Many food products can legally be called organic because they were grown and processed without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. In the case of organic tea, an independent certification board verifies the tea plants were strictly grown in natural soil fertilized with only organic additives. The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers is already minimal in the tea industry, so it is not generally difficult to produce a legally organic tea.
Organic tea often requires more labor-intensive practices than other types of tea, so it is often more expensive in the retail market. According to the results of many sanctioned tea tastings, however, organic tea is often selected as the top contender in terms of overall taste, flavor and potency. Many seasoned tea enthusiasts can immediately identify the tea during a tea sampling session.
The recent increase in organic tea's popularity is part of an overall movement towards organic farming methods in general. Unregulated tea growers have been known to use raw sewage lines to irrigate their crops, as well as use banned pesticides such as DDT to control insect damage. While most tea companies do regulate themselves internally, only those who use farming methods such as crop rotation, interplanting and composting are likely to obtain organic certification. By United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards, legally organic soils must be free of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers for at least three years.
Teas that are certified organic can be found in virtually every country that grows tea as a crop. The designation can be applied to white, red, green, Oolong, black or any other tea variety. Many organic herbal tea blends contain other ingredients such as spices and flowers which have also been grown organically. The classification of a tea as "organic" refers only to the farming and processing methods to produce it, not the tea's specific type or level of fermentation.
Many consumers select loose leaf tea blends in specialty tea shops, but organic tea can be sold in standard tea bags as well. Tea drinkers can enjoy the natural antioxidants and polyphenols found in most tea blends, and also take comfort in knowing their tea does not contain any dangerous chemicals or pesticides.