toxic chemicals to protect the contents from lead.
  • Loose tea sold in paper containers coated with beeswax was a more healthful option, but the tea may not have remained as fresh as that in tins, because these containers were not air-tight.
  • Tea bags were either made of natural cotton (GMOs and chemical herbicides/pesticides hadn’t yet been invented), or of paper. Then the bags were encased in beeswas-coated paper for freshness, and sold in tins or paper boxes.

Some of those old-tyme options are still available today, although you really have to hunt for them. More readily available options include:

  • Loose or bulk teas kept in glass jars. In my opinion, this is your best and most healthful option. Measure out the desired amount of loose tea into your own glass container for home storage. When ready to make tea, use a stainless steel mesh holder, or tie a bit of Organic cotton cheesecloth around the loose tea to use as a bag. Or make it the old-fashioned way with an infuser, which doesn’t involve a bag.
  • Bagged tea whose bags are made from certified epichlorophydrin-free paper, and are not made of any synthetic or plastic substance.

Making tea

How to brew tea

I don’t drink a lot of tea and so cannot give a quality answer. However, here are a few sites with instructions and advice on brewing tea:

If you make a large pot of tea, after brewing, keep your post warm with a hand-quilted cozy filled with organic cotton or wool batt.

Proper disposal of used tea

After brewing your tea, if it is in a toxic bag, dump out the tea leaves onto your compost pile, where the microorganisms will break down most if not all the toxins. And put the bag in a container destined for toxics recycling. See (5) for more info about toxics recycling in our area.

If the bag is not toxic, you can put the whole thing on your compost pile. Loose tea should also be added to your compost pile.


  1. The Atlantic April 8, 2013
  2., NIOSH Epichlorohydrin
  3. Mercola: Tea Bags
  4. The Perfect Cup
  5. Brewing Tea

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