Is tea vegan? With so many different types of tea out there, from green tea to masala chai, working out what is vegan and what is not vegan-friendly can be a little tricky.
This article is for the vegans out there who want to discover a world of teas but aren't quite sure where to start. Below we've listed all the tea types that you can happily consume without worry.
To answer the question directly - yes, tea is vegan. Any tea made from plants and plants alone, is vegan and can be safely consumed as part of a vegan diet. Most teas are vegan, and those that aren't are usually vegetarian.
Traditional tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Caffeine-free teas, including herbal teas and fruit teas, are also made from plant-based matter. Both types are vegan when you simply steep the tea leaf/herbs in hot water.
However, some teas contain more than just plant matter and water. Added flavorings to improve the taste, from honey to milk, are not vegan. They contain animal-derived, non-vegan ingredients.
Let's take it through the tea types.
Green tea is definitely vegan. Green teas are made by picking, drying and "fixing" the leaves with heat to prevent them oxidizing. The result is dried green tea leaves that can be brewed into a bright, refreshing cup of vegan tea.
As milk is rarely added to green tea, it's nearly always vegan. Green tea has some great health benefits too - you can read about those in our Green Tea Article.
Like green tea, black tea is also made from the leaves of the same tea plant. Black tea, however, is oxidized before it is fired and dried. This oxidation process turns the leaves a dark brown/black color and gives it a rich, tannin flavor.
The oxidation process that creates black tea is vegan. However, black tea is often consumed with dairy milk and sugar. Thankfully, there are plenty of vegan substitutes for those that we've listed below.
White tea also comes from the tea plant, usually from the buds and new leaves. This tea type is lightly oxidized before it is fixed and dried. White tea typically has a lighter, more fragrant flavor. It's completely vegetarian and vegan - it's not consumed with dairy.
Pu-Erh tea is one of the more unusual types. It's actually fermented! Just like the other tea types, pu-erh can be safely consumed by vegans without worry. It has a bit of an acquired taste and is usually provided as loose leaf, in a cake or block.
Oolong tea is a vegan tea type that's more oxidized than green tea, but less oxidized than black tea. Oolong teas can be very varied, but all are suitable for vegans when brewed without milk.
One particular type of oolong, called milk oolong (jin xuan), traditionally isn't made with milk or any dairy. The tea cultivar that creates this tea has a naturally creamy taste. However, some cheaper milk oolong teas may be made with a cheaper oolong leaf and milk flavoring - so double check the ingredients.
Read more about the many different types of oolong tea (as well as their health benefits) in our Oolong Tea Article.
Is matcha tea vegan?
Although preparing matcha is a little different to other green tea types, it should still be vegan. Whisking the powdered tea leaves into hot water creates a tasty vegan drink.
A matcha latte, on the other hand, is definitely not vegan-friendly if it's made with dairy.
Is my herbal tea vegan? The answer is usually yes, but it really depends on the herbal blend. Some herbal tea brands, like Pukka, have plenty of vegan options. But watch out - many herbal blends contain honey, added flavorings, and colorings that may not be suitable for vegans.
Double check the ingredients before you buy a herbal tea blend. Single herb teas (e.g. chamomile tea or peppermint tea) are totally vegan.
An afternoon tea is traditionally a light black tea served hot or iced - which is great, because these teas taste just as great with a slice of lemon as they do with dairy in the afternoon.
With iced teas, watch out for honey. Use maple syrup or agave syrup instead for vegan sweetness.
As for the sandwiches and sweets that are usually served with a classic afternoon tea, it's best to find a service or food items that are labeled as vegan. Many cakes (containing butter, eggs, etc.) and sandwiches that may seem vegan, might not be.
Earl Grey is a black tea with a light body, and a delicate floral and citrus flavor. It's made with black tea leaves and bergamot oils. Bergamot is a Mediterranean citrus fruit, so it's suitable for vegans.
Some Earl Grey teas could contain non-vegan bergamot if it's made with artificial flavoring. Earl Grey is another tea that goes really well with lemon rather than milk.
Check out our high caffeine Earl Grey tea to see what we mean.
Chai is usually made with black tea leaves (but sometimes rooibos), loose spices, milk, and a sweetener. That means this tea blend is rarely vegan, unless you prepare it yourself and omit the milk and sweet element (or replace them with vegan ingredients).
An easy way to make chai vegan is to use our Spicy Masala Chai tea bags. You can brew them however you like.
Rooibos is technically a herbal tea. It's a healthy and caffeine-free alternative to black tea with a rich, nutty and slightly honeyed flavor. It's made from the leaves of a South African plant and it's completely vegan when served without milk.
Fruit tea is caffeine-free, full of flavor, great hot or cold, and suitable for vegans. Always check the ingredients in a fruit tea, as additional flavorings and colors (which may be non-vegan) are common.
Each tea type is available in different formats, with different brewing methods. But is the packaging surrounding the vegan teas actually vegan as well?
Many tea bags are made from paper, which is vegan as it's made from trees. Even paper that has been bleached or dyed is still usually vegan (although not particularly great for water pollution).
Other tea bags are made from plastic - these are usually the pyramid style ones. Whether plastic is vegan or not, depends on who you ask. Plastic is made from petroleum, which is formed from decaying animal matter, so it's technically a very ancient animal product. On the other hand, petroleum can be extracted and made into plastic without harming any animals.
Either way, if you want to avoid plastic tea bags, look for pyramid sachets that are made from organic matter. Did you know that Zest Tea only uses biodegradable tea bag pyramids?
Loose leaf tea needs to be brewed with an infuser or infusing device. A simple metal mesh infuser is most likely to be metal - although gelatin is sometimes used in metal processing (like battery production). 1
Instant tea is a real thing! We think that the old fashioned way of making a delicious mug of tea is better (but maybe we're a little biased). Either way, instant tea follows the same rules as traditional tea when it comes to veganism. If the powdered tea that you add to water is purely made from plant matter, with no additional non-vegan ingredients or flavorings, then it's vegan.
The process of turning tea into instant powder, like creating instant coffee, uses a freeze-dry method which shouldn't involve any non-vegan product.
Tea pods, like the Nespresso pods you can use in a coffee machine, shouldn't be non-vegan if they only contain dried tea leaves! However, these pods of tea may also be mixed with other ingredients like dairy milk powder, so check in the ingredients list.
While some pods are biodegradable and made from organic matter, the wide majority are plastic (see tea bags above for why that may be problematic for a vegan diet).
The quickest way to turn a vegan tea into a non-vegan tea is to add animal products, like milk and honey. So, avoid the creamy bubble tea, milk tea and chai latte unless you can order them with vegan-friendly alternatives (see our fave substitutes below).
But there are other ways a seemingly vegan tea can ruin your vegan lifestyle. Flavored tea blends may have additional ingredients that aren't vegan. Dried milk powder, crystalized honey, and even natural flavorings that require animal products to create them may be included.
That's why you should always read the label and check the ingredients before you drink tea.
The terms natural and organic don't equal vegan. You can have USDA organic certified meats, after all. But organic may still matter for your vegan lifestyle.
Certified organic teas will contain plant matter that's grown without harmful pesticides and herbicides, which would otherwise damage the ecosystem and environment - which will, in turn, harm animal life.
When a tea is labeled as natural or organic, you need to look for the certification that confirms that. The word "organic" simply means that the tea is derived from plants (and animals) but "certified organic" means that the tea was grown and made through organic processes, with strict regulations.
Up to 90% of the tea consumed in the USA is black tea, although green tea is growing in popularity too. 2 And this can be problematic. Black tea is usually consumed with dairy milk and sugar, which can not only be bad for your health, but it's not vegan either.
But you don't need to switch back to drinking your tea or coffee black. Instead, there are plenty of vegan friendly and natural ingredients you can add to your cuppa.
Adding milk to your black tea for that creamy element is delicious. Thankfully, there are now so many different vegan dairy options available right now.
Hemp milk, rice milk, hazelnut milk, etc... there are plenty of plants that provide us with dairy alternatives, so there's no reason you can't enjoy that milky cup of Earl Grey.
You may want to consider replacing milk with lemon instead, however. The refreshing citrus notes work really well in a cup of tea and, of course, there's far fewer calories in lemon than milk. Try adding a slice in your afternoon cuppa.
A teaspoon of honey in your tea is not just pleasant, it's sometimes essential when you're following a delicious iced tea recipe. But honey is most definitely not vegan. Furthermore, honey production is decimating wild bee populations. 5
Luckily, you have plenty of other options if you need something sweet in your tea.
Suitable honey alternatives include:
Sugar seems like the obvious and most suitable vegan sweetener for your tea, but it could be less vegan than you thought. Some sugar (but not all) uses bone char from animals to create that bright white color. Some brown sugars use it too.
Any USDA certified organic sugar will be vegan-friendly and not contain bone char, however. 7
The entire line of Zest products is vegan-friendly! We are non-GMO certified and use natural flavorings in our teas. Our hot tea range and our sparkling teas contain no to low sugar as well. Our teas are great for your health, animals, and the planet.
Each vegan (and therefore also vegetarian) tea blend uses natural ingredients and flavorings with tea leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant to create a delicious drink. No animal derived products necessary.
The pyramid tea bags we use are even biodegradable.
Our black tea and green tea blends are also a great source of caffeine. We bump up the caffeine levels in tea to provide an enhanced energy boost over traditional teas. There's up to 150mg of caffeine per serving.
But don't worry - we only use plant powered energy.
Zest Tea provides energy without the jitters and crash you'd normally experience after drinking a high-energy beverage (like coffee or an energy drink). This is thanks to tea from the Camellia sinensis plant, which we know is vegan.
Tea contains both caffeine, a stimulant, and L-Theanine, an amino acid. Both are naturally occurring in tea leaves. The caffeine gives you the get-up-and-go energy, while the L-Theanine provides a steadier energy boost, with more focus and calm. That's the key to great productivity!
To create high-energy teas, we use additional tea extract. This bumps the caffeine levels up to 150mg while maintaining that calming, focus-inducing L-Theanine content. No artificial chemicals, animal products, or synthetic substances are needed.
Zest Tea is a vegan source of pure plant powered energy.
A hot cup of tea is soothing, but nothing beats a delicious iced tea on a hot afternoon. This recipe is suitable for both vegan and vegetarian diets and makes one serving.