Drinking tea is an essential and much cherished part of Chinese culture. It's the pride of the nation, so to speak, and this tea is exported to around the globe. But is China's tea actually safe to drink?

A few months ago we bought 18 tea products at random from nine tea companies in China, and after sending the samples to be tested discovered that a whopping 12 of the 18 samples contained at least one pesticide banned for use on tea. Pesticides like methomyl and endosulfan, the latter of which has been banned globally under the Stockholm Convention due to its toxic properties.

All 18 samples contained at least three pesticides. One sample - Richun's Tieguanyin 803 tea - even showed up with 17 different kinds of pesticides! A total of 14 samples were found to have the kind of pesticides that may affect fertility, harm an unborn child or cause heritable genetic damage.

Seven of those firms from whom we bought tea are among China's top 10 tea sellers. The tea products included green tea, oolong tea and jasmine tea, and were purchased from stores located in Beijing, Chengdu and Haikou. Read our report to see which brands we tested.

China is the world's biggest producer of tea, and it is also the world's biggest user of pesticides.

Why should you be concerned?

11 of the samples including Tenfu's Bi Luo Chun tea and jasmine tea produced by Zhang Yiyuan and Wuyutai contained methomyl and endosulfan. Pesticides that are banned for use on tea leaves by China's Ministry of Agriculture.

And there is good reason why these pesticides are banned.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies methomyl as highly hazardous because of its high acute toxicity. Endosulfan is another highly toxic pesticide which is known for its persistent toxicity and bio-accumulation effect, and is banned globally.

What needs to happen

It's simple. China's tea companies must:

1. Stop the use of highly toxic pesticides altogether.
2. Drastically reduce the use of pesticides.
3. Establish an effective traceability and supply chain control system that ensures the reduction of pesticide use and its compliance with the law.

Take action

For now the most important thing you can do is read our report and then spread the word.

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UPDATE: Learn about our second round of testing where we discover Lipton, the world's best-selling tea brand, is also selling tea in China with illegal pesticides.