Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Of Tea and Trade

Every day I buy things.

Every single day. I should have a "buy nothing" day at least twice a week, just to remind me not to consume.

At the moment, I'm contemplating my tea situation. Every morning I have a cup of tea. It's my caffeine for the day and as a mother with one child waking up 3+ times a night and the other requiring active play throughout the day, things can quickly reach DefCon 5 without my morning cuppa. But I've run out, and I need to discern first if and then where to buy more.

Ponder first Do I Really Need It?

This is always the hardest one. Tea has antioxidants and contributes to cardiovascular health. (After this study by German doctors I've stopped putting milk in my tea.) So it passes the nutrition test that requires all my food to be good for me. On the other hand, it has tannins that inhibit the absorption of iron, a problem for people like me who tend to be slightly anemic. This sort of counterbalances out the nutritional benefits. When it comes down to it, though, I drink tea because I like it. It has some benefits, but I could get by without it. That makes it an Extra rather than a Need.

So in keeping with the principles of Take the Poor With You, if I decide to indulge myself (which I will) I should give to charity equal the amount I spend.

Having made the decision to buy the tea, I need to research the company I buy from and determine Is it Ethical?

A google search of "Upton Tea" and "Upton Tea Ethics" raises no red flags, and they're not on any exploitation watch lists. But a search of the company's site doesn't turn up any results for "fair trade" either. So I have to dig a bit deeper.

I discover that there are several tea plantations around the world in which workers may sit on a governing council, wages are fair, and a percentage of the profits are returned to the community for education, healthcare, housing and opportunity advancement. There's a list of tea companies that buy their tea from these plantations, and one of them is in Traverse City, Michigan, where I spend my summers. I'm always happy to support local companies and small, privately-owned businesses; even better if they're organic and fair trade.

Light of Day Organics has a nice Darjeeling. It's not exactly cheap. 4.5 oz costs $27.50, which is comparable to some of the better organic teas, but about four times the cost of the conventional loose tea I usually get from the Upton Tea Company. They estimate about 20 cups of tea in each ounce, so this tin ought to last me three months. Compare to a box of Lipton, which runs $2.90 for twenty bags, or $13.75 for a three month supply. In essence, buying the fair trade tea is the same as buying a box of Lipton and giving equal that amount to charity, except that the fair trade tea directly benefits workers in developing countries who actually picked the tea I'm drinking, and buying fair trade increases the demand for ethical products in a way that giving to charity doesn't.

Win/Win, as far as I'm concerned. If I say a prayer for the workers every morning while I drink my cuppa, I will truly be taking the poor with me.


Zina said...

Have you ever purchased from New World Tea? (They say they are located in Ann Arbor.) I am thinking about purchasing from them because I need fine tea for company when they come over.

I recognize that it is a treat. I otherwise try to be quite frugal, and so rely on my aunt to give me nice tea as a Christmas gift. Good for you for making such a thoughtful decision!

Katya said...

Just found your blog and love it!

Celestial Seasonings tea, which I love, is also fair-trade, organic, delicious, and scarcely more expensive than Lipton. I don't know how they do it, but they've apparently been doing it right under everyone's nose for thirty years! Plus, they give great coupons, and I don't think I've tasted a blend of theirs that I didn't like.

I agree, this is the kind of particular down-to-details thinking I wish more Catholics publicly engaged in and acted on together. It's just one more way of showing the world we're for real. Cheers!