China's Sustainable Teas

China's global leadership in tea sustainability

The history of food quality and safety is replete with examples of poor practices. The US agricultural industry had its own stumbling blocks - Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" and the Swill milk scandal being examples of how corrections are needed in any system. When handled correctly and promptly, these public safety concerns are often looked back upon as growing pains in food safety modernization.

China is no different. It has had its safety concerns with agricultural products. But tea has had very few legitimate problems, and continues to further improve its quality levels. Today China is a global leader in sustainable teas- and has been for years.

Today China is a global leader in sustainable teas- and has been for years.


At their most basic levels, sustainability initiatives seek to align continued activities that mutually benefit or protect the economy, society, and the environment. Organizations may differ on how to achieve these goals and benefits.

One good place to start is the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, which sets 17 different objectives to attaining improved sustainability.

Some of those goals include:

  • ending poverty
  • improving clean water and sanitation
  • sustainable cities and communities
  • responsible consumption and production

By partnering with government and business, the Chinese tea industry has been steadily improving its work to become one of the most wide-scale and sustainable agro-industries in the country.


Believe it or not, China's sustainability efforts are the single greatest contributor to sustainable teas on the globe.

Report data from Fair Trade USA reveals China contributes nearly half of all Fair Trade certified tea. Chances are, consumers are not aware of the overwhelming contribution China makes to sustainable tea.

China is also the origin of half of all certified organic US tea imports. While USDA organic is not a sustainability initiative in itself, tea is often certified organic in conjunction with sustainability initiatives.

Although Rainforest tea programs are much larger in many African countries, China continues to gain ground, jumping up 101% in annual sales (MT) compared to the previous year. 2019 saw sales of over 14,000 metric tonnes of Rainforest certified teas from China.

China's sustainability efforts are the single greatest contributor to sustainable teas on the globe.


To better understand just how sustainable China's teas have become, it is necessary to understand the work of sustainability organizations involved in China. These include:

  • the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP)
  • Fair Trade
  • Rainforest/UTZ
  • China's internal goals for sustainability
  • Organic practices - while not a sustainability activity in itself, organic practices are often implemented in conjunction with sustainability practices


The ETP is an organization dedicated to continuous improvement and sustainability within the tea industry. As such, one of their functions is to monitor farms and processors to support compliance with Fair Trade and Rainforest certification.

There are over 80 million tea workers in China, including 15 million smallholder tea farmers. In the past few years, the ETP has:

  • run Farmers Field School, focusing on pest monitoring, agrochemical reduction, and improved fertilizer application practices.
  • delivered training and support to processors regarding HR systems, policies, and practices


Fair Trade has been working with China's tea industry to further the Fair Trade sustainability goals of promoting sustainable livelihoods and environmental protection. As such, Fair Trade has contributed to:

  • reducing poverty
  • improving drinking water and sanitation


The recent alliance of Rainforest and UTZ brings together the work of these two organizations in:

  • increasing farm productivity
  • climate-smart farming
  • conserving biodiversity and wildlife protection
  • GMO crop prevention
  • conserving and managing water and soil resources


China's Number 1 Central Document is set by the Central Committee every year to prioritize agricultural and rural development. Some of the targeted areas related to sustainability include:

  • poverty alleviation
  • technological innovation
  • rural development and new industry

Together, these international and domestic programs have shaped China into a leader in sustainable tea agriculture.

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