This Brilliant, Bagless Tea Makes Your Brew Better for the Planet

Tea Drops founder Sashee Chandran uses her love of tea to make a positive impact on the environment.

tea drops
Photo courtesy of Tea Drops
Photo courtesy of Tea Drops

Tea has always been a central part of Sashee Chandran’s life. A few years ago, when she visited Derryclare, a tea estate in Sri Lanka where she had recently discovered her father was born, her outlook on life and business was forever changed. 

“It was this full circle moment for me because I realized that my love for tea and the creation of this business was not just this haphazard thing that happened in my life,” Chandran says. “There is this true tie to my heritage and my familial background that really instigated all of this.”

Chandran launched Tea Drops in 2015 as a culmination of her own experiences and frustration with the process of tea making. The idea was simple: to make tea drinking more fun and environmentally friendly, all while paying homage to her Sri Lankan and Chinese heritage—both of which boast a heavy tea culture

“My parents met in Los Angeles and raised us, and we always had tea at every family function,” she says. “When I was feeling sick, my mom would make me a certain type of tea. When we were at a family gathering, we would have another type of herbal tea or black Assam tea.”

Though there are a variety of tea flavors around the world, Chandran noticed an overwhelming sameness when looking at what tea flavors were currently in the American market.

“When you look at the tea aisle, it’s a lot of heritage players, and they’re all making black tea, green tea, very basic,” she says. “I wanted to bring a sense of fun back into tea making and not have it be a very British, very highbrow experience.”

Sashee Chandran of tea drops
Photo courtesy of Tea Drops

Tea Drops come in an assortment of flavors like chai spice, ginger peach cobbler, and rose Earl Grey. But what really makes the company stand out from other teas is the packaging—or the lack thereof. Instead of tea bags or loose leaves, Tea Drops are organic, bagless, ground leaf teas that disintegrate into your cup and come in fun shapes like stars and hearts. 

“When I learned more about what was in most tea bags, I was grossed out,” Chandran says. “Many contain microplastics that are further released when added to hot water and the majority of tea bags are bleached and that was also going into our hot water. I decided a bagless tea would help bypass a lot of these personal concerns.”

In fact, researchers found one plastic tea bag releases roughly more than 11 billion microplastics into each cup (yes, the one you drink from), and many brands use bags made with polypropylene, which isn’t recyclable or biodegradable. 

While the concept of a low-waste, convenient tea seems like a no brainer, Chandran pointed out that the culture surrounding tea is one that is steeped in tradition. 

"I wanted to bring a sense of fun back into tea making and not have it be a very British, very highbrow experience.”

“Tea culture is thousands of years old, and sometimes when you're used to approaching a ritual the same way for thousands of years, it is difficult to think about it differently,” Chandran explains. “I think it took a fresh pair of eyes from someone who was not from the industry and who was trying to solve a real personal pain point for this idea to come to life.” 

Aside from Tea Drops being better for the environment, the convenience factor also plays a role in the design. While herbal tea has an array of health benefits and calming properties, making a quality cup of it is time consuming and if you’re using loose leaves, you’ll need a couple tools. In fact, before starting Tea Drops, Chandran worked at eBay and found difficulty making loose leaf tea at her work desk. 

“There are a lot of steps involved and a lot of equipment that you need—a kettle to a strainer to brewing the tea for five to seven minutes. So I would make my tea and then have to run to my next meeting, not being able to really enjoy it,” Chandran says. “I was never really satisfied with bagged teas because they usually are made with what’s called tea dust. It’s the last part of tea harvesting and production, so it’s never as aromatic or flavorful as loose leaf tea.”

tea drops in a cup
Photo courtesy of Tea Drops

Between the hassle it took for her to make a cup of tea, the possibility of literally drinking plastic, and the harmful effects many tea bags have on the planet, Chandran set out to come up with a solution. Once she saw there was nothing bagless at her local grocery store, she started experimenting with different tea blends in her apartment kitchen. 

All of Tea Drops’ teas are also fair trade, which Chandran found to be a particularly important decision after doing research on tea estates and workers. She learned that 80% of the workforce on a tea estate are typically women, and these women are paid 30% less than the men on the estate.

“They can never really reach managerial positions the way that it’s set up, so what we vowed to do is always purchase fair trade with our tea,” she says. “And not only is there a sustainable component, but it also ensures gender equity when it comes to wages.”

To further aid in social justice efforts, Tea Drops began partnering with Thirst Project as a way to address the global water crisis. The first joint campaign, No Water, No Tea, allowed the company to donate a year’s supply of clean water for every online purchase of Tea Drops, impacting nearly 140,000 people so far.  

But as a company with a mission to make huge impacts, Chandran still wants people to remember that tea drinking is a personal experience and hopes Tea Drops will introduce more people into the culture. 

“What I think is so beautiful about the tea drinking ritual is that it’s a moment in your day to just disconnect, to get back in connection with yourself,” she says “This is a self-care ritual that people can take with them, no matter how much time they have. It doesn't take a lot in terms of preparation and it provides you a moment in your day to just be.” 

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Kristen Adaway is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her @kristenadaway