Non-GMO Project Verified Teas


October is Non-GMO month, a month meant to raise awareness and educate about genetically modified crops and their effect on the environment and our health.
Did you know that Choice Organic Teas was the first tea company in the U. S. to receive Non-GMO Project Verification? We’re proud to have the Non-GMO Project Verified logo on our products and we hope to answer some common questions about GMOs and their place in the tea industry for you.

What is a GMO?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose genetic material has been altered in a laboratory through genetic engineering. Plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes are spliced together in ways that would not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. There are currently a handful of crops in production that have been genetically modified: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, and yellow summer squash. Nearly all of these crops have been engineered to tolerate direct applications of herbicide and/or to produce their own insecticide. These crops are referred to as “at-risk” or “high-risk” ingredients. Although tea is not from genetically modified plants, many additional ingredients and materials that go into tea can be derived from genetically modified organisms. A list of ingredients commonly derived from GMO sources can be found here:

What does it mean for a tea company to be Non-GMO Project Verified?
The Non-GMO Project Verification process is comprehensive. It requires on-going testing of all raw at-risk ingredients, their traceability, and their segregation to ensure ingredient integrity. Further, audits and onsite inspections for at-risk ingredient inputs are conducted annually.

While our tea does not contain any at-risk ingredients, supporting the Non-GMO Project goes hand in hand with our commitment to providing organic, high quality products. Should Camellia sinensis or any other herb we use become genetically modified, we will proudly be sourcing only Non-GMO crops. To learn more about obtaining and maintaining Non-GMO Project Verification visit here:

Why would a tea company want to be Non-GMO Project Verified?
With corn being one of the most ubiquitous GMOs on the market, it’s no wonder we’re finding it in animal feed, gasoline, biodegradable plastics, and teabags. The teabags we use for our Original, Gourmet, and Wellness lines are made of natural abaca fiber. Abaca, also known as Manila hemp, is a species of banana that is native to the Philippines. This hardy plant has historically been used in making ropes, twines, and many specialized paper products including teabags. We put a lot of time and effort into sourcing high quality ingredients and our packaging materials are equally as important.

If you are already USDA Organic, why do you need to be Non-GMO Project Verified?
While all of the tea we source meets USDA Organic standards, it is also important to be Non-GMO Project Verified. The organic standard does not allow farmers to plant genetically modified crops. However, it does not require ongoing testing to confirm that cross-contamination has not occurred. Having both USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified is the gold standard when looking for products that are free from pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified plants.

Read our press release about being the first tea company to earn the Non-GMO Project Verified label here.

9 Health Benefits of Organic Farming

Organic Harvest Month

Happy Organic Harvest Month!

The USDA defines organic as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”

As a manufacturer of consumable goods, it is of the utmost importance that our product is safe and the highest quality available. This is why, since 1989, we have been committed to sourcing only certified organic teas and herbs for our products.

Throughout September we’ll be celebrating Organic Harvest Month by sharing our top reasons to consume and support organic agriculture and live an organic lifestyle.

Here are some of our favorite health benefits of organic:

  1. No pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers are used. Organic ensures that foods are grown without the use of these harmful substances, some of which are known to cause cancer.
  2. Organic farming reduces long time exposure to pesticides and chemical fertilizers, for farmers, workers, and consumers which can affect the body’s ability to eliminate toxins.
    COT 2
    Tea workers in India.
  3. Organic food is free of artificial colors, preservatives, flavors, trans fats, enhancers, stabilizers, fillers, sweeteners or other additives.
  4. Studies show that organic foods are more nutritious and higher in antioxidants because they are grown on more nutrient rich soil.
  5. Eating organic fruits and vegetables could increase your antioxidant intake by 20-40%.
  6. Organic farming ensures that food is not subject to any artificial human intervention or genetic modification.
  7. Diseases, pests, and weeds are managed through good soil health for natural plant resistance, selection for stronger plants, crop rotation, natural predators, and beneficial insects.
  8. Organic food cannot be irradiated. Irradiation causes changes to both macro and micronutrients in foods and creates free radicals.
  9. Unlike conventional methods, antibiotics, pathogens, or hormones are used in raising livestock. Organic livestock have higher animal welfare standards which lower levels of pathogens present in meat.

Our Teas Are Now Certified Gluten-Free!

This spring, we are proud to announce that our teas have been certified gluten-free by the Gluten Intolerance Group. Our customers that may have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can also be assured that our packaging materials do not contain gluten. In addition, our certified organic tea packing facility in Seattle does not process anything with gluten, so there is no risk of cross-contamination.


You may be wondering, “Why do I need to worry about gluten in tea?”  While Camellia sinensis, the plant from which tea comes, does not contain any gluten on own its own, gluten is sometimes introduced to tea products by manufacturers as an additive. For example, flavors made with grains containing gluten can be added. (Our flavors do not contain gluten.) Also, sometimes barley malt is used as a sweetener and roasted barley itself can be made into tea. (We do not use barley in any of our teas.) And finally, some tea companies may use gluten-containing glue to close their tea bags. (Our tea bags are sewn shut, so this is not an issue.)

For these reasons and the many phone calls and emails we’ve received from concerned customers, we are pleased that we can offer the added confidence of third party verification that our teas are gluten free. To learn more about our certifier, the Gluten Intolerance Group, visit

Why Tea Bags Aren’t Necessarily Lower Quality Than Loose Leaf Teas

One commonly held belief in the tea world is that loose leaf teas are always superior in quality and flavor to their tea bag counterparts. While this may be true in many cases, it is not a hard-and-fast rule. If you’ve always thought this was the case, we hope the following explanation will give you a better picture of what’s really inside your tea bag or loose tea container.

The quality and flavor of your tea boils down to the quality and flavor of the leaves, not the format and cut they are. And the way the teas are grown and processed determines their quality, not the size of the leaf pieces themselves.  While some companies do camouflage low quality teas or “tea dust” in their bags, what’s most important is the sourcing and handling of the teas, and each company chooses the quality of teas that they sell either bagged or loose.

In fact, as far as flavor is concerned, tea bag cut teas often deliver stronger flavors and brew faster, since the smaller particles offer more surface area of tea leaves being steeped compared to fewer, larger pieces.

We pride ourselves on sourcing certified organic and Fair Trade teas made from the first two leaves and bud that we sell as both loose leaf and tea bags. For that very reason, our teas are better quality than many that you’ll find in the market, whether bagged or loose leaf. With our brand, it really comes down to personal preference of which you choose to enjoy, since no matter the format, you’ll find quality, delicious teas.

Caffeine or matiene, anyone?

A few months ago, I switched my morning cup to one of yerba maté.  It’s good to shake up your routine every once in a while, right? Though its unique, grassy flavor took a little getting used to at first, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it gave me an energy boost without any of the jittery feelings that can come from a cup of coffee. It offered a gradual feeling of alertness while still being a comforting cup of hot herbal tea in the chilly morning.

This ‘caffeine without all the side effects of caffeine’ has led some to believe that the stimulant in yerba maté is not, in fact, caffeine, but a similar chemical called ‘matiene.’ And its varying effects would suggest that there is a slightly different chemical process occurring when one consumes yerba maté versus an average cup of drip coffee.  Some of the arguments for matiene’s unique chemical structure include that it stimulates the central nervous system but is not habituating or addictive, and that it induces better, rather than worse, sleep.

Upon further inspection however, it seems that matiene may just be caffeine by another name and that the unique buzz from maté can be explained by taking a closer look at the plant’s chemistry. On average, a yerba maté leaf contains 0.7%-2% caffeine, versus up to 3% for ground coffee. The absence of the jitters can also be explained by the accompanying minerals or related alkaloids present in the herb that interact with caffeine during digestion.

Yerba maté contains three chemical stimulants, called xanthines: caffeine (shown left), theobromine, and theophylline. Dr. Leslie Taylor, a certified naturopath with an expertise in rainforest plants explains, “xanthines are bound to sugars in living plants, and are set free or unbound during the roasting or fermenting processes used to process yerba maté leaves, coffee beans, and even cacao beans,” explaining the presence of caffeine in many of our favorite foods.  The “matiene chemical ‘discovered’ is probably just caffeine bound to a tannin or phenol in the raw leaf,” giving it its particular characteristic.

No matter what you call its energizing ingredient though, the brewing and sharing of Yerba Maté is a deep-rooted practice in many South American cultures, not to mention its worldwide popularity. It has been used in Europe and South America historically for many ailments such as headaches, fatigue, stress, and allergies. Be it matiene or caffeine inside a cup, this unique herb offers a satisfying flavor and energy to its drinker. Our new Yerba Maté Mint, blended with spearmint, peppermint, and lemongrass, offers a new spin on this classic tea, and is just the thing to perk me up on those especially grey Seattle mornings.

Are you a maté fan? Do you notice a difference when you drink coffee, yerba maté, or traditional tea?


The Making of a Tea Bag

A tea bag is the simplest way to enjoy a great cup of tea. It’s a straightforward concept – pre-measured, contained, and easy to clean up. It’s a great invention, but how does it work?

Tea bags are actually made from the fibers of a rather interesting plant called abaca. This relative of the banana is native to the Philippines, where about 84% of the world’s supply is grown. The abaca plant has been grown for its fiber for centuries, used in ship rigging, rope, and fishing nets. The famous “Manila envelope” was originally made from abaca fibers. Today, it’s mostly used for filter paper, although there are new developments in using abaca for clothing, bags, and even applications in the automobile industry.

It’s the perfect substance to use because it’s strong but still porous, allowing water to flow through without the tea falling out or imparting any papery taste onto the tea. Abaca is also a sustainably-grown crop, as it has perfectly adapted to its environment in the Philippines. It doesn’t need chemical fertilizer, doesn’t have irrigation issues, doesn’t compete with food crops, and it’s very durable in the case of typhoon damage or other natural issues in that part of the world. The fibers are harvested from the leaf sheath around the front of the plant, leaving the plant intact.

To make our tea bags, the abaca fiber is blended with unbleached wood pulp, making the strong and supple material that’s perfect for holding tea. Our filter paper is not treated with epichlorohydrin, a wet-strength agent that is often added to tea bags and has some carcinogenic qualities. It meets not only all FDA standards, but the stringent standards in the EU and Germany as well.
After all, great tea deserves a great tea bag.