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Sierra magazine
Enjoy | The Green Life

By Avital Binshtock

Tea, Green | Trendsetter: Hannah Teter | Low-Carbon Cupid

Tea, Green
Experts serve up their favorite herbal brews, all steeped in sustainability

Tea is humanity's oldest flavored beverage and remains its most popular. The fragrant leaves have linked hemispheres, spawned revolutions, and inspired religious rituals. But the global tea industry also has an ugly history of deforesting, damaging biodiversity, and overusing pesticides. To promote more-enlightened sipping--and, by extension, production--Sierra beseeched five tea experts to name their most preferred brew. As with last issue's coffee connoisseurs, we imposed two caveats: They couldn't plug a product to which they have financial ties, and the endorsed tea had to come from a company immersed in environmentally responsible practices.

DAVID KARR is the cofounder and director of Sebastopol, California's Guayakí, the top North American seller of yerba maté. His teas are organic, rainforest-safe, fair trade certified, and produced with solar power.

"TEN TEA's Organic Oolong is from Wuyi Mountain in China's Fujian Province and a favorite among gong fu tea drinkers. This handpicked oolong is organic, which is rare in the world of oolong teas but gaining in popularity. Prepare the tea according to the instructions and the resulting infusion will be full-bodied with floral notes and a long, nutty finish."
TEN TEA, Organic Oolong
$11.50 for 4 oz.

GRETCHEN ILER is a certified tea sommelier, a designation that requires three years of study and testing. She works as a consultant for tea companies, restaurants, and spas and lives in Lake County, Illinois.

"My favorite ecofriendly tea is the Pu-erh Ginger loose-leaf tea, imported from Yunnan, China, by RISHI TEA. It's USDA organic, fair trade certified, and harvested from ancient trees. A zesty combination of ginger and orange peel complements the pu-erh's earthiness. It's mellow, with a hint of citrus and just enough spiciness." RISHI TEA, Pu-erh Ginger
$4.50 per ounce

AHMED RAHIM is the CEO of Numi Organic Tea, a minimal-waste company that sells fair trade, pesticide-free specialty teas and herbs obtained directly from farmers. Rahim, a master tea blender, lives in Oakland, California.

"I admire the ability of TRADITIONAL MEDICINALS to produce excellent functional teas while committing to sustainable business practices. They are a pioneer in our industry, established in the mid-1970s and still a leader in reducing environmental impact. They have the world's largest solar-powered tea factory. Each winter I stock up on their Organic Echinacea Plus, which has a mild, minty taste and keeps me going through cold-and-flu season."
$5.49 for 16 tea bags

DIANA ROSEN is the founding publisher and editor of the Tea Talk newsletter and has written five books about tea, including Meditations With Tea: Paths to Inner Peace (Citadel, 2006). She lives in Los Angeles.

"Swaraj 'Rajah' Banerjee, the owner of MAKAIBARI TEA ESTATES, uses Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic farming techniques. His efforts show in resilient earth, glossy tea leaves, and a healthy workforce. Banerjee lives with his workers, supervising every step. His hand-processed Silver Tips tea has a delicate sweetness rarely found among Darjeelings; its lighter essence speaks to me. Prices vary but are always reasonable for such quality."
Price varies (around $8 per ounce)

BEATRICE HOHENEGGER is the author of Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea From East to West (St. Martin's, 2007). An Angeleno, she curated a recent exhibit at UCLA's Fowler Museum called "Steeped in History: The Art of Tea."

"My choice is the Organic Ceylon High Grown Black Loose Leaf Tea from EQUAL EXCHANGE. It's produced by the Small Organic Farmers' Association in Sri Lanka. I believe in supporting small-scale farmers with noncorporate models. Equal Exchange is a sustainable, democratically run cooperative. As for the tea itself, the rich, malty flavor of the Assam plant is my preferred morning taste."
EQUAL EXCHANGE, Organic Ceylon High Grown Black Loose Leaf Tea
$10.49 for 3 oz.


Hannah Teter, pro snowboarder and Olympic gold medalist

You'd expect a gold-medal snowboarder to be confident, outgoing, brassy, even. And Hannah Teter is all that. What you might not expect is for her to donate her Olympic winnings ($25,000), plus all her other prize money since 2008 (almost $75,000 from some 10 events), to charity. While growing up in Belmont, Vermont, a town she says had "more deer than people," Teter, 22, developed a reverence for the greater world.

Four years ago, she began sponsoring Kirindon, a Kenyan village of about 60,000, supplementing her contest earnings with proceeds from selling Vermont maple syrup and organic wristbands at Because of her efforts, Kirindon's residents should have consistent access to clean water by 2011. Watch for her this February at the Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler.

Q: Why the interest in Africa?

A: It's a humanitarian issue. Every 15 seconds someone dies of a water-related disease. Clean water is a treasure that we take for granted in America. One of the goals is to equip all of Kirindon with sanitary water, using wells, boreholes, and rainwater catchments.

Q: As a cold-weather athlete, do you have a particular concern about climate change?

A: I'm concerned for the global population, for everyone. No one is really paying enough attention. It's hard to make everyone aware of what's going on because of our unsustainable ways. Africa's tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro, now has no snow.

Q: Given your affinity for mountains, how do you feel about mountaintop removal?

A: Ugh! I feel like we're still barbarians when I see mountaintops getting blown up and rivers being destroyed. They go in, and coal is the only thing on their mind. Coal, coal, coal. If people were more aware of all the bad things that come from it, it would quickly be made illegal. It's unreal, but it's happening. Hopefully we can make it not happen. It just takes everyone wanting it and voicing their opinion.

ON THE WEB Read a longer interview with Hannah Teter at

Low-Carbon Cupid
When buying a Valentine's Day gift for your sweetheart this year, show a little love for Mother Earth too

Artist Sima Gilady crafts bespoke necklaces and rings with a rough-hewn quality and any words or symbols of your choosing. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Gilady works with recycled metals and limits her use of oxides, patinas, and other potentially harmful chemicals. Prices start at $25.

For a low-carbon splurge, book a getaway at Post Ranch Inn, an upscale eco-resort in Big Sur, California (non-Californians can find refuges of similar caliber closer to home). If vertiginous views of the Pacific don't turn you on, you can spend a romantic afternoon gawking at the hotel's massive array of solar panels, beneath which deer and wild turkeys graze. The on-site restaurant, Sierra Mar, serves an ever-changing menu of seasonal organic dishes.

If your sweetie has a sweet tooth, bypass that heart-shaped box of dubious nougats and instead go DIY with the Organic Superfood Chocolate Kit ($10), from California's Navitas Naturals. The two of you can get messy making your own dulcet treats; all you'll need is an ice-cube tray and the kit's waxy cacao butter, flourlike chocolate powder, and your choice of goji berries, cacao nibs, or golden berries.

Cuff links are no longer the last-resort choice of witless gift-givers. These three designs, made from (clockwise, from top) a fountain pen barrel, a basketball, and a computer motherboard, show your appreciation for creative reuse. The basketball and pen cuff links ($130 each set) are available from; the repurposed motherboard set ($135) is from

Even tree huggers like to get risque sometimes. Urban Fox makes ecofriendly lingerie that's dainty, sexy, and colorful. (No more burlap-sack beige!) Its underwear, camisoles, and 1940s-style stockings are handmade from sustainable materials sourced not far from the company's St. Louis and Chicago offices. The hand-dyed Lacey bikini-cut bottom ($40) is made of organic linen and lined in organic lace.

David Karr photo courtesy of Guayakí Yerba Mate, Gretchen Iler photo by Jennifer Olsen Prince, Ahmed Rahim photo courtesy of Numi Organic Tea, Diana Rosen photo courtesy of Diana Rosen, Beatrice Hohenegger photo by John Livzey; all tea photos by Lori Eanes, except for Equal Exchange

Hannah Teter photo by Jon Johnson

Gift guide photos: Lori Eanes (6), Post Ranch Inn photo courtesy of Kodiak Greenwood



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