Is Tea Vegan? It may date back to the 3rd Century AD, but is Tea vegan? The other day I was looking at my golden cup of Tea and I thought to myself: (1) I don’t really know anything about Tea, and (2) is Tea Vegan? I am not just talking about a cup of tea with milk in it (which is obviously not vegan and actually makes up 98% of teas), but what about Tea itself. Is Tea Vegan?
Is Tea Vegan?
As a general rule, traditional pure Tea made from the Camellia Sinensis plant is vegan. This is because it is simply leaves brewed in water. However, these teas can be made non-vegan with the addition of dairy milk or honey. Separately, Herbal Teas are not made from Camellia Sinensis. Instead, they are flavored teas made from fruits, flowers, spices, and herbs. Some Herbal Teas are not vegan.
Is Tea Vegan – What is Tea?
Traditional tea is made from the Camellia Sinensis plant from China and East Asia. Ever heard of “Black Tea”, “White Tea”, “Green Tea”, “Oolong” or “Pu-erh” – did you think these were all different types of tea from different plants? I did. The truth is there are only five different types of tea – Black, White, Green, Oolong, and Pu-erh and they all come from the Camellia Sinensis plant.
What determines the tea “type” i.e. Black, Green, White, etc, is the processing of the Camellia Sinensis leaves.
Is Tea Vegan – How is Tea Made
There are four stages to tea leaf production: withering, rolling, oxidation, and drying.
Withering is the process of reducing the water content of the leaves. It is basically dehydrating the leaves to create a drier leaf. Leaves can be dried in the sun or in hot rooms.
Rolling is the process of physically breaking down the leaf to encourage the release of oxidative enzymes. Ever bought fancy tea and noticed they are rolled into pearls or needle shapes? This is the rolling process.
Oxidation is the chemical process of tea leaves interacting with oxygen in the air. It is not fermentation (which involves microbial interactions with the food substance). Instead, in this stage, the tea cells damaged from the rolling process will begin the natural process of oxidization. This involves the use of oxygen to break down polyphenols known as catechins into flavonoids called Theaflavins and Thearubigins. It is the breakdown of these substances that can give tea its unique flavor.
Oxidation can take place naturally or be quickened through maceration. Only Oolong and Black Tea will undergo Oxidation.
This final step involves drying the tea leaves to remove as much water content as possible from the leaves – typically, 3-6% water content. Removing water content helps with shelf life and preserves the flavor of the tea. Some teas can then be aged after this process.
If you are interested in the different processes each type of tea goes under, I have broken it down below. All brewed Tea made using the above process (if brewed with just water) will be vegan.
Types of Tea
Is White Tea Vegan?
White tea is the least processed and is simply steamed and dried. It is normally made from the buds and new leaves of Camellia Sinensis. This results in it are having a delicate light flavor and are not drunk with milk so is vegan.
Is Green Tea Vegan?
Green tea is the second least processed and undergoes no oxidation. The plant leaves are picked, dried, and then treated with heat to prevent them from being oxidized. Green tea is not normally drunk with milk, so a cup of green tea is vegan. Matcha is also a form of Green Tea – it is a powdered form of Green Tea leaves which is completely soluble in your tea drink.
Is Oolong Tea Vegan?
Oolong is the second most processed tea. It is wilted and partially oxidized (less so than black). It isn’t drunk with milk so is vegan.
Is Black Tea Vegan?
Black tea is the most processed and oxidized. The tea is oxidized before it is dried giving it a dark color and rich taste. This is the tea that is most often drunk with milk so obviously, just replace it with dairy-free milk to make sure it is vegan.
Is Pu-erh Tea Vegan?
Pu-erh is a green tea that has been fermented/left to compost. It is often drunk with milk so just make sure to use dairy-free milk for a delicious cup of vegan Pu-Erh. This is one of the only forms of tea that utilize fermentation over the oxidation process for flavorings.
Do You Like Kombucha?
Do you like fermented teas such as Kombucha (which is fermented Green or Black Tea)? Then you can check out my blog post on Kombucha, how it is made, and whether it is vegan here: Is Kombucha Vegan? The Complete Facts You Need To Know
Is Tea Vegan – it gets more complicated
Okay, so we have established that traditional teas only fall into five categories and all come from the same plant. Each of these five types of tea has its own varieties as well.
For example, ever wondered what Earl Grey was? Well, Earl Grey is a black tea that has bergamot essential oil (derived from the bergamot orange) added to it. Yes, Earl Grey is vegan so long as it is served with non-dairy milk or just with a slice of lemon.
How about Jasmine Tea? Jasmine Tea is Green Tea that has been infused with flavors from either Common Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) or Sampaguita (Jasminum sambac). However, it can also use a base of Oolong or Black Tea. Yes, Jasmine Tea is vegan so long as it is served with non-dairy milk.
So, Is Tea Vegan?
Yes. All true loose tea made from the Camellia Sinensis plant and brewed in water with no milk or sugar added is vegan.
Is Herbal/Fruit Tea Vegan?
This brings us to Herbal and Fruit Teas.
These types of tea are not made from the Camellia Sinensis plant despite the fact that they are universally called “tea”. Instead, they are mixtures of fruits, herbs, and spices that are combined. For example, Rooibos Tea is not made from Camellia Sinensis and is, therefore, an herbal tea. And yes, Rooibos is vegan. In fact, most Herbal and Fruit Teas are vegan. However, there are some exceptions which I will go into below.
Are You Also a Coffee Fan?
Do you love a morning coffee or a latte in the afternoon? Is Starbucks one of your favorite places to go? Ever wanted to know if coffee is vegan or how about a breakdown of every item on the Starbucks Drinks Menu? If you do check out my two blog pieces here: Is Coffee Vegan? How To Find Out The Truth, and How To Actually Order Vegan Starbucks Drinks.
Herbal/Fruit Tea – Things to Watch Out For
Before writing this post, I was aware that a lot of herbal and fruit teas do contain honey (for example Chamomile & Honey is one of the most popular) and so are not vegan. I was shocked though to find out there are some non-honey fruit and herbal teas that are not vegan!
Based on my research here is a list of examples of Twining’s’ (one of the biggest herbal tea players on the market) teas that they announced a few years ago as not vegan due to the presence of honey or Sodium Caseinate (a byproduct of skim milk).
- Raspberry and Pomegranate
- Green Tea, Peach, and Cherry Blossom
- Bollywood Chai Latte
- Cranberry and Pomegranate
- Chocolate Coconut Flavour Green Tea
- Camomile, Honey, and Vanilla
- Green Tea with Honey and Lemon
- Green Tea and Pomegranate
- Mango & Coconut Green Tea
Twining’s has confirmed that their “Super blends” range is vegan.
What Brands of Tea are Vegan?
The vast majority of Pukka teas are vegan – the only ones to watch out for are the ones clearly labeled as containing honey – such as:
- lemon, ginger & manuka honey; and
- chamomile, vanilla & manuka honey.
Is Milk Tea Vegan?
What’s the main way Tea can be not vegan – by adding milk. Any tea with dairy milk added to it is obviously not vegan. Today, it is easy to replace dairy with nut-based milk. If you are new to veganism, it may take a while to get used to, it was something I struggled with, but eventually, your taste buds will change, and you’ll come to prefer the taste.
If you are out and about and order a tea with milk, just be sure to swap it for a non-dairy option such as almond, oat, cashew, etc.
My personal favorite is oat milk (I prefer the flavor and creamier texture). Almond, Soy, and Coconut tend to be readily available in most places. Although, as much as I love coconut milk, I don’t think the coconut flavor goes well with black tea.
Hemp, rice, cashew, and macadamia are slightly fewer common alternatives but are delicious. I provide a more detailed breakdown of nut-based milk and milk alternatives in my piece on coffee which you can read here: Is Coffee Vegan? How To Find Out The Truth.
Sweeteners Added to Tea
The second most common way that tea can be made is not vegan – the sweetener added to it. Here are the sweeteners to watch out for.
Honey is often added to drinks bought in cafes – this is particularly the case for iced teas and often chai tea lattes.
Sugar made from bone char
Some sugar is processed with bone char to give it a white appearance. Even though bone char is not left in the sugar some vegans choose to avoid sugar (unless it is labeled as organic, raw, beet, or unrefined in which case it won’t have been processed with bone char). This just tends to be a potential issue, especially in the US. If you like your hot cup of tea with some sweet stuff in it, and you want to avoid any sugar processed with bone char, then the best thing to do is to use raw, organic, unrefined, or beet.
Alternatives to sugar and honey
The two vegan sweetener alternatives I personally always opt for are first maple syrup, and if that is not available date syrup!
Is Tea Vegan – Tea Drinks in Cafes
As always ordering your tea drink out is where it can get a bit trickier. Here are a few tea-based drinks that you could order out that could potentially not be vegan.
Are Chai Tea Lattes Vegan?
Often the base for a chai tea latte already contains honey and so is not vegan and cannot be made vegan. This is the case in Starbucks – their Chai Tea Lattes are not vegan. If you want to know why you can read my piece on Starbucks Drinks here: How To Actually Order Vegan Starbucks Drinks.
Are Matcha Lattes Vegan?
Matcha lattes are usually vegan if ordered with dairy-free milk in place of dairy milk.
Is Boba Tea Vegan?
Some boba tea drinks are not vegan (usually flavored milk teas). If you want to learn more about what Boba Drinks are and are not vegan, you can check out my blog post here: How To Find Out “Is Boba Vegan”.
Is Iced Tea Vegan?
Iced teas are black teas brewed and served cold. Iced tea does not usually contain milk and so is often vegan. However, sometimes honey is added to iced tea making it not vegan. Lipton (the most common iced tea brand) is vegan. Also, ten years ago Lipton announced they had eliminated animal testing on their tea and tea-based products so a bonus point to them.
Generally, avoid any tea drinks in cafes listed as “creamy’ or “caramel” – caramel syrups usually contain milk proteins and creamy implies the use of dairy milk unless your substitute it. A good tip is that, for example, in Starbucks, their Caramel Sauce is not vegan, but the Caramel Syrup is vegan – so if you are looking for a caramel hit swap the sauce for syrup.
The Final Sip – Is Tea Vegan
I honestly don’t think I will ever be able to look at green tea the same ever again. For all this time I just thought black tea came from one leaf, green tea from another, and jasmine from another, and frankly, I had no idea what Oolong was or even heard of Pu-Erh. Tea it turns out is a complicated subject, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be. Hopefully, this article will help you understand the difference between Tea and Herbal/Fruit Teas. If anything, at least we can all have a little bit of greater appreciation for Camellia Sinensis –what a plant.
Beverage makers may change ingredients and/or manufacturing processes. Always double-check ingredients before purchasing any beverages.
Like What You Are Reading
Like this article, want to find out more? Want to know if your favorite Root Beer, Soda, Wine, Beer, or even if your morning coffee (yes, your morning coffee) is vegan? Then check out some of our other articles and sign up for our newsletter below:
- How To Actually Order Vegan Starbucks Drinks
- How To Find Out “Is Boba Vegan”
- Is Coffee Vegan? How To Find Out The Truth
- Is Kombucha Vegan? The Complete Facts You Need To Know
- Is Alcohol Vegan? How To Know The Truth
- Why Is Wine Not Vegan – How to Know The Truth?
- Is Beer Vegan – Introducing The Secret To Finding Out
- Is Champagne Vegan? Revealing The Truth Behind The Bubbles
- 10 Must Buy Vegan Wines At Trader Joe’s