As you’re watching the kettle boil as you make your morning cup of tea or coffee, do you ever wonder where it came from? How did it get here, and what does the food chain look like in real life? Was the farmer compensated fairly for his leaves/beans? Were they grown in an environmentally friendly way? 

We know we do, which is why we’re writing a shopping guide for ethical teas and coffees, covering why it’s such a complex topic and what we can all do to guarantee that the drinks we consume are obtained sustainably.

What Is An Ethical Cup Of Coffee, Anyway?

The first challenge with ethically sourced tea or coffee is that there is no universally accepted definition. In general, we consider “ethical coffee” to be coffee that has been purchased directly from growers at a fair price. By fair, we mean a price that covers the cost of production while also providing a healthy profit margin for the farmer, which should always be at least 20% higher than the cost of production.

We also believe that ethical tea/coffee is grown in a way that protects the environment and encourages biodiversity for future generations. This could include those that have been grown organically (although we recognise that not all coffee producers will be able to afford an organic certification).

Look Out For The Certifications

Specific labels can reveal a lot about the ethical standards of the tea or coffee you’re drinking. Look for trademarks from organisations like Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance

Fairtrade assures that the product is produced in accordance with strict ethical guidelines, such as the environmental impact of the farming process and the wages paid to workers. The Rainforest Alliance guarantees the long-term viability of individual farms based on various social and ecological criteria.

Check Out The Packaging

The lining of most tea bags contains small plastic fibres. This means you shouldn’t put them in compost at all. Most teabags in the UK are sealed with plastic, which is easy to overlook because it is not stated on the label. So, what are your options?

Some tea brands advertise their use of plant-based oil instead of plastic in their packaging. Pukka is the most popular plastic-free tea brand, and PG Tips has recently removed all plastic from its tea bags, now using corn starch biodegradable bags. 

Switching to loose-leaf tea is another option. This simple solution also allows you to keep your tea leaves in glass jars (with an additional zero waste bonus). Many have raved over loose-leaf tea, when steeping loose-leaf tea, the tea leaves have more area to absorb water and expand as they infuse. This allows the water to pass through the leaves, extracting a variety of vitamins, minerals, tastes, and fragrances.

Rare Tea Company sources and supplies the world’s best tea, directly from farmers and their tea gardens. Their teas are grown without pesticides and herbicides, there are no bags with bleaches, glues and micro-plastics that waste precious resources for single use. All made from only the best leaves, hand-picked and crafted by highly skilled men and women, for a sublime taste. 

The same may be said about coffee packaging. It’s probably obvious that single-use coffee pods aren’t the way to go when it comes to sustainability. Coffee beans or instant coffee can be purchased and made at home, with the grounds being composted.

The Most Ethical Milk?

Whether you like just a splash of milk or you’re heavy on the creamer, it’s essential to examine the benefits or consequences of each kind of milk. 

It’s no secret that there’s been a drive toward veganism, which has resulted in a surge in the number of alternative milk on the market – but even if you’re not vegan, plant milk has a lower carbon footprint and uses less water in their manufacturing than dairy milk.

Soy and oat milk has a low environmental impact, making them excellent choices, with almond milk not far behind (although it uses more water than the others).  The team at Adams + Russell Coffee Roasters has created an excellent article that explores vegan milk alternatives.

Chart created by BBC News (

Grab Yourself A Reusable Cup

If you’re getting your tea or coffee at a cafe and you can’t spare some time to sit in, always remember to bring your reusable cup. To prevent the uncomfortable experience of watching the barista make it in a disposable cup, only to pour it into your reusable cup, make sure to ask for it from the beginning.

Takeaway cups are constructed of paper; however, they are coated with plastic to increase their liquid resistance. This liner makes recycling disposable cups extremely difficult, with only one in 400 actually being recycled. Then there are the lids and stirrers, which are frequently made of plastic.

A simple way to avoid these is to bring your own travel mug. You won’t need to use disposable cups if you carry your own insulated thermos to the coffee shop. Furthermore, many establishments will give you a discount if you drink your morning coffee from a reusable cup. So you’ll be helping the environment as well as your wallet!

If you’re interested in a travel mug, then take a look at SoleCup. Their travel mugs are constructed of toughened glass and include a handy silicone band. Perfect for a quick cup on the go. 

Where To Find Ethical Tea & Coffee

We always encourage supporting local independent enterprises over massive chains if you’re heading to a coffee shop. Roasteries and coffee plantations are more likely to have direct links with small, independent coffee shops. They’re also more likely to answer any queries you have about where their beans come from. In addition, we usually advocate spending a little more for a cup of coffee. Cheap coffee is more likely to be of poor quality, reflecting unfair farmer prices.

When it comes to purchasing your own coffee beans, we recommend going with companies that are open about their ethical policies. Look at the coffee company’s website to see whether there’s a page dedicated to their sustainable and ethical standards.  Check for more than just qualifications and logos. Smaller coffee roasteries, like smaller coffee cafes, are more likely to be involved with their supply chains and the farms from which their beans are sourced, and they’ll be able to answer inquiries about the farms they work with.

Shop At GoEthical

Shop from GoEthical during 2021 to help make sustainable lifestyle choices, whether you have a specific product in mind or you’re looking for items to reduce your waste. Buy and sell ethical & eco-friendly, artisan, and pre-loved products at GoEthical.

If you want to browse an array of environmentally friendly and sustainable cleaning products, all you need to do is download the GoEthical App for IOS or Google Play. On it, you can chat and connect with like-minded community members and discover detailed listings for ethical and eco products, from small sellers to well-known global brands.

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