Many now reach for a cup of hot tea instead of coffee as part of their morning routine. And with so many types of tea available, there can be something for everyone. But what if you’re vegan? Is tea vegan, and does it depend on which type of tea you choose?
Tea is widely consumed throughout the world. And it’s becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Each day nearly 160 million Americans drink it. That’s roughly half the population.
From black tea to green, and chai to matcha, tea lovers have a lot of options. And if you’re on a plant-based diet, there’s good news.
For the most part, nearly all teas are vegan, as they’re derived from plant-based tea leaves. But there are certain tea additives that are considered non-vegan.
This guide will cover the most common types of tea, as well as tea add-ins, so you know which are vegan — and which aren’t.
Made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, black tea is one of the most widely consumed types of tea worldwide. And it is vegan.
It’s produced by oxidizing the tea leaves (or exposing them to air for extended periods) until they turn dark brown to black. This also heightens the presence of tannins in the leaves, producing a rich flavor and dark color. The tannins can also result in some bitterness or astringency in the tea which can make it feel fuller-bodied.
Is it vegan? Yes
Green tea comes from the same plant as black tea, and it is also vegan. The difference is that the dried leaves are not oxidized. Instead, they remain their original green color.
The lack of oxidation also means lower levels of tannin, which results in a lighter, brighter tea both in color and taste.
Apart from being vegan, green tea is also widely hailed for its [potential health] benefits, which range from lowering the risk of getting certain types of cancers to aiding in weight loss.
Is it vegan? Yes
White tea is produced from leaves and buds that are picked earlier than those used to make black or green tea. Those leaves are then lightly oxidized to produce a tea that is light gold in color, with a fragrant delicate flavor.
This vegan tea is naturally low in caffeine and lower in tannins than black tea, so it’s typically less bitter and more fruity in taste. It’s also high in [antioxidants], which are touted for their disease-fighting potential.
Is it vegan? Yes
Oolong tea comes from the same plant as the previous teas, but it falls in between black and green tea when it comes to oxidation. In fact, ooling refers to teas whose leaves are anywhere between 8 to 85 percent oxidized.
That large range can produce widely varying styles of tea. Depending on how long it was oxidized, the tea’s color can run from very pale yellow to dark gold. And the taste can include everything from light florals to tropical fruits to roasted nuts.
Is it vegan? Yes
This distinctive type of tea is made from leaves grown in the Yunnan Province in southwest China. They often take a year to mature after they’re harvested. And Pu-erh tea itself can be aged for several years to develop rich, earthy flavors and a deep color — a process that also slowly ferments it.
Is it vegan? Yes.
Matcha is a type of green tea that’s finely ground into a bright green powder and is rich in antioxidants.
A few weeks prior to harvest, the tea plants are shade-grown to help balance out bitter and sweet flavors produced by various compounds in the leaves. That also increases the level of chlorophyll, which intensifies the leaves’ green color.
After harvesting, the veins and stems are removed and the leaves are ground into matcha powder.
In its plain form, matcha tea is vegan, as are matcha lattes that use non-dairy products. However, matcha lattes that use dairy are not vegan.
Is it vegan? Yes, if not combined with dairy in a matcha latte.
Originally from India, chai translates to “tea” in Hindi. It’s made by combining black tea with milk, aromatic spices, and sweetener. The black tea base can range from Assam tea to Darjeeling, and the spices often include cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger.
The milk is often whole cow’s milk, and sometimes honey is used as the sweetener, which makes these types of chai not vegan. But vegan versions can be made with plant-based milk and non-cane sugar like beet sugar.
A chai latte is similar to regular chai, but it includes steamed and frothed milk, rather than milk that is simply heated up.
Is it vegan? Traditional chai is not vegan.
Kombucha is a tea drink that’s usually made by fermenting black or green tea with sugar and a mixed culture of yeast, lactic acid bacteria, and acetic acid bacteria (known as SCOBY). This combination gives kombucha a tangy, sweet, refreshing flavor.
In most cases, kombucha is vegan. But some manufacturers also include fruit juices, spices, extra sugar, or artificial sweeteners to help enhance the taste. If those sweeteners include white sugar, that can make it off-limits for vegans due to how the sugar is processed.
Is it vegan? Yes, in its original form with no sweetener added.
Unlike black or green teas, herbal teas are made from plants other than Camellia sinensis. They’ve long been used for medicinal purposes to treat everything from digestive issues to difficulty sleeping.
Popular herbal tea varieties use chamomile, peppermint, and ginger. And many are also blends of different plants or plant parts.
If those blends are limited to plant-based ingredients, they are usually vegan. If they also include sweeteners like honey for example, then they would not be vegan-friendly.
Is it vegan? In most cases yes, but check the ingredients list to be sure.
Fruit teas don’t actually contain any black or green tea. Instead, they’re made by adding a combination of fresh or dried fruit, blossoms, and fruit petals to hot water. The water extracts flavor and aroma from the fruit. And it can be served either hot or cold, making them popular summertime drinks.
Fruit teas are vegan (as long as no processed sugar is added) and caffeine free. And this fruity drink can be made in a range of possible flavors.
Is it vegan? Yes.
Bubble tea, also called boba tea, has its roots in Taiwan. Essentially, it is made with black tea, ice, milk, and plant-based tapioca pearls that are steeped for hours in a sugary syrup to become sweet.
All the ingredients are shaken together to produce a bubbly, milky, tea beverage with a distinctly chewy texture, thanks to the tapioca pearls.
Typically served cold, boba tea can be made with non-dairy substitutes like almond or coconut milk. And they can come in a variety of flavors, including mango, passion fruit, strawberry, and kiwi, among others. These are usually produced by adding flavored syrups to the drink.
Is it vegan? Yes, if made with non-dairy milk and vegan sweeteners.
Iced tea is simply usually black or green tea that has been steeped with hot water, then allowed to cool. You can make it fresh at home, and it also comes in a range of pre-packaged iced tea powders and cans, like Lipton and Brisk iced tea. Those two brands are considered vegan as they contain no animal products.
Is it vegan? Yes, as long as processed sugar isn’t added.
While many natural teas are vegan, they can also be enjoyed with a host of add-ins. Some are vegan while others are not.
Vegan tea additions include:
- coconut milk
- almond milk
- soy milk
- oat milk
- natural maple syrup
Non-vegan tea add-ins include:
- cow’s milk
- processed sugar
Classic afternoon tea is actually an event rather than a specific drink. Though of course tea is served, the traditional ceremony also includes a range of foods from finger sandwiches to pastries. And many of them can contain animal products, like eggs, butter, clotted cream, and more.
But you can make afternoon tea compatible with a vegan-diet by simply swapping out those ingredients for vegan alternatives. Use dairy-free butter or other dairy substitutes as spreads. And replace eggs in sandwiches with vegan fillings like hummus or roasted peppers.
Health benefits of tea
Not only are most teas vegan, they also possess a range of potential health benefits, including:
- Promoting heart health
- Reducing cancer risk
- Relieving stress and anxiety
- Aiding in weight loss
- Improving cognitive function
An 8 oz cup of green tea contains about 28 milligrams of caffeine. Black tea has just under twice as much at roughly 47 mg. By contrast, an 8 oz cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine.
Green tea is generally considered to have the most potential health benefits due to the high amounts of an antioxidant compound called catechin. It can help protect the body from free radicals, which are linked to a range of diseases including cancer, diabetes, and dementia.
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