Rishi Tea's Online Tea FAQs


How should I store my tea?

Tea does not necessarily “go bad” or spoil, but it does lose its freshness gradually over time. You can mitigate this effect by storing tea inside an airtight container in a dry, cool, and dark cupboard or pantry. Tea is hygroscopic—meaning it absorbs moisture and nearby aromas—so it is best to stash your teas away from other highly fragrant products like coffee, spices, or herbs. For optimal freshness, keep your tea leaves inside our resealable foil bags. Gently squeeze excess air out of the bag each time you re-seal it, and place the bag in a canister or jar to protect it from the elements. In general, you can preserve the freshness of your tea by minimizing exposure to heat, light, air and moisture.

How long does tea stay fresh?

Tea is like the dry herbs or spices in your kitchen–it does not really “go bad” but the complexity of its aroma will fade over time. Of all tea types, green and white teas will lose their freshness most quickly. To experience peak freshness, we recommend consuming these teas within 2 months from the time you first open the package. Matcha green tea powder should be enjoyed within 2 weeks, because the powder will undergo “post-oxidation” when exposed to air, transforming its bright green color into a stale shade of pea-green or even yellow. We recommend enjoying most oolong, black, and herbal teas within 4 months for the best flavor. Roasted oolong and Pu-erh teas have the unique ability to ripen and develop complexity with age, if stored properly, for several years.

How many servings do I get out of a bag of loose leaf tea?

This depends on the size of the bag and the amount of tea you use for each serving. In general, we recommend that most Rishi Teas be measured at 1 tablespoon (4-5g) per 8 oz of water. A 250g bag yields about 50 – 60 servings, whereas a one pound bag (454g) would yield about 90 – 120 servings. One of the joys of loose leaf tea is that you can re-infuse the tea leaves several times during each brewing session. Check the label and product description online for specific brewing tips for each tea.

What is direct trade tea?

Direct trade is not a formal certification, but a sourcing philosophy and a commitment to a way of doing business. Direct trade procurement models are becoming the standard in specialty tea, coffee, and chocolate markets.

Rishi’s direct trade is defined by our active, personal relationships with tea growers and farmers around the world. Our buyers travel to the origins of our teas during each growing season to meet with the farmers, taste the fresh crop with them and work together in the fields to achieve our desired flavor profiles. We even collaborate to create new styles of tea. The teas you love from Rishi are the result of these authentic, trusting partnerships, built up over years of renewed business together.

Our practice of direct trade is not just a romance story or marketing gimmick; it is the very foundation of our quality control program. Our travel and hands-on work with tea farmers allows us to verify where, when, and how our organic teas are grown, and to offer traceability on each lot back to the very soil where the tea trees are planted.

What does sustainability mean to Rishi?

Sustainability is a mindset that considers how our entire business ecosystem matters in the long term. Our approach to operating as a sustainable company involves our understanding of the ecological conditions of the tea farms, the well-being of our farmers and their communities, the production methodology practiced overseas and at Rishi HQ in Milwaukee, our business ethics, and even our employees’ professional growth. These are all important elements of our business that can ensure our ability to continue providing healthful, organic teas and botanicals to our customers for generations.

Do you offer Fair Trade teas?

Rishi was one of the first importers of Fair Trade tea into the United States and today we remain a bulk organic Fair Trade tea importer, maintaining relationships with many Fair Trade tea growers worldwide. We promote Fair Trade certification for teas grown in areas where Fair Trade makes an especially high impact, such as our Jade Cloud and Jasmine green teas grown by the Xuan’En co-op in Hubei, China.

How does Rishi ensure sustainability for tea farmers?

We have a team of tea and herb buyers who carry out extensive hands-on field work in all of our direct trade tea origins. In each destination, we immerse ourselves in the local culture, forging strong relationships with the people living in these communities. We cook and eat meals together, learn their herbal medicinal practices, and even stay with rural farming families. We have recently camped with Wa ethnic farmers in Yunnan, met mystic Sadhus in Nepal, and experienced the Day of the Dead celebration with turmeric farmers in Guatemala.

Our ethos is to make authentic local connections and achieve a real understanding the socioeconomic challenges facing our suppliers and their communities. We view our suppliers as long-term partners; their financial livelihood, community development, and environmental preservation are all crucial factors to our mutual success in the tea trade. We share an understanding that doing organic agriculture requires clear communication, planning, and collaboration. The tea industry largely operates on trust, not by contract. By visiting and working together in person year after year, the farmers can rest assured that Rishi will provide a stable and sustainable export market for their high-value organic tea.
Organic and Food Safety

What does “organic” mean?

The aim of the organic agriculture movement is to promote environmental sustainability by encouraging biodiversity, enhancing soil fertility, and protecting the health of farm workers and consumers. In the US, organic agriculture and product labeling standards are regulated by a USDA certification program called the National Organic Program (NOP). The NOP certification prohibits the use of banned pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, growth hormones, GMOs, irradiation, sewage sludge, and artificial preservatives, flavors and dyes in crops, livestock, and foods. Third-party certifying agencies make annual inspections to verify that an organic farmer, manufacturer, or product satisfies these standards. Compliant businesses are awarded the right to use the USDA Organic logo

We believe organic agriculture is so important for leading healthy, natural lifestyles and for restoring ecological balance to world in an age of global environmental degradation. One of Rishi’s founding principles was to help create and expand the demand for organic tea internationally. We have specialized in sourcing organically grown tea since we were founded in 1997 – five years before the NOP standards were developed for tea in 2002. Today, over 95% of Rishi’s teas and botanicals are certified organic.

Who certifies your teas as organic?

Our organic certifying agent is Quality Assurance International (QAI). Based in San Diego, CA and established in 1989, QAI is one of the world’s largest organic certifiers. QAI is active in accrediting businesses worldwide according to the USDA standards, as well as the International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS), the European Union (EU), and the Japanese Agricultural Standard (JAS).

What further steps do you take to ensure the purity of your organic teas?

We are proud to be the largest branded importer of organic tea in North America; more than 95% of our products and ingredients are certified organic. In order for Rishi teas to bear the USDA Organic logo, not only must the ingredients be certified organic at the farm level, but our own facility—and all blending, packing and product handling—must be certified annually as well.

We go beyond those requirements with a robust quality control program that begins in the field; our buyers spend months traveling to the tea farms each year to taste and evaluate quality during the peak crop seasons. This also allows us to experience our organic tea cultivation firsthand. Throughout the year, our Compliance team performs additional spot-testing on select teas to ensure our organic teas are indeed free of pesticides and other contaminants.

What about your conventional (not organic certified) teas?

We celebrate the fact that organic tea is gaining popularity in tea markets worldwide, and farms across many growing regions are converting to organic cultivation to meet that demand. There are several classical tea growing regions, however, where organic tea farms simply do not exist yet today. The major oolong tea regions—Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan—are notable examples. Many oolong tea farms in those areas produce exclusive micro-lots of top shelf conventional teas for premium markets worldwide. Phoenix Dancong oolong from Guangdong and High Mountain oolongs from Taiwan are some of the most expensive teas in the world. With such strong demand and high-end marketing, those farms have little incentive to seek organic certification. The same can be said for several of the tea regions in Japan that specialize in growing gyokuro or tencha for making matcha green tea powder.

The good news is that many of the farms in those areas—including our suppliers there—practice a range of “Integrated Pest Management” techniques to minimize their use of pesticides. The install solar-powered insect zappers, pheromone sticky paper traps, and plant buffer zones to that effect. Since these are some of the most treasured and sought-after styles of tea in the world, we import these as specialty items for tea connoisseurs. These are some of the favorite teas enjoyed by our staff; we would never sell a tea we would not drink ourselves.

Are your teas free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms)?

All Rishi teas are free of GMOs. Fortunately, GMOs are not as significant an issue in the tea industry as they are in grain or produce markets. The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is grown without genetic modification. Instead, hundreds of tea plant strains known as cultivars (“cultivated varieties”) are bred and planted through traditional botanical methods like crossing. GMOs are explicitly forbidden under the USDA’s organic program, so any Rishi tea bearing the USDA Organic logo is free of GMOs.

What are ‘natural flavors’?

Natural flavors are concentrated liquid extracts made from real food ingredients. We use natural flavors to complement dried fruits, herbs, and other botanicals in some blends to create a complex depth of flavor that infuses deeply into the tea leaves. We use our natural flavors in compliance with USDA NOP organic standards and we are one of few tea companies who do not use any artificial flavors in our teas.

Are your teas gluten/dairy/allergen free?

All Rishi Tea products are free from ingredients containing gluten or dairy. Additionally, we do not work with ingredients containing or exposed to eggs, wheat, corn, soy, shellfish or peanuts. We do use coconut and ramon nut in several blends, but follow a strict allergen control procedure to separate these ingredients from our allergen-free ingredients.

What are your tea bags made of? Are they BPA free?

Rishi tea bags are made from a plant-based material called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is an inert, DNA and GMO free material that is produced by breaking down starches found in plant sources such as corn. These starches are broken down into pure lactic acid, and then polymerized through enzymatic activity into long chains of PLA fiber.

Rishi has two forms of PLA tea bags: standard knit and special knit. Both of these types of tea bags are made by forming PLA fibers into a mesh fabric. Rishi receives rolls of PLA mesh fabric, and transforms them into pyramid-shaped, whole leaf tea sachets in our tea factory. The difference between standard knit and special knit is the fineness of the PLA mesh. Our standard knit PLA tea bags are made of thin PLA strands with a tight knit pattern that create a super fine mesh filter. The mesh appears silky and translucent because each PLA strand is so thin. Conversely, our special knit PLA tea bags are made of thicker PLA strands that create a looser knit pattern. The looser knit pattern has more open area and a wider mesh that is similar to a teapot so the flavor and aroma of tea flows more thoroughly and rapidly into the cup. Our special knit PLA is not as translucent as the standard, finer mesh tea bags, because the thicker, stronger strands create a more opaque and dense appearance. Depending on the type of tea and the market application, we use standard knit PLA for some products, and special knit PLA for others.

PLA is used in a wide variety of food products because it is derived from renewable plant sources and is biodegradable in the long term. The conditions under which PLA biodegrades depend on the form that the PLA takes. Our PLA tea bags are designed to biodegrade in commercial quality composting systems, when conditions achieve at least 120°F, and 80% relative humidity. When these conditions are met and held constant, our PLA tea bags will biodegrade over a period of about two months.

Most Rishi tea bags have a cotton string and printed-paper tag, which is attached to the PLA mesh using ultrasonic vibrational energy. This process instantly fuses the string to the mesh. The same technique is used when the rolled PLA mesh is spun into a pyramid shape, filled with whole leaf tea, and sealed during production on our equipment at Rishi.

We are sometimes asked about the food safety concerns regarding our PLA tea bags: If they are biodegradable, does that mean that they break down when brewed in hot water? Furthermore, many organic food advocates, bloggers, rival tea companies, Dr. Oz and Foodbabe.com have made statements based on ideas and assumptions that silky tea bags contain plastic and are unsafe. None of these statements were made with any scientific test or analytical backing. We felt it was time to take responsibility and set the record straight for the tea industry with scientific data and authentic testing results for actual PLA mesh material used for silky tea bags.

We are confident that our PLA tea bags are safe when enjoyed according to our brewing recommendations. We worked with an independent lab in Houston, one of the leading labs that tests for plastics in food products, to test both our PLA standard knit and special knit tea bag materials. We tested for BPA and commonly found plasticizers and phthalates that contaminate the global food supply.

Our PLA mesh was tested using Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), a technique that allowed the lab to analyze the chemical composition of PLA in its entirety. This testing method has a detectable limit of 2 ppm for most of the phthalates we looked for, and of 3 ppm for two of the phthalates.

Both PLA special knit and standard knit materials passed with flying colors. None of the phthalates we tested for were detected, even in trace amounts. This indicates that the PLA mesh used in our tea bags is completely BPA-free and phthalate-free. The United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (USCPSC) specifies that food products are deemed safe when they test below 1,000 ppm for the plasticizers we checked. With results of no detection, PLA goes well beyond the conditions required to comply with USCPSC standards.

Contact us if you would like a copy of our test report.

It should be noted that there are several data reports showing that the common petroleum-based nylon and polyester silky tea bags on the market leach plastics, but our PLA material for tea bags is a different material and is not plastic, nor petroleum based. PLA based tea bags should not be linked to reports or tests of unrelated materials.

Are you testing your Japanese teas for radiation?

On March 11, 2011 the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake off of the northeast coast of Japan caused the devastating Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, releasing radioactivity into the environment.

Since then and to this day, Rishi Tea has maintained a stringent program to verify the safety of the teas we source from Japan by conducting radioactivity tests at an independent third-party laboratory in the USA. The lab uses a testing method called gamma ray spectrometry to measure radioactive isotopes Cesium-134, Cesium-137, and Iodine-131 in units of becquerel per kilogram. We continue to test samples of our Japanese teas for these isotopes prior to import.

Our test results continually confirm that Rishi’s Japanese teas are completely safe. Our latest test results are as follows:

Isotope Unit Result US FDA Maximum Allowable Limits for Tea
Cesium-134 Bq/kg Non-detect 1,200
Cesium-137 Bq/kg Non-detect 1,200
Iodine-131 Bq/kg Non-detect 170

Most of the teas we source in Japan are grown in the tea regions of Kagoshima and Miyazaki, located on the southern island of Kyushu at a distance of about 700 miles from Fukushima. Of all the Japanese tea regions, Kagoshima and Miyazaki are situated at the farthest distance from the Fukushima area, and so pose the lowest risk for radiation contamination.

Tea and Health

Which teas are the healthiest?

It is impossible to say which teas are the healthiest, but drinking any tea is a healthful habit and we believe tea is one of nature’s best replacements for the artificial beverages that are endemic to modern societies today. There is nothing artificial in tea. In fact, the composition of the Chinese character for tea (“cha”) reveals how tea is a medium through which we can explore a natural existence. The character depicts three elements: ‘grass’ on the top, ‘human’ in the center, and ‘tree’ on the bottom. The essence of a tea life is to immerse yourself in nature.

茶 cha tea grass + human + tree

In the traditional tea cultures of East Asia, it is common knowledge that despite coming from the same single plant species (Camellia sinensis), the different types of tea have unique energies and effects on the mind and body. We encourage you to discover new teas to find the most naturally delicious varieties that appeal to your taste.

What are antioxidants and why are they talked about so much in tea?

Antioxidants are molecules that may prevent, or even reverse, certain types of cellular damage in the body by neutralizing other oxidative molecules. All tea from the Camellia sinensis plant contains antioxidants in the form of tea polyphenols, including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin (EGC), and others. Polyphenols are found in a wide variety of plant foods, including tea, red wine, dark chocolate, olive oil, and berries. Researchers believe polyphenols may help mitigate age-related or degenerative conditions. However, this has not been proven conclusively, so the FDA does not permit food companies to make specific claims about tea and disease prevention. This is why we suggest tea drinkers interested in the health benefits of tea simply enjoy a variety of tea types.

If I brew my tea longer, will I get more health benefits?

Not necessarily. The most water-soluble, easily extracted components in tea are the beneficial polyphenols (antioxidants). By contrast, one of the least water-soluble components in tea is caffeine. Brewing tea for longer periods of time will simply result in an overly-strong, bitter cup.


How much caffeine is in tea, compared to coffee?

Caffeine is one of three stimulating alkaloids found in tea. The others are theobromine and theophylline. Theobromine is a mild stimulant also found in greater concentration in chocolate.

In general, a brewed cup of tea has about 1/3 to 1/2 the caffeine of a cup of coffee. A cup of coffee has about 100-120 mg per 8 ounces. Most teas fall between 20-50 mg per 8 ounces. Contrary to popular myth, this average is true regardless of the type of tea (green tea, black tea, etc). This makes sense when you consider that all true tea is made from a single plant species, Camellia sinensis.

The strain or cultivar (“cultivated variety”) is one of the most significant factors determining how much caffeine might be available in any given tea. Broad-leaf variety teas grown in Yunnan and Southeast Asia contain more caffeine than small-leaf varieties. But with hundreds of cultivars in existence, the range varies greatly.

Caffeine is more readily extracted at higher temperatures, so brewing tea at a higher temperature or for a longer period of time will result in a higher concentration of caffeine in your cup. For this reason, cold brew teas contain very little caffeine.

What do the caffeine levels represent on your tea bag and loose leaf packaging?

We worked with an independent lab to measure the caffeine content of our packaged teas. The teas were brewed according to our recommended brewing instructions for temperature and infusion time, and then the caffeine content of the infusion was measured. We found that most teas registered neatly within three tiers:

LOW: < 20 mg / 8oz cup
MEDIUM: 20 – 40 mg / 8oz cup
HIGH: > 40 mg / 8oz cup

An average cup of coffee contains about 90 – 120 mg / 8oz cup.

How does caffeine content vary between types of tea?

The six tea types are differentiated by their processing steps. The techniques used to process fresh tea leaves—such as rolling, firing, oxidizing, or drying—do not alter caffeine on a molecular level, and thus they do not affect the amount of caffeine that was originally in the fresh leaf. Teas that undergo baking or roasting in their final stages, such as Houjicha or Iron Goddess, may lose some caffeine by pyrolysis, whereby the caffeine molecule is literally baked out of the tea leaves. But in general, the processing methods do not affect caffeine content, so the various types of tea can have similar levels of caffeine.

A greater factor influencing the amount of caffeine potential in tea is the strain or cultivar (“cultivated variety”) of the tea plant. And of course, the brewing technique plays a strong role in determining how much caffeine is extracted into the tea cup.

When you re-steep your tea, how much caffeine is in the 2nd and 3rd infusions?

A decent amount! After a first 4-5 minute infusion, most teas have only released 30-50% of their total caffeine. The tea leaves will release the remaining caffeine in subsequent infusions.

There are some variables, of course. If a tea is made of very small leaves and leaf particles, more surface area is exposed to water, and more caffeine will come out in the cup. The water temperature also affects the extraction rate greatly.

Is it true you can rinse the caffeine off your tea by brewing it for 30 seconds and discarding that first cup?

No. It takes several minutes to extract significant amounts of caffeine from the leaf. Using higher temperature water and a longer infusion time will yield more caffeine in the cup. By contrast, cooler water and short infusion times do not extract as much caffeine. This is why it was believed for so many years that white tea and green tea (both typically brewed with cooler water for a briefer time) do not contain as much caffeine as black tea (higher temperature, longer infusion time).

Why is the tea high different from the coffee buzz?

Tea is known to create a more even, sustained lift compared to the buzz and crash of coffee. There are several reasons for this.

First, the amount of caffeine in tea is about 1/3 to 1/2 that of coffee. So the peak of the tea high does not spike as high as the coffee jolt.

Second, tea contains antioxidants known as polyphenols. The polyphenols in tea have an affinity for caffeine on a molecular level, often binding with the molecule only to release it later. They act as a sort of slow-release mechanism. Coffee does not contain these polyphenols, so the entirety of the caffeine found in coffee is absorbed through the blood-brain barrier soon after consumption. After sipping tea, the polyphenols slowly release the caffeine over the course of several hours.

Third, tea contains an amino acid known as L-theanine. L-theanine has been shown to stimulate alpha brain waves, which are responsible for mental clarity and focus. Japanese green teas, especially matcha, are thought to have high concentrations of L-theanine. No wonder the Zen Buddhist monks drink matcha before meditation.

These factors combine to give the tea drinker a truly unique, sustained feeling of alertness and clarity.