August 25, 2008

Is there any non-kosher tea in the U.S.?

I have to admit that I am not much of a tea drinker, but when a business associate from Europe ordered tea in an upscale kosher restaurant, I too jumped in. My reference of good tea goes back to the days when all we had at home was Lipton’s. I am not even sure if in those days tea had a hechsher, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw my associate fuss with a box of tea that seemed to have more teabags that I have consumed in my lifetime. What shocked me was the sheer number of brands. First there was a neat column of Wissotsky from Israel, with flavors I never thought could be tea. Then there was Tazo, an upscale line of tea owned by Starbucks, and finally, even Bigelow, the tea that Dodger manager Joe Torre says he drinks. That’s when I realized that all of these brands have kosher certification by a major kosher certifier.

While I had already heard that the majority of coffee produced in the U.S. was kosher, tea was quite another matter. Indeed, kashrus experts warned that with the growing number of flavored teas, there was a real concern about the flavorings. What that meant was that I could not just walk into any coffee shop and order a cup of tea without knowing that it was kosher. But a rabbi who travels a great deal assured me that reading the labels of tea will give me unprecedented choices even at the smallest airports. He even comforted me that he had found many that were Passover worthy. With those reassurances, I now know that if ever I do become a frequent tea drinker, it won’t be hard to find tea with a kosher symbol. On a recent trip to the midwest, I indeed treated myself to a cup of kosher tea and moved on to the table with the complimentary (at $3 a cup, complimentary?) condiments. There were little bags of coffee, coffee whiteners, artificial sweeteners, and sugar, all with a kosher symbol. Want to keep kosher on the go? Why not with a cup of tea?