What do you look for in an online tea retailer?

I am in the process of compiling a list what matters most to me when I go shopping for loose leaf tea online (I know, I know, Don’t I have anything better to do? :-} ). Since there are literally thousands of online tea retailers, before I take the time to even look at what any one online shop has to offer I first like to know a few things about them. As with the teas themselves, knowing what to look for—and what others look for—in a teashop can be very useful.

Below is my list of things that shape my perception of a company and influence whether or not I will buy from them (or continue to buy from them), and if I would recommend them to others (including a few interesting things I have found that only a few retailers offer). Some are more important than others to me (I put them somewhat in order):

General:
- Price (including price breaks for buying larger amounts)
- Offering of teas in each class (including tisanes, fruit and iced teas)
- Availability of information regarding location and year of harvest (of green teas, mainly)
- Description of each tea (including owner’s personal experiences with the tea, cultural and historical information)
- Sales and promotions (year-end sales, coupon codes)
- What I have heard or read about them
- Their overall enthusiasm and philosophy towards Tea
- Availability of samples (and their cost)
- Rewards program (H&S has one)
- Tea accessories and other related items, including tea related food and books
- Option to have the loose-leaf tea packages into tea bags (Ovation, Culinary Teas)
- Teas that are Organic and/or Fair Trade
- Availability of teabags, tea sachets, tea pyramids
(If I have purchased from them previously)
- My experience with the freshness of tea, and how accurately it matches description on their website (I have had one tea which was not at all like the description, or the picture)
- How often the items I want are in stock
- My experience with how quickly they processed my order (at least one retailer took many days before my order was even processed)

Website:
- Look and feel, layout (including color, pictures, and overall presentation, simple and elegant vs. cluttered and busy)
- Ease of navigation (can I easily get where I want to go, and find what I want?)
- Ease of use of cart/basket when purchasing items
- Ability to review status of my order, and other ongoing personal information through some kind of account system (not all retailers have this)
- Section on general information about tea (health benefits, definition of classes of teas, ‘tea 101’ etc. This used to matter to me more when I first started buying tea, but not so much anymore)
- Related blog (like Adagio)
- Reviews of teas (I personally don’t trust these very much, as it seems they are commonly reviewed by the tea retailer before being published and may be edited or never even published)

Shipping:
- Cost and break points (if any)
- Ability to track package online once it is in route (not all provide this)
- Options: next day, ground, Fed-Ex, UPS, etc.
(If I have purchased from them previously)
- Was everything I ordered that was listed as in stock delivered (I can have had two experiences where they did not)
- How carefully was the tea wrapped and packaged? (I have had at least one package that looked like it was carelessly put together and taped)
- Were free samples included with the shipment? (This can be very fun!)

Contact Experience:
(If I have purchased from them previously)
- Any e-mail, phone, snail mail, person-to-person contacts? How well did they answer my questions, how knowledgeable and enthusiastic were they about their tea?

Packaging:
- Appearance and durability of tins, bags, boxes, etc.
- How samples are packaged (if any)

Miscellaneous:
- Anything else not listed above

Are any of these important to you when buying online? If so, which ones are most important, and which ones have I not listed?

Will you help me, and help the rest of us to find the perfect place that carries those things—the stoutest kettle, the most beautiful gaiwan, the freshest leaves—that will allow us to enjoy the ultimate: that perfect cup of tea!?

101 Replies
Angrboda said

Number one priority: International shipping rates. It’s the first thing I check out when somebody shows me a shop I wasn’t familiar with before. Only if I’m happy with what I find there do I bother to check out what they’re even offering. Many shops don’t offer shipping outside the North American continent. Others pretend they do, but their shipping rates are so fierce that in reality I can’t imagine they send very many packages abroad. There is a very definite limit to what I’m willing to pay for shipping.

If the shipping rates are ok for me I go look at what they’re offering. If I like what I find there, I bookmark the shop for later.

I’m not very good at trying out new shops, though. I have a tendency to stick to the tried and true, so even if the selection was exciting and shipping was next to free, I might not actually get around to coming back at all. But if I’ve shopped there once and liked the experience and especially the things I bought the first time, chances are I’ll come back

ssajami said

I’m in Israel so international shipping rates are an (sad, sad) issue for me too, and usuallly the make or break factor when purchasing from a vendor.

Angrboda, I have purchased only from a very few US vendors (usualy purchase locally or from China). Can I tap into your shipping knowledge to ask if you could tell me which vendors you know of that have decent international shipping rates? I am mostly looking for black tea.

Uniquity said

Trust me, you’re doing well to get affordable shipping in north America, period. Getting things from the US to Canada is usually cost prohibitive in every way.

Alana237 said

I have shipping issues also. I have found that smaller companies like Earthbound Tea, or places like Verdant Tea have the best international shipping rates. I usually contact companies if they don’t offer international shipping – most are willing to ship based on weight, and for the most part, they are very reasonable rates.

Angrboda said

Most of the places I shop are Europe based, but there are an exception or two. I’ve set my personal shipping fee limit at around $15. If it’s more than that, tough. I’ll go somewhere else. For that kind of money though, it is possible to do some varied shopping.

TeaSpring is US based, but all their tea is shipped from China. They have a world wide flat shipping rate at around $5
Chi of Tea has a world wide flat rate of $8
52teas take $2 per item on international orders.
Andrews&Dunham take around $12 if memory serves me right. I was clicking around on the site just now and couldn’t find it again.
Mighty Leaf has a Swedish branch, although I haven’t tried it yet.
TeaCuppa has a world wide flat rate of $8. I haven’t shopped there either, but a friend has shared some of their stuff with me, so I’m planning to shop there eventually. It’s on my list. :)
Adagio has a European branch as well, although last I looked it didn’t have a very large selection at all.
Shang Tea recently let me place an order via email and paypal and shipped it to me for around $13
Shui Tea don’t have a specific rate listed but they use USPS for international orders, so I imagine it’s according to weight. This, for a small, light order, is totally within my comfort zone. I’m definitely going to be trying them on for size in the near future. One of their products was recommended to me as something I might like by a fellow Steepsterite a while ago.

Then there are a number of UK based shops that will ship internationally at a reasonable price.
Nothing But Tea is a favourite of mine. They take, I think, Royal Mail rates according to weight, but for a European shop I’m less hung up on shipping in general. It’s the long trip across the Atlantic that generally seems to be the pricy bit for me.
Canton Tea Co takes £2.80 on international orders. Haven’t shopped there yet, but might very well do so in the future.
Jing Tea have a whole little table of shipping rates depending on weight of order and whether you are in West Europe or the rest of the world. Around £3-4 for the cheapest option. Haven’t shopped there yet, either.
Jeeves&Jericho is a very recent discovery for me, so I haven’t tried them yet either. It looks all sorts of interesting though, and they calculate shipping based on how many tins/teaware you order. 1-2 tins is £3 for the EU, £5 for the rest of the world.

So really, while it can be tricky to find good places that will ship world wide without charging you an arm and a leg, they do definitely exist. And as Alana237 pointed out, it does indeed appear as though the smaller shops are the best places to look. :)

ssajami said

Thank you for writing out such a detailed list! I have actually found quite a few European vendors where shipping to Israel was even more expensive than from the USA, I guess because we are not a EU country but considered “rest of the world”. TeaSpring is where I usually get most of my tea (except for pu erh, which I’m now looking for decent sources).
I will look into the other vendors you mentioned. Thanks again!

Ninavampi said

I live in Ecuador and shipping to South America is crazy! Also customs here is ridiculous and it is really hard to get anything through! I recently placed an experiment order from 52teas taking advantage of the 2 dollar shipping. I am hoping that it will make it though customs!!!!! If it does, I am going to be really really really happy.

I usually just wait till someone I know is travelling and order it to them so they can bring it when they come back. So, needless to say, all my orders tend be rather large since they have to last me a while!

cteresa said

Just to add, places which ship internationally, examples given to the european union

Mariage Frères – mariagefreres.com one of my favorites, shipping fees are 17 euros (yikes) for just a tin of 100 grams, but they do not increase just a little bit for extra things (but say 800 grams of tea including tins is 20.20 euros shipping, it remains 20.20€ for a lot of tea added), so worth it if buying A LOT. And they got a lot of variety and quality is usually very good.

Yumchaa.com – a favorite of mine, I love their blends and the quality of their base teas. Reasonable-ish shipping prices, inquire by mail if not too clear.

Palais des Thés – they charge I think 8 euros for up to 5 KILOS (OMG, I could get in so much trouble) flat rate for orders. very tempting, though they are my third choice.

As shipping seems to be a significant part of the overall price—if you don’t buy much Tea, I can see how you could ‘get in trouble’ when buying from Palais des Thés or Mariage Frères. It is good to know where they have break points on shipping, though. Never heard of Yumchaa.com. Just for grins, I hope to check them out.

Thanks, cteresa!

ADDITION: They do a great job here http://www.yumchaa.com/tresc/loose-leaf-tea/8/ of explaining the advantages of loose-leaf over bagged tea.

cteresa said

I could get in so much trouble in those sellers where shipping is steep but does not depend much on how much it is there. That or get in trouble with a few local friends. Will resist crosses fingers.

Yumchaa has lovely teas, I love their balance when mixing tastes, just right and the quality of their base teas and ingredients is lovely. Though I am heretical and there is a place in my life for a few tea bags now and then.

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Hmm…

When I encounter an online tea company for the first time, I look for teas that catch my eye. Do they carry yellow tea? Since yellow tea is my favorite, and it is a bit rarer than other tea types, this is one of those things that if I’ve the money, I will just automatically buy it if I find it. The same is true with an unusual flavor of tea. (That’s what drew me to 52Teas and keeps me coming back for more)

To be honest, I don’t usually consider the price of a tea when I buy it. However when it comes to shipping costs, if I find them to be exorbitant I probably will cancel the order. I’d rather spend more for tea and have a fair price for shipping than to have a really good price on tea and a high shipping charge.

The website really doesn’t matter to me. I mean, it’s cool when the website is nice and all, but, I don’t expect a tea purveyor to be computer savvy. I would rather buy tea from an artist who cares about their craft and puts their time and energy into the tea than from someone who can give good internet. :)

The same is true for the processing time. As long as I receive good customer service, I know that these vendors may not be able to tend to my order immediately, and I don’t expect them to. I am generally a patient person when it comes to tea orders, especially because I have quite a bit of tea on hand as it is… I probably won’t be able to try something just as soon as it arrives, so why worry if the tea arrives today or tomorrow or next week? As long as it arrives… I’m good with that.

But what really matters to me is the customer service. And I guess it could be argued that processing time falls into the category of customer service. So, if it takes forever for an order to be processed, and then I am not treated well by that company in other respects, I won’t order from them again. So, as long as I’m treated right, I’ll be back.

For me, customer service is the big thing. I’m willing to pay more and even willing to wait a little longer if I’m treated well and with respect, and when I come across a company that has treated me wrong or I have witnessed them treating others wrong, I will never do business with them. Ever.

wow… I wrote a novel. LOL

DaisyChubb said

It’s a good novel though :D
I agree with everything you’ve said, customer service and shipping costs being so important! I’m also patient when it comes to processing time (within reason of course) because if I get a quality product, I’ll totally be back for more.

Plus, the longer I wait, the more time Ihave to clear out cupboard space by drinking other tea n_n;

@LiberTEAS: I, for one, am very grateful you wrote a novel. Your post shows me you looked at much (if not all) of my considerations I listed. And I love getting other perspectives. Here’s a continuation of the current act of my own ‘play’. << Curtin up. >>

I believe I understand where your coming from when you wrote: “I would rather buy tea from an artist who cares about their craft and puts their time and energy into the tea from someone who can give good internet.” Good point. The quality of tea itself is what matter most. And, I happen to be computer savvy (I judge) so their presentation on the web MATTERS to me. This, I think, is where it gets tricky. How do I KNOW they TRULY CARE about the quality of the tea the sell based solely on their website? If their website happens to be the ONLY way for me to know what they have to offer, and who they are, then how well they designed their website (presentation, attention to detail, well organized, etc) is really all I have to help me assess their ability to provide me with what I want (based on the criteria I listed above).

<< Teaching moment to attempt to illustrate what I am trying to convey here >> What I am trying to say is analogous to the things that come into play when interviewing for a position. If I understand correctly, my prospective employer bases what they know about me on mainly three things (assuming they don’t ‘know’ me from somewhere else): my cover letter and resume (and depending on the job, possibly some kind of portfolio), what others have said about me in the references I provided (assuming the position requires I submit them, and that they have talked to them on the phone, or have read any written ones), and how well I conduct myself in the interview. Over the years I leaned the hard way that ‘being a good, conscience person,’ or, ‘being passionate about the job/career’, or ‘being good at what I do,’ means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to the interviewer UNLESS I can convey these things through the three avenues I have mentioned, AND they are important to the interviewer and/or company. That’s why communication and presentation skills MATTER (in trying to get a job, in selling something like tea, and in just about anything in life). :) << End of Teaching moment >>

Once I decide I want to buy some tea from a new teashop, I begin to look at the websites of the ones I have already book marked. Unfortunately, their website can be one-dimensional in it’s ability to really tell me what I want to know about them (and just as with the resume, they can easily convey false or misleading information). It’s a start. If that’s all I have, I’ll simply have to make a decision to buy based on that. Yet, it’s often times not enough for me to commit to making a purchase with them. For example, when I choose to buy from a teashop, I like to buy lots of different teas from them, as I don’t often buy tea online, largely because—like many of you—I like to pay as little as possible for shipping (or none all if I can avoid it). So before I commit the oftentimes $50+ USD, I want to have more information about the teashop I’m buying from.

So making connections here job references are akin to reviews about a teashop. Herein lies the value in the reviews. Not the reviews of the teas themselves, but of the TEASHOP. If others review a teashop, then those reviews give me more information on which to base my decision to buy (just as an employer can use the references to base their decision on whether or not to hire). Who likes buying from some vendor that you eventually become unhappy with? I don’t. And, I know, it happens, its unavoidable, I get that, it’s OK (obviously employers hire people they later wish they didn’t). YET, the likely hood of it happening can be managed through many means (employers go to great lengths to avoid this from happening); the one important one in this case: the reviews of teashops.

The players exit, the lights dim, and the curtain falls. The act is over, preparations backstage for the next act can be heard, and out of that quiet commotion hope stirs within as a barely audible chorus of voices extolling the virtues of tea begins to rise up.

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International shipping rates for sure. You’d be amazed at how much some tea companies charge to send something to Canada. I know DavidsTea is bad with shipping, but they do offer free shipping over $50, so that does give you the option of waiting until you have a $50 order saved up.

I do look at the price, and if I’m having to pay to have something shipped from the US, I’m less willing to pay higher prices.

And since the Harney & Sons fiasco, customer service has become very, very important to me. If I e-mail a company and they don’t respond within a few days, I’m not going to order with them. If I call and they transfer me to three different departments, I’m not going to order. I’m picky…if you want my business, act like it.

What was the Harney & Son’s fiasco?

Uniquity said

Oh, Harney & Sons. I wish your Canadian shipping weren’t the pits…at least for me and Aisling of Tea.

SimplyJenW said

If you need a Harney’s middle man for Canada, you can pay me in David’s…. ;)

Long story short, Spoonvonstup, I got some really terrible customer service from H&S….when they bothered to give me any customer service at all. To the point that I don’t really want to support them, either directly or indirectly.

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Site security is a big issue for me. Are they VeriSign certified — or similar? I had a bad experience with a Chai company that advertised a deal hear at Steepster — then ripped off my credit card info and tried to charge plane tickets to Bangkok.

Also, I look for tea dealers that give you good provenance on where and when you tea was produced, and if they use “flavoring” are they “natural”.

Oh no! That sounds so terrible!

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Dinosara said

Almost all of the tea I buy online I buy because I bought a groupon/online deal for the tea company. Most of the time, if a tea company offers an online deal, I’ll go to their site and if they have any teas at all that interest me, I’ll buy the deal and then the tea. For me, what amounts to a 50% discount (usually) on the tea is enough to make me try them out.

Otherwise, if I’ve never ordered from a company before, I am more likely to order if they have samples. If they only sell their teas 4 ounces at a time, forget about it (unless I have a groupon there). And if you combine samples with a free shipping deal, it might be enough to make me order without a groupon. There are a few places that I have gotten samples from in swaps, or that I’ve read about and want to try, that I want to order from in the future, but I’ll probably put it off until a good deal on the tea or shipping prods me into ordering (this recently happened with a free shipping offer to Golden Moon).

Clearly, I am a cheapskate, and that is what drives my tea purchases online.

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Recently, while perusing the web, I happened upon the fact that Upton Tea Imports (UTI) stocks over 400 teas. Last night, I spent ten to fifteen minutes checking out their website, and what they had to offer.

Since I have nothing better to do (and I love to write), I thought I would post an example of a comparison of what I think is a well designed website (Tea Trekker) vs. a not so well designed one (UTI). What I have written here is strictly my opinion—as is appropriate for reviews—so consider yourself forewarned. :)

First off, the overall look-and-feel of a website affects whether or not I will buy from them. As an example of a well designed website, Tea Trekker (http://www.teatrekker.com/main.htm) has a great look and feel—they provide nice, colorful pictures of the tea right up front (without my having to dig deeper) and they provide relevant pictures on the page introducing each class/country of tea, with some background about the class of tea or country. All of these things invite me to discover the wonders of their tea.

I didn’t feel that way AT ALL with UTI (https://secure.uptontea.com/shopcart/home.asp). Their homepage is cluttered thus too ‘busy’. Many of the things I wanted to find out about them or what they had to offer were not intuitive to me, and I was somewhat overwhelmed at the amount of information on their homepage. I don’t like their choice of colors. All in all, to me it seems as if they haven’t updated their website in quite a while (this could be a reflection of their overall approach to how they sell their tea).

After that bit criticism about their website, I will state here the things I LIKE about UTI: 1) Selection: they offer green teas from many different countries, and they have a very broad spectrum of price ranges (they even offer a fannings grade on some teas! That shocked me—in a good way). 2) Information on stock: some teas describe how many packages of a particular tea are left (i.e. 60g packet: 2 remaining). 3) A close-up shot of every tea.

On a side note: Their shipping is OK. I would rather be enticed to buy more tea and thus get free shipping than pay even a flat rate of $4.20 USD. To me, paying for shipping is simply a waste of my money (unless its unavoidable, which it is in some cases). I know, I know. I think of some of you international folks who have to pay lots for shipping. So I looked into that. Orders going to Canada cost $9.20 no matter the weight or value. For other countries you need to use their calculator, which bases the cost on country and weight. It goes from $1.40 for an ounce to about $12 for a pound (and up) to Great Britain & Northern Ireland, Denmark, Italy, and Israel (http://www.uptontea.com/shopcart/help/HELPinternationalRates.asp).

Tea Trekker’s shipping is a little unconventional: $10 shipping if purchase is under $18; $8 if under $50; $6 if under $100; free if $100 and over. I like that at least I can get my tea shipped for free IF I purchase $100 USD or more. International: it looks like they ship USPS Priority Mail to a few countries they list, but not anywhere else? Hmmmm. That’s odd.

Quite honestly though, in the end, even though UTI has over 400 teas, I will probably not buy from them. I will not buy from them, that is, UNLESS I hear something about them from somewhere else, for example, a review of how they do business (not so much a review of just one of their teas) or by word-of-mouth from someone I know. They may be great on customer service and they may be great people. Their tea may be exactly as advertised and may be fresh. They may process and ship my order in a timely manner. I won’t know that unless I buy from them—which I won’t based on what I see on their website.

Blah, blah, blah. Enough of me and my opinions.

I heard customer service is important to many of you. It is to me too. So, fellow Steepsters, in your experience, tell me, who has the best customer service?

SimplyJenW said

I just have to say, like many things in life, you miss out on wonderful things by judging a book by its cover. I will admit I was slower to order from Upton due to the website, but once I realized that it was more than functional, and their customer service and selection were outstanding, I got over it. I will also say, I have found Upton’s tea to be great quality and well priced, while some of the other slicker websites offer more average teas. Slick websites also tend to cost a good deal of money (I work on one…) I prefer the low cost samples and reasonable prices when accompanying great tea any day if a slick website will affect my botttom line. As for the shipping, I kind of like the flat rate. That way I don’t feel pressure to order things I don’t need. I guess what it comes down to…I am a value tea shopper. Pretty pictures and packaging don’t do much for me if the tea is not up to par.

I have bought from Upton Tea for many years, and not only do they have great customer service, they also have samples of each tea, include freebies, and ship quickly in well-packaged containers. In addition, they also print the date of your purchase on the tea so you know how quickly you are turning it over and so avoid stale teas. I have always been pleased with the descriptions as being accurate even when I have not personally liked a particular tea or blend. I agree whole-heartedly with what SimplyJenW said.

Thanks for responding, @Iainthekiltman. Looking at you account, it seems you are new to Steepster. Welcome!

I see you have a good selection of teas from both Upton Tea and Golden Moon. What was your experience with the latter company? Would you recommend them?

btw, thanks for that bit of info about Upton Tea printing dates on their teas.

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Thank you for your response, @SimplyJenW! I’m glad you like UTI. So, how did you realize that their customer service was outstanding? Did someone tell you about an experience they had? Did you actually call/e-mail them and/or interact with them in some other way that way helped you realize this?

I think I am with you on most of what you say. I consider myself very much to be a value shopper. I am on a very tight budget; and I love to get the deals. I am also interested in tea that is great quality and well priced. We may differ on our view of shipping. I hear where you’re coming from there. I understand.

This is an interesting exercise for me in trying to better convey what I want to say, so if it’s too much for you I understand. You are free to stop reading now. :)

The point of what I am attempting to covey with the importance of reviews is, SOMETIMES its hard NOT to judge a book by its cover. I think the phrase basically means don’t judge something SOLELY on appearances. In looking more closely at that commonly used phrase, I believe one assumes you can actually pick up the book and do something like, for example, read a few paragraphs to get a good idea of the way the author writes, which is NOT true of buying tea ONLINE (it is true if I walk into a local tea shop, though). I can’t sample the tea before buying (unless they are willing to send free samples, which I know some are).

I’m with you on the ‘slick’. Appearances can be deceiving (which is what ‘slick’ in this context commonly implies). Yet, what I am attempting to convey here is that I think you can have a website that is both WELL DESIGNED (btw, that does not mean it’s ‘slick’) AND offers GREAT TEA for a good price (Tea Trekker and Jing Tea Shop are two example right off the top of my head; I personally haven’t found any quality tea that is any less expensive than some of the green teas they offer).

Upton’s prices for some of their teas DO look attractive. But they don’t provide information on the date and location of the harvest on their green teas. And since the quality of green tea seems to decline over time more rapidly than with other teas, that information is important to me. Now if someone who likes and understands the importance of fresh green tea says to me (or writes a review as such), “Hey, I had some green tea from them, and it was fresh and YADDA YADDA YADDA” then I might think, “Hmmm. Even though I don’t care for their website, I may want to check them out further, and maybe even buy from them, since I know they have good prices, and this guy says the green tea he got was fresh.”

Does that make sense (if it doesn’t that is NOT a reflection of you in any way, it’s a reflection on my ability—or failure—to convey what I am trying to say here)? Your honest opinion helps me determine if what I am saying makes sense. Of course, you may not care. Either way, I am OK with it. OK, I’ll shut up now. : -}

SimplyJenW said

What you are saying makes sense. In Upton’s case, besides having read extensive recommendations, I did purchase an accessory that was defective (a tea clip, LOL) it broke upon first use, and they immediately answered my email and sent out a new one. I do find them incredibly reponsive to email (I have emailed two or three times), and the tea is delivered very quickly. As for the website, I know they initially sold tea from a catalogue by mail. They have been selling in the 20 year range. I often think those that have a good web presence were likely web based in the first place. Harney made a pretty good transition from mail order to web based, but I still think they have issues with international shipping from time to time. I think they have been in business even longer. My experience with Harney has also been very good. I do think it will be impossible to find a vendor that does everything perfectly. I think it will also be difficult to find a vendor that is the best at all types of tea…Upton is usually considered one of the most extensive sources for Indian tea. For example, their flavored tea was not for me. I much prefer Harney for flavored tea amongst other things.

If enough customers wanted the infomation about harvest dates, any vendor worth buying from might try to provide that information from here on out. It is possible it has not come up much, but I can see its importance for the shorter shelf life teas. I would honestly email Upton as they will pass on the information if they have it, or maybe they will decide it is important enough to include with the information on the new arrivals. I did see where Harney just has packaging dates (I have read a few of your reviews).

What really got me to try Upton (because like I said, I too thought the website was offputting and not as nice as the company that I shopped the most in the beginning of my tea journey..where I now only pick up one or two teas)….was “word of mouth” recommendations. I belong to an online knitting community where we have a forum dedicated to tea. More than a handful of those knitters recommended Upton, and they had been shopping there for years. I think it was the longevity that stood out in my mind. And I have been a very satisfied customer, and will continue to go back (there are many companies from which I have ordered once or twice….Harney and Upton are in the double digits). I know I am not a drinker of green tea, but I’d like to consider myself a student of Chinese black (Yes, I was able to design my own course with samples from Upton because of their variety and fair price for samples.)

You teach a course on Chinese blacks? Cool. I am considering looking into drumming up interest in tea in one local community I am involved with, with the hope of having some kind of monthly get together for tea. It’s a men’s group, though, so I’m not sure how many men would want to get together for tea. In my judgment I believe there is still a stereotype about those who drink tea (I admit I still have some remnants of it), at least in the US. And yet, it seems to be slowly becoming more, … fashionable, I guess is the best word, for young people, and men, to appreciate tea (I think of the “Manteas” that Frank offers).

So if I get any luck, I may ask you for any feedback on doing some kind of ‘Intro to tea’ course for people new to loose leaf. I love to teach, I love tea. I can see a happy marriage of the two with this idea. Who knows?

Anyway, thank you for your reply. Upton is more on my radar because of what have said about them. And I too like H&S. : )

SimplyJenW said

I don’t teach one, but there were enough different versions of Chinese black tea that were not Yunnan or Keemun in all different price ranges that I designed my own for myself to kind of train my palate a little (it is back in my tealogue somewhere). Their offerings are so diverse and they have samples of everything, so it works well.

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for me there are a few simple things I look for. If they don’t have a category for puer, they don’t have my business. if they use only the English tea names then it shows they are really just catering to English speaking buyers and not the tea community as a whole. if they have tea in bags of any form than I will most likely be shopping somewhere else. I know there can be some decent quality in bags but to me it just promotes lazy tea brewing.

K S said

On the other hand, to those of us who speak English and are trying to learn tea, the Chinese/Japanese (etc) name does not mean much and is a turn off for me. Giving both names would be great. As for tea bags – your opinion for your purchasing purposes. More power to you. Please just don’t let it push others away from tea.

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This is a good thread of discussion. I live in a rural town and to have good tea, I have to order online. These are the things I look for:
#1
I like to contact the owner before making an online purchase. I figure if they will answer me with my tea questions, they probably pay close attention to the teas they are blending. I do want a company that does their own blending and not just reselling a blend from another company!
#2
shipping is worth noting, but I have been known to pay $10 for shipping, but I frown upon that price point:( AND I want to know how long the tea will take to get to me. I think 2 weeks in the States is too long to wait for a tea.
#3
packaging is not so much a factor with me, however, I do want the brewing perimeters to be displayed on the package.

  1. Does the company offer samples at a nominal price???
K S said

“I do want a company that does their own blending and not just reselling a blend from another company!”

How do you know this? I have noticed a few companies specifically state it but not most.

This is a good question. One local place comes to mind. They sell Rishi tea, but they don’t exactly advertize it—it’s not listed anywhere on this local companies website, but in the store the tins are visible, and I can recognize Rishi’s style of marketing on them. The local store repackages the Rishi tea with their own company name on it.

I my mind, the more often the tea changes hands, the less likely it is fresh. So I think this is an important thing to know.

Dinosara said

I too would prefer to buy tea directly from the people who blended it, so a lot of times I will search for tea with the same ingredients here on steepster before purchasing. It works best with complicated flavored blends, obviously, and not something like Earl Grey, but a lot of blends show up again and again, sometimes with the same name and sometimes with slightly different ones. But yeah, you have to do your own digging. It is definitely my #1 thing I wish tea retailers would tell me. #2 is what the tea base is for the flavored blends (not all black teas are equal!).

Packaging and repackaging of teas can take a toll on delicate leaves. SimpliciTEA is right that some companies repackage teas from larger providers. Most don’t even rename a blend… but don’t credit the originator either. Rishi Teas can be quite different if you buy them in tins in a store, compared with buying them fresh and direct from their website. (I’m a fan of several of Rishi teas consistently good teas)
Going back to threewhales original 3 points, I think these are all good factors to be aware of. It is just so hard sometimes to overcome the emotions sometimes when you find a tea that sounds too good to rationally take the time and factors in consideration. Ah, “buyers remorse” seems to come with the tea addiction! :)

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kanata said

I live in a small town where loose leaf doesn’t exist outside of the odd tin in a grocery store so I rely on online shopping for 99% of my teas.

I’m still a relative newbie when it comes to tea so I look for stores that can explain the flavour to me in pretty easy to understand words. Ones that have a rating system by customers are nice as that way I can semi figure out if I would like such a thing.

Shipping is huge as I’m Canadian and resent paying more for shipping than I would for the actual tea. Quite a few times I’ve cancelled orders at the last minute.

I agree about the shipping. I’ve done exactly the same thing when the shipping is equal to or greater than the price of tea!

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