Natural + Synthetic Additives: Tea taboo or fun flavouring?
"I love a super fruity tea!"
"Anything with vanilla and I'm sold"
"My favourite is the chocolate-toffee-caramel-vanilla-coconut one"
When I chat to people at markets or mention that I am a tea blender these comments sometimes come up. Am I offended when they tell me? No. Do I think tea is all about you? YES. If you love something - go for it!
What does concern me is that some of those people don't know what is making their tea taste that way. Yep - let's chat about flavourings - natural and synthetic. Teas can be filled with them and not everyone is aware of it.
Flavouring tea has been around for a long time. Ancient tea blenders used to layer flowers and botanicals with tea leaves to take on a desired taste or scent. This traditional method was used to create some glorious blends like jasmine green tea that most of us consume, or have at least tasted, today.
For me - maybe because I can easily drink 5 times my body weight in tea a day if let loose (is there a 'tea addict help line' you know of?) - I choose to drink tea that is 100% free of natural and synthetic flavourings. My philosophy, and for the teas that I create for The Tea Crowd, is what you see in your cup is what you are drinking.
So what is flavouring in tea? It's where a naturally derived or synthetic equivalent essence is added to a blend to create or enhance a particular flavour. Vanilla is the most used essence/additive for scent or flavour in the world. In the past flavours were sometimes used to mask the quality of a low grade tea leaf but as the beverage has become more popular in modern times (and people more experimental) it has been to ensure that 'taste expectations' are met.
A natural flavour is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as 'the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavouring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavouring rather than nutritional.'
Anything not following those above guidelines is determined as a synthetic or artificial flavour. Synthetic or artificial flavours are compounds that don't exist in nature. Synthetic flavours are often used in tea because in reality the natural version is too expensive or a steady supply is hard to come by.
So... are they bad for you? We are surrounded in our lives by toxins - naturally occurring and man made. We have a choice to be educated about them and make a decision about how we use them everyday. Flavourings - natural or synthetic - are no different.
Like so many things about tea, I feel consuming flavours of any kind (or choosing not too) is all about personal choice. Do your research on the health benefits and side affects and think about how much dosage you are consuming over time.
If you're a mad tea fan like me (and want no restrictions on your cuppas) stick to the brands you know that make tea as it should be!
Happy brewing :)
P.S Just in case you were wondering... The Tea Crowd is made from Australian Certified Organic (ACO) ingredients free from natural or synthetic flavours except for Dapper Duke (Earl Grey). Dapper Duke has a smidge of natural bergamot orange oil to give a citrus zing. We're also supported by the Additive Free Marketplace!