Tea Rebellion's Regenerative Organic Tea Standards (Draft for Consultation)

Tea Rebellions Regenerative Organic Tea Standards (DRAFT)

As part of our 2024 Strategy project which aims to increase farmer action and returns from regenerative tea farming (see visual below), we are talking to our partner farms, farming experts and third party sustainability service providers to understand the state of play and bottlenecks to adoption. This blog sets out our draft Regenerative Organic Tea farming standards - which are now out in consultation with partners, peers and wider stockholders in the industry.

Diagram 1: Tea Rebellions 2024 Strategic Objectives on Regenerative Action

Tea Rebellion_How can we accelerate farmer action& benefits in climate and nature?

Why do we need regenerative standards for tea?

We believe that the tea industry is behind other primary commodities in its sustainability journey and particularly in its piloting and adopting of innovations in farming practices. Part of this is may be because tea is a perennial and grown in remote locations and most innovations in regenerative farming appear to come annual farming systems.

We have also seen more new practices applied amongst coffee and cocoa farmers than tea farmers recently. There might be a myriad of factors at the bottom of this.  Is there  a higher ROI in coffee and cocoa? Does the coffee and cocoa industry have a higher proportion of differentiated products? Is their industry more specialised than the tea industry? 

Our Approach to Regenerative tea farming standards

We have decided to take an iterative approach where we articulate a first set of standards based on current best practice in organic farming and carbon research. We will then iterate this with industry partners and experts to over time arrive at a peer group tested version. Our standards (Minimum Viable Product) will improve over time so we expect to get things wrong initially so that we can learn fast and get it right eventually.

We believe that adopting regenerative practices is a journey for both farmers and the supply chain.  Organically farming tea farmers are usually already following several regenerative practices. Many tea farmers are already farming without fertilizer, using shade crops, returning organic matter to the soil, doing no till and following other practices that will be on our standards below. However, regenerative farming goes beyond with its active focus on improving soil health and ecosystem resilience.

For us regenerative organic tea farming at the current time (June 2024) is about..








Why an iterative, learning based approach? 

Through our travels to Tea Rebellion partner tea farmers we noticed that many tea farmers are struggling with keeping up to date on organic, rainforest alliance and other requirements and audits. We want to embrace innovation and continuous learning so we have chosen a phased approach (also often referred to as maturity approach), in order to remove the initial adoption hurdles and make it easier “ to get on the train”. 

The aim is for our partner farmers (and other tea farmers) to adopt more and more practices over time and continuously measure & scale what works in their ecosystem.  We understand Regenerative Tea Farming to not be an absolute but rather a Journey to Maturity.

Tea Rebellion_Phased approach to adopting Regenerative tea farming standards

Intended outcomes for a Perennial Farming System (continuous, i.e. no crop rotations)

The intention behind regenerative organic tea farming is to enhance soil health and system resilience. Most of the innovation, research and new technical applications are tested in arable/annual farming systems where the focus is on how to manage crop rotations to the benefit of a healthy system. However tea (like cocoa, coffee and most plantation style crops) is a perennial. In the case of tea this means that the plant is planted today and after 3 years you can first harvest and then keep doing so for about 30 years. With a focus on soil fertility and system resilience, here are some central principles:

  1. Enhancing organic matter and natural nitrogen- since we are removing nutrients in the form of plucked leaves and pruned leaves we need to return some nutrients back to the soil. The best form is annual manure or compost, yet few larger tea farms have enough animals on them to make this work well. Composting is a great option but one that requires some technical knowledge and lots of attention. Other options include nitrogen fixing soil cover crops or shade trees.

  2. Enhancing biodiversity - This is necessary both for the microorganism in the soil and above it for ecosystem resilience. Sadly there is a trade off with organic matter as often soil microorganisms can be washed out in more water retaining soils more easily.  Biodiversity is attractive from a farming perspective for natural pest management and because it attracts birds and smaller wildlife. It is also worth thinking about connecting natural habitats so that you can build wildlife corridors with your farm and create nature co-benefits this way.

  3. Avoiding soil disturbance to allow carbon build up - Since we are interested in the build up of soil carbon over time and creating a carbon sink through tea farming we need to ensure we do not disturb and set carbon free on a regular basis.

Figure 1: Key factors affecting Soil Health and Ecosystem Resilience

Tea Rebellion_Figure 1 Key Factors affecting soil fertility and ecosystem resilience

Figure 2: Tea Rebellions Regenerative Organic tea farming practices (V1)




Relevance for Tea Sector

Minimize Till

No till farming grow crops without turning/
disturbing the soil thereby increasing soil carbon

Avoids loss of carbon/increases carbon below ground

Retains soil moisture

Tillage is only usually done when deep pruning happens (every 2-3 yrs on some farms others less frequently). The bare soil is then often tilled, mulched or even planted to avoid weed growth.


  • Avoid tilling soil during deep prune
  • Use mulch to avoid weed growth during replanting & pruning OR plant nitrogen fixing soil cover to avoid weeds 
  • No till beyond 10 cm topsoil




    Relevance for Tea Sector


    Cover Crop/


    Increase farm biodiversity and ecosystem resilience through multiple crops

    Provides natural nutrients esp. if alternate crops is nitrogen fixing

    Retains water at different soil depths if different root systems

    Retains moisture due to topsoil coverage

    Prevents erosion/landslides

    Agroforestry and shade trees are common on tea farms, while intercropping is not.  We need to pilot and document the cost & benefits of different options in different ecosystems & soils.


  • Choose plants with several benefits such
    sun cover, biodiversity boost, nitrogen fixation and revenue stream
  • On Measurement, Certification & Your Input

    We are aware of the following two divisive topics in the regenerative space:

    1. What should we baseline & measure, i.e. which proxies are best?
    2. Should organic certification be a perquisite to become regenerative or not?

    This blog is aimed at practitioners and its overall aim is to advance practical action. For this reason we have decided to "park topics 1 and 2" in this first consultation phase. Watch this space.

    Thank you for reading to this point. This signals to us that you care about the potential of regenerative transformation for the tea sector and the wider food system.  Please share your comments on these draft standards to info@tearebellion.com so we can strengthen these standards further to benefit smallholders, cooperatives and the tea supply chain.

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