Starting at the beginning of our seed to cup journey, the raw product, the short answer to both the Vegetarian and Vegan questions is ‘yes’.
The raw materials for both coffee and tea come from plants as the terms ‘tea leaves’ and ‘coffee beans’ would suggest and because no animal products are added during processing, both of our favourite brews are suitable for Vegans and Vegetarians.
If we add milk when we drink it, the story changes, but black coffee like your morning espresso, or tea is fine.
Coffee and tea both come from trees which flourish at higher altitudes in sub tropical climates, although both trees can also grow in sufficiently humid tropical or other climates.
So which bit of the tea and coffee plants end up in our drink?
Strictly speaking, a coffee bean is a seed and if it is unprocessed, it can be planted to grow a coffee tree. A pit or stone is found inside the fruit of the coffee tree and the seed is inside the stone – like the stone in a peach or cherry – and this is the part that gets roasted before being ground.
So why call coffee stones ‘beans’?
Simply because they look like beans. Most coffee cherries contain two stones and because their flat sides are pushed together, the result looks like the familiar coffee bean we all love.
The part of the tea plant that we drink, is the familiar leaf. In fact it is only the buds and leaves from the top couple of inches (the flushes) of the mature tea plant that are used for tea.
The tea plant will grow into a tree of up to 16 m (52 ft) if left to its own devices, but cultivated plants are generally pruned to waist height for easing leaf plucking and because they bear more new shoots. These shoots increase the quality of the tea through generating new and tender leaves.
So a tick in the box for tea and coffee in relation to the first step in the seed to cup journey and its route map to being suitable for Vegetarians and Vegans. But this is only step one.
There are many stages and processes involved in turning the raw plant product into the coffee and tea we are familiar with when we brew our morning drinks.
We need to look at the answers to the other questions before we can understand how the drinks stack up against the green, environmentally friendly Vegan philosophy.
The next stage we need to look at is how the raw product is grown, farmed and treated. Which brings up the next pertinent question we need to answer to: are tea and coffee organic? A very common question that many of us who are not Vegan or Vegetarian also ask.