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Seth Goldman

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Organic Tea Expert

Here, Honest Tea's TeaEO Seth Goldman explains the differences between organic, Fair Trade™, and conventionally grown tea and offers tips on how to make your next cup of tea a delicious one.

Seth GoldmanQ: What are the key differences between organic tea and its conventionally grown counterpart?

A: Tea leaves are never rinsed after they are picked, so if any chemical pesticides or fertilizers are spread on the leaves, the toxins stay on them until hot water is poured over them during the brewing process. So, guess what ends up in the drink? We source only USDA certified organic tea leaves, which protect the ecosystems and people picking the tea leaves, not to mention the consumers drinking the tea. 

Q: Where is most organic tea sourced from? Are organic teas grown outside of the United States held to the same organic standards as those grown within the United States? 

A: Our organic tea comes from all over the world. We source our black and white teas from India and Sri Lanka, and our green teas from China.  We source our herbal teas from South Africa, India and the United States. So far, we have been satisfied with the level of scrutiny applied to the soil, water and leaves of the tea gardens around the world. Tea doesn’t grow well in North America due to climate and soil conditions.

Q: Are organic teas grown outside of the United States held to the same organic standards as those grown within the United States? What steps does Honest Tea take to ensure the organic integrity of teas grown abroad? 

A: Although we source peppermint and spearmint domestically, there aren’t any organic tea gardens in the continental United States. USDA certified tea is held to the same standards regardless of where it is grown around the world. In order for a farm to become certified organic (whether in the United States or abroad), the farm must undergo a strict certification process that includes ensuring farming methods meet USDA’s organic standards, documenting soil and water tests, and providing a production plan. Once the farm is certified, its practices are monitored by third-party certification agencies. To learn more about the steps taken by USDA to ensure the integrity of organic teas grown abroad, click here. 

Q: What is the difference between organic and Fair Trade™ tea? 

A: First of all, it’s important to remember that the two are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, as of April 2011, all varieties of Honest Tea are both Fair Trade Certified™ and USDA certified organic. While organic certification is focused on the purity of the ingredients, Fair Trade Certification is focused on working conditions and the communities where the tea is grown.  Fair Trade Certification™ ensures that workers on tea gardens receive a fair share of profits, and that the tea gardens comply with specific workplace criteria set by Fair Trade USA to ensure equality and fairness.

Q: What are your top tips for making a great tasting cup of organic [iced] tea? 

A: Though making tea is just infusing leaves in water, we actually put a great deal of effort and precision into making our drinks. First of all, we seek out whole leaf organic tea leaves, as opposed to dust and fannings.  Since the drink is still more than 90% water, we employ a variety of filtration processes to deliver the cleanest taste.  Then it’s critical that the water be heated to exactly the right temperature for the right amount of time – 170 degrees and four minutes for green tea, and 180 degrees and four minutes for black tea.  Too long or too hot, and the tannins come out, which make the drinks bitter. Once you’ve perfected the brew, the final trick is to add just enough sweetener to highlight the natural taste of tea, but not so much that you drown it out.

About Seth Goldman
Seth Goldman is President and TeaEO of Honest Tea, the company he co-founded out of his home in 1998 with Professor Barry Nalebuff of the Yale School of Management. Today, Honest Tea is the nation’s top selling ready-to-drink organic bottled tea, and is carried in more than 75,000 outlets. In March 2011, Honest Tea was acquired by The Coca-Cola Company, creating a platform for national expansion and helping to further the reach and impact of Honest Tea’s mission.

An entrepreneur at heart, Seth first started with lemonade stands and newspaper routes, helped launch a non-profit urban service corps, and nearly pursued a prize-winning biotechnology idea before starting Honest Tea in 1998. The company has initiated community-based partnerships with suppliers in India and South Africa, and has created marketing partnerships with City Year and TerraCycle. Honest Tea has been named one of The Better World Shopping Guide's "Ten Best Companies on the Planet based on their overall social and environmental record," and ranked by The Huffington Post as one of the leading "8 Revolutionary Socially Responsible Companies.”

In 2008, Seth co-founded Bethesda Green, a local sustainability initiative in Honest Tea's hometown, helping restaurants convert grease waste into biodiesel, and diverting over 200,000 lbs of electronic waste from landfills. Seth serves on the boards of Bethesda Green, Happy Baby, The Calvert Foundation, the American Beverage Association, Repair the World, and on the Advisory Board of Net Impact. In 2011, Seth was appointed by Governor O’Malley to the Maryland Economic Development Commission.