Tea: Not just a hot brew of chemicals, please

May 13, 2014

"Natural Flavors" and why we never use them in our Namasthé Teas.


They say ignorance is bliss and well perhaps it may be for some but i never felt that way. As an Herbalist, I have always chosen to walk the path of knowledge about what my kids and I ingest. A teas' origins, it's environmental impact, how it's made (is it ethical, handmade or mass made), who made it (a local, fairly traded) and why ingest the tea (health benefits, medicinal) and ultimately what is the purpose (purity, conscious consumer, pleasure) of the food or tea? I have been a big proponent of organic foods since I was 18. Does "natural flavor" offer health benefits? From my research, no. We pay so much attention to detoxing yet there are harmful chemicals infusing in mamy teas and teapouches of health conscious tea lovers who are being mislead to believe these are safe. There was a recent viral article about "flavorings" and silken teapouches but in case you missed Food Babe posted and its well worth a read. Too bad it does not cover some major Canadian tea house chains and grocery brands but the labels have the "natural flavor" culprits. Maybe this would be a great addition to FoodBabe's blog to add the Tea from up north. Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, irradiation, fertilizers are another key issue of major concern especially for our teenage girls flocking to all tea houses serving "natural flavor" teas. CBC had a story on pesticides in tea you can check and share.

Our Namasthé tea pouches are made with a small amount of man-made materials: food-grade PET. The rest is all renewable abaca (Manila Hemp) filter paper made in Germany by Glatfelter. Our tea paper filter is not perfect but it is compostable, GMO free, Gluten Free and is the least harmful of the lot of teapouches in the market. Our loose leaf teapouch contains much less PET than a full Nylon or PLA Corn Silken Teabag that are so popular because they are  pretty. Our Teapouches made right in Whistler are made of the same manila hemp material as the U-fill Tsacs but use much less abaca filter paper (2 to 3 times less), they do not leak, do not cause burns and have the right amount of tea inside so each cup is consistent. So our Teapouches are the safest, GMO free, Gluten-free sustainable option for any teapouch in the tea industry. There is a choice so a loose leaf tea tumbler made of durable stainless steel that will last as the best to go option or take some time to enjoy your loose leaf tea in a teapot or Gaiwan.  

Perhaps my sensitivities/allergies to most chemicals have offered me the best barometer for purity, and my body always knows what is fake whether I am aware or not. I can't just count on the labels, marketing campaigns, or our past co-packer's word for it, so it made me question the tea world around me. This has become a huge blessing to me, our family and also to my communities on my quest for pure teas and herbals since 2000, for The Herbal Emporium, and since 2006 for Namasthé Tea Co. On my perpetual mission to heal from chronic health issues related to sensitivities, I became an herbalist to help myself first then my family and my communities: Mt. Currie, Pemberton, Squamish and Whistler.

I have always loved reading labels but these also can be severely misleading, since loopholes exist in labelling rules. Digging deeper became my mission to find the real story behind certain words, ingredients and the whole tea industry that currently laces over 75% of all teas with chemicals mimicking nature i.e. "natural flavor". This, I believe should change toward a focus on purity, quality and transparency. Yes this blog post will shed some light to questions you may have never even thought to ask, but really need to know. As Tea Lovers, Mothers, conscious consumers, we all need and want to know what lurks inside our foods and how this impacts our health.

No one knowingly wants to let our bodies, especially children and teens, get addicted to substances that make us spend more, crave more and fill the pockets of multinational Givaudan and the likes any further. Transparency is the key to move the tea industry toward true tea appreciation, growth in pure tea sales, and healthy cups of tea. Time to detox our teas and tea cupboard!

I call it tea Feng Shui and it feels great to compost stale, chemical ridden teas, or perhaps in the garbage is better if you grow organic and do not want chemicals in the compost heap. I discovered a silken "nylon or PLA" tea pouch that had spent a whole season in the compost heap then was laid in the rows at the farm, tilled in 3 times and after a full summer was still fully intact except for the branding. So much for biodegradable silken pouches!

Seeking answers hidden in all the layers of secrets, smokes and mirrors, clever marketing in tea industry led me to vow never to lace our teas with these faux additives. We know we made the right decision and my nose and body thank me everyday to be part of the solution. It took one instant on a 2009 visit to our original co-packer in Calgary to get to the bottom of all this. I got the usual revolted body cue that never lies about my sensitivities. Have you ever been in a flavored tea manufacturing place where they let you read all the labels of allowed chemicals into organic and conventional teas? Most likely not because there aren't that many in Canada to start and they never show you the tricks of the trade. That spring 2009 visit to our past co-packer made me realize many things I had suspected from blending medicinal herbals and teas since 2000. Something was hidden, and it piqued my need to know nerve so much that I had to get to the bottom of it.

My little herbal apothecary had always infused the most pleasant true aromas from the forest, herbs and blossoms, but the moment I was hit by the chemical soup aroma of "flavorings" was so intense, I got sick all night after a severe bout of headaches. I couldn't believe the sweet confectionery fumes wafting from this place. It smelled nothing like my humble herbal apothecary everyone came to love filled with pure aromatherapy oils from real organic plants that are cold pressed or distilled in water like orange, lime, lavender and yes the blissful Organic Bergamot from Calabria Italy. No, this was an insulting chemi-caramel, cream earl grey, carrot cake, raspberry white truffle smell all at once. Those bottles of the artificial and "natural flavors" come in gallon plastic or pails like chemical cleaners with toxic warnings. Yes, I read the labels, and I was shocked to see propylene glycol, because it is an agent used in some deodorants, antifreeze and fake whipped cream.

This was a world apart from the centuries old family craftsmanship of cold pressing Bergamot oils for the finest foods, teas and perfumes. This was something even me as an herbalist was oblivious to since it is well guarded, worded and hidden from the masses. As a matter of fact it is allowed in all organic foods in the less than 5% range where baking soda, salt and these so called "natural flavors" come in. Read your labels, nowadays it is on almost every juice, cereal, chips, sauces and well teas.

Heard of castoreum, the beaver's anal gland by-product used to make vanilla and raspberry "natural flavours"? Thankfully Jamie Oliver shared about beaver anal glands on Letterman. Some "natural flavors" can contain 250+ different chemicals mimicking the real berry or vanilla orchid which is combined by a flavorist/chemist. The flavour can be labelled 'natural' so long as it comes from a "natural" source, like a beaver's anal glands! These chemicals are tweaked to make your nose believe it is as real as the true fruit, and are further enhanced to cause more cravings.  This trade secret was featured on an episode of 60 Minutes, which got behind closed doors at Givaudan. Take a look at this episode: The Flavorists: tweaking tastes and creating cravings.

Know that feeling where you just have to have a certain food like sugar, can't stop eating that bag of chips, or can't get enough of the smell of that candy tea? That's because addictive chemicals or opiates are contained in these flavorings. This is now the most common, best selling act in the tea world. Most Tea Houses that do not blend their own teas have no idea what is in their tea blends because the suppliers can claim it is "natural". Tea shops that do not blend the teas cannot really know what is in the blend, so the lies steep into most popular teas on the market.

That does not cut it for Namasthé Tea, and we have inside knowledge to do something about this leaching discrepancy as transparent TeaCrafters. It is my duty as a Mother, Herbalist and TeaCrafter to bring these rampant issues and practices to light. We care to honor the truth of the matter for the people, plants, planet, profit with transparency and integrity. We are unique in that we know a lot of about the inner workings of the industry from years of experience TeaCrafting, countless hours of research and development, connections in the tea industry and family living in Asia, cupping thousands of teas, and many more things that would not be expected from a small tea crafting company in Whistler. We don't claim to know it all, but know a thing or two about herbals, teas and blending them. One important thing we do know is that "natural flavor" will never be allowed in any our teas.


In Canada, there are only a few Tea Blenders and most Tea Houses, Tea Companies, coffee shops get their teas blended in large batches there. Thankfully this is changing, and folks are searching for unique teas hand blended with foraged, local grown and blended in micro lots with focus on Origin and varietals. These include the major ones like Metropolitan Teas in Toronto and USA, North American Coffee and Tea in Delta, Transherb in Québec, Assam Tea in Burnaby, Tea Affair in Calgary. These are the most common re-bagged loose leaf teas sold in Tea Houses and Cafés in Canada. To each their own cup of tea.

Personally, I prefer mine with fresh local herbals, knowing who grew them and where they are organically grown, foraged for peak freshness, unique Thérroir, Single Origin varietals, heirloom varietals and basically, Tea and TeaCrafter with a story and roots growing in the community! A new trend may emerge, like all the small coffee roasters popping up and perhaps we are pioneering something but we shall see. Some coffee companies get theirs from big US blenders or some of the biggest are German blenders with 4 story high blending vats. Okay you get the point. The independent hand blender of wholesale tea is actually a rarity in the tea world somewhat of a defiant black tea sheep "Off the Beaten Path", bringing it back to the Artisan realm. We have crafted our Manifesthé of the TeaCrafter (our manifesto) as a way of life and to inspire Tea Lovers to explore with us the Thérroir from BC and around the globe. This is what we are so passionate about at Namasthé and why we are garnering such a loyal following of educated Tea Lovers.

Most of the teas sipped around our continent are the same generic blends, bagged with new labels, new names, mass produced, mass flavored and with the same names like Kyoto Cherry Rose, Very Berry, Cream Earl Grey, Bourbon Vanilla Rooibos, Caramel Rooibos, Double Cream of Earl Grey. The recent issue in the news about of mistreatment of tea farm workers in India, upheavals, violence and abuse on Kenyan tea farms, barbaric burning down of  farm owners in Assam region a few years ago are perhaps remnants of the shady Opium trade between the original Tea monopoly between Britain and China that has left a lingering stain in the tea industry. Sweeping social, environmental, ethical or integrity issues under the rug never makes things better for anyone and sure leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. So we will start with opening the discussion, shedding the light of truth and moving forward beginning with our part in the tea industry. That is the only part we can change and our openness, goals and mission will make more sense to you the Tea Lovers. It is our purpose to share the Love of tea. Pure and Simple to the last drop.


Sharing my insights collected along my long personal path of TeaCrafting is bringing awareness and creating solutions for better choices that effect change each cup we TeaCraft at a time. TeaCrafting does not need to be at the expense of anyone or anything along its path to your cup of conscious tea. It may be a small part but an important one nonetheless. I wish to share these insights to grow authentic tea appreciation, evolving of the palate from lower grade, chemicals brews to delightful nuances of the leaf. We aim to feature the hard work of Tea farmers, Tea Crafters at Origin and even our small part right here in Whistler. Perhaps we will experience a third wave of tea where Origin, varietals, craftsmanship, small lots and transparency brings everyone in the tea industry to step it up a few notches and grow the appreciation of the actual tea leaves instead of the chemicals used to sell more of it?

Imagine drinking raspberry coffee, Carrot Cake coffee with sparkles and candy lips in them would that be the new hot thing in coffee? Thankfully, it is past that point! The same rings true for tea, it's high time we get to the next level of quality, origin, varietals and just plain amazing Camellia sinensis or Thérroir herbals that are fresh so we do not need chemicals "flavors" to mask their staleness or freshen up their loss of volatile oils. This means rolling up our sleeves to grow better quality herbals, harvesting at the peak, building better farming relations at Origin, storing them whole to avoid loss of oils and mostly growing them locally if feasible. Nothing is fresher than herbals from your backyard and yes you can thank you local tisane growers. We know it is possible not just a pipe dream becasue we do it everyday! Yes the price is higher to reflect true cost of Canadian wages, higher cleanliness standards and regulations compared to massive commodity imported herbals' dirty little secrets. This will fuel the local teaconomy, local jobs, great partnerships, higher quality and that satisfaction of locally sourced sips of tea. Lisa Richardson interviewed me about this subject and why we bother growing in Pemberton here.

It is much easier and cheaper to blend "natural flavored" teas with questionable ethics, laden with pesticides, herbicides, irradiated or even with organic teas and sell it cheap for the masses with a fun name. Most tea companies do it very profitably and local teahouses sell lots of it too but is it better, healthier and clean? It takes much more commitment to community , local funding, local farmers, local foragers, building infrastructure, growing a skilled TeaCrafters, setting up systems, sharing experiences and a whole lot of dedication to Artisan hand blend of amazing Thérroir herbals and teas. Know your TeaCrafter and feel good about sipping your tea with a clear conscience or at least without unwanted chemicals.

As we open up our doors for pick ups of online orders after an 8 year hiatus from brick and mortar retail. Something beautiful is happening again which while being creative in my quiet Tea Atelier was lovely for all those years I am remembering the love of service, sharing and teaching but on a whole new level. We have a philosophy at Namasthé for our growing team and that is if its itchy, scratch it. Simple but in other words when something needs to be said then to say it as best as you can to clear the air then there are never any lingering things. I guess I was itching to write.



Isabelle Ranger

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