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Tea: revelation and revolution

Most of Brits don’t think twice about tea. It’s such a staple in our individual and collective make-up. Although coffee has come on leaps and bounds in this country, tea is still very much a fixture of life. Like the first cup of tea in the morning; the restrained luxury of tea and scones; or the general view that a cuppa is pretty much a cure-all.

Despite spending nearly thirty of my forty years abroad, my attitude to tea has always been incredibly British. In fact, tea is my only real addiction, or rather was until recently.

I had been sleeping badly for a while. Taking forever to fall asleep was nothing new but my dreams were more complex than normal and I was waking up more exhausted than when I’d gone to bed. One evening I was discussing the matter with my sister and she asked me whether I had a cut-off time for my last cup of tea of the day. My response was a dead-pan “Just before bed”. For all my adult life, possibly even longer, I had drank a cup of tea just before turning in for warmth and comfort, but articulating it so bluntly threw a switch in the brain. Not a “I’ll stop doing this immediately” switch, rather a nagging curiosity: could I break the habit of a lifetime; did I even want to?

A few days later I was reading other bloggers’ experiences of Plastic Free July, including Westy Writes‘ and Treading my Own Path‘s posts about tea, or rather teabags. To their and my amazement most teabags contain plastic, actually a thin plastic filament. For years I have been merrily adding my endless pile of teabags to the recycling bin and wondering why they took forever to decompose and now I know. They are not actually compostable!

Plastic in teabags

They look plastic free but are they really?*

Of course, the easiest solution is to not use tea bags in the first place. I have always drunk some loose leaf tea but, as I was drinking eight to ten mugs a day – yes, I know, it’s astonishing I slept at all! – washing up the teapot and strainer became a bit of a bore. On the whole, convenience won as far as my tea consumption was concerned.

However, the seed sown by the conversation with my sister collided with my annoyance at discovering that a resource (oil) was being unnecessarily wasted on the humble teabag, making an otherwise compostable item non-biodegradable. The statement by a particular tea company only added to my indignation. TeaDirect’s presumption that “most people don’t notice [the polypropylene] and probably don’t care” riled me so much that from one day to the next I slashed my tea intake.

The first three days were grim. The headaches were worse than those I experienced when I stopped drinking coffee, probably as I never consciously went on an espresso detox and, of course, as I had tea as a crutch. Then there was the fidgetiness and perversely my sleep was even more erratic than before. After three days however, much to my astonishment, my body was telling me in no uncertain terms that it did not want more than two or three mugs of tea a day. Now, if I have any more, I get the shakes!

Having slashed my tea intake to normal proportions, I now make tea in a pot and enjoy drinking it out from a cup, rather than a large mug. I think the psychology and process of pouring myself a second cuppa has made cutting back easier. As I have a supply of teabags and hate waste, I am of course using them up but by emptying the leaves into the pot so I can at least compost the tea. However, once the bags are gone, I shall be a strictly loose leaf girl.

Tea ceremony

My little tea ceremony

My recent tea revolution came completely out of the blue. It was not some long-held aspiration or a detox I had considered in detail. It just happened because I hit upon the right motivation at the right time. A spark turbo-charged my will power to break a habit, admittedly a very old one, and replace it with quite a jolly new one. And for me, that spark was anger that a tea company dared to presume that I did not care!


If you too are indignant about unnecessary plastic in teabags, do write to your favourite tea company and tell them so. Lindsay of Treading My Own Path has collated some contact details here.

* Twining’s teabags are merely used as an example. Any teabag that is heat-sealed, rather than stapled or stitched, is likely to contain plastic.

  • jackiemania September 30, 2014, 2:43 pm

    I, too, was shocked when I read that many tea bags contained plastic!

    A few years ago I had to do the caffeine cut off too. It never bothered me until I hit my 40s. Now I can’t even look at a caffeinated beverage after 3pm! 😉 I sometimes make a pot on a Saturday night if we are going to have a movie marathon since I know I’ll be up (and want to be up) — the height of wildness!

    I hope you can find something herbal that you like for the comfort of before bed teatime — I still crave something, especially if I’m reading. I love a rooibos chai, and many of the traditional tisanes like peppermint, ginger, lemon balm, etc. Chamomile if I need calming 🙂

    • Meg and Gosia October 1, 2014, 12:55 pm

      I drink quite a bit of peppermint tea, and have grown lemon balm and feverfew this year so I can experiment next once these plants are established. Whilst I enjoy these tisanes, for me they lack the cosiness of black tea… I actually ended up buying some decaffeinated Earl Grey for a comforting evening brew, something I never ever thought I’d do!

      • jackiemania October 1, 2014, 2:18 pm

        I tried a few decafs but haven’t hit upon the right one. The rooibos chai is the closest I’ve gotten to black tea like comfort that lets me sleep. Plus it has lots of antioxidants 🙂

  • The Zero-Waste Chef October 1, 2014, 2:57 am

    I heard that everyone’s tea kettle runs at the same time in Britain, which results in a huge power surge.

    Cutting back beats having your own personal Boston tea party :p I drink several cups of tea every day and I usually stop in the afternoon, but only if I want to sleep that night. I stick to loose-leaf, which I can buy in bulk, but I have gone through my share of tea bags in the past. I too was horrified to hear about the plastic in tea bags. It’s in everything!

  • Sarah October 1, 2014, 6:41 am

    I mostly drink loose leaf and have been using it up as part of my cupboard destash. I do have several boxes of herbal tea bags though… and the English Breakfast and Earl Grey that I keep for guests! (I drink Darjeeling). Must get through them… they’re accepted in the food waste (it’s composted at a higher temperature than at-home composting so I guess they break down easier) so maybe I shouldn’t feel toooo guilty.

    • Meg and Gosia October 1, 2014, 10:00 am

      I know technically I could put one tiny food waste bag of teabags out for collection but I think it makes more sense to aim for 100% loos leaf tea. I’m actually really proud that we create no food waste. What little inevitable food waste there is feeds the bokashi and compost bins (and I’m working on introducing worms too). Plus, a waste solution does not deal with the wasted raw material at input stage… 😉


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