Tea lovers are your French teabags vegan?

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OK, OK, I can hear you – has she finally cracked? First, we had the question, ‘is the tap water in France safe?’ Then the ubiquitous baguette came under scrutiny. (They’re both safe by the way.) But tea – is nothing safe? Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it appears.

Photo of a cup of tea
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Traditional black tea is safe

You’ll often see questions pop up on the expat groups on social media – what favourite ingredients do you miss or what things do you bring back from the UK? 99 times out of 100 ‘English tea’ will be among the replies, usually PG Tips or Yorkshire Tea. It’s probably no surprise that the UK is in the top three countries for per-person tea consumption worldwide. In first position sits Turkey, closely followed by Ireland and then the UK. However, apparently black tea consumption has declined in the UK in 2018, and veganism is being blamed. It’s only a 2.8% reduction though, and is due to avoidance of dairy milk, though as we know plant-based alternatives are as good. The good news for vegans on both sides of the Channel is that black tea is vegan.

What types of tea may present a problem to vegans?

Whilst ‘normal’ black tea, green tea and rooiboos tea are all vegan, you do need to watch out if you’re a fan of the popular French herbal or fruit teas, known as tisanes. Some flavours may use honey and dairy products. In some cases, it is easy to spot these; for example, avoid anything with ‘miel’ in the title or ingredients list. In other cases, it may not be quite so obvious. Some teas contain dairy products, like the butter esters which are used in some brands of chai. Also watch out for non-vegan friendly E numbers. These include E120 (cochineal), E904 (shellac) and E901 (beeswax). Another red light is tea that has been tested on animals. In 2013, PETA was reporting that Nestle, the makers of popular iced tea brand Nestea, had tested the product on animals. I’ve not seen any subsequent reports to the contrary.

Are vegan teas available in France?

In the UK, Twinings has a list of teas that are suitable for vegans on its website. It is a popular brand here in France too, as is Liptons. However, most of the herbal and fruit tisanes in the supermarkets tend to be own-brand or brands such as Elephant (owned by Unilever). None of these carries any vegan labelling so I think it’s probably best to use common sense and check out the ingredients list. A trip to any bio shop will also open up a wide range of tisanes. You might even be able to track down my personal favourite Yogi tea, which is the only brand I’ve found in France with a vegan symbol (the Vegan Society sunflower). Let me know if you come across any others.

Other issues for ethical vegans

You can’t fail to be aware of the current news stories about climate change and the massive amount of plastic pollution affecting our oceans. One of the motivations for adopting the vegan lifestyle is #goveganfortheenvironment. So, what are the ethical issues affecting tea? Teabags. Or, more specifically packaging. Who remembers the ‘old days’ when your granny, or perhaps even your parents, reached for the tea caddy at the same time as the teapot? Certainly, my granny would never allow a box of Tetley teabags into the house. Tea was bought loose, weighed out and packed in a paper bag, on a weekly basis from the local grocer. Nowadays, whatever type we drink we usually reach for a teabag.

The trials of teabags

There are a few things to consider in relation to teabags, whether you are brewing a cup of strong brown builders’ tea or a delicate chamomile infusion. First, what is your teabag made of? Many brands are switching to fully compostable tea bags, including the glue used to seal the bag, the string and little label attached. Watch out for pyramid teabags. Often promoted as offering a better brew and infusion, these are sometimes made of silk (definitely not vegan) or man-made materials that won’t decompose. Another issue to think about is the amount of packaging involved in a single box of twenty teabags. There’s often an outer cellophane wrapper, the cardboard carton, and inside the outer carton twenty individual teabags each in a paper wallet. Time to get the caddy out and move to loose tea?

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