Well, I currently have a negative opinion of this company, but in the old days I was a BIG fan. This shift in attitude is due both to a my own maturing and refining as a tea drinker (and tea snob, I suppose), and Teavana’s fall from more pure teas into the retail and sole emphasis on flavored… well, crap.
In the beginning, Teavana was really a haven of tea for me. I’ll give them that – they create an atmosphere with their store. Their variety of teaware, and huge tins of tea really turned me on, and made a big impression on me at the time. I’d literally spend hours a week in that store, just absorbing. But alas, we must grow apart.
Even in my earlier, more accepting months of drinking tea, I was never a huge fan of their blends. Finding half an orange slice amongst other large chunks of fruits and whatnot in my tea is just… not especially pleasing. What I did like, was that there were a few good, untainted teas in their selection, as well as, I’ll admit, a rather good rooibos selection. Over time, though, they started eliminating the good stuff and supplementing more dreck.
I also dreamed at one point of tasting their “Monkey Picked Oolong”. When I finally went in and bought it, a year or so after discovering the store…. It just didn’t compare to the really good oolongs I’ve had. I didn’t even finish the two ounces. To the buyer beware: It’s just regular Ti Kwan Yin (what they call Iron Buddha), mixed with a bit of higher grade stuff. And even their regular Iron Buddha is overpriced. Buy your TKY elsewhere in the mall or Santana Row.
I’d definitely suggest not buying any real tea their, unless you know they just got a shipment in. This is because of the way they store and sell their tea. While the large tins may seem kind of cool, every time they open that tin to waft the smell over to someone, or scoop out a couple of ounces, the tea is being exposed to light and air, thus decreasing the value. You’re better off at Lupicia, Puripan, or even Peet’s, where the tea is prepackaged and airtight. I would think that herbals should be fine, as well as their rooibos, which, again, I have a good opinion on.
As for customer service… as Suzi mentioned, it depends on who you’re working with. Some people will try to pressure you into buying what you really don’t need, and some people are more laid back. I’ve seen quite a few employees come and go, and even regreted as a few passed. Especially the guy that made me free drinks all the time.
If you plan on going to this shop frequently, I’d suggest right of the bat expressing a superior knowledge of tea – that should deflect them a bit from trying to con you too much. Also, it’s very good to develop a sort of buyer-merchant relationship with specific employees, so you can get a bit more bang for your buck – an extra fraction of an ounce here, a free cup there. It’s also good to keep in mind that they’re working on commission – and they make money on the tea and merchandise, but not making drinks. You can use this to your advantage, especially with people more comfortable in their positions, by striking a deal. “I’ll buy this tea [which I was planning on buying anyway] if you hook me up with a free drink.”
I’d say, it’s worth checking out. If you’re still feeling your way around the tea world, it’s a great doorway, and if you’re more experienced…. well, there’s free samples at the door! It’s a nice place to be in, and sometimes they hire cute girls. Overall, though, not a truly great tea experience.
Though the Santana Row/Valley Fair area has a number of tea shops – Peets, Fantasia, Teavana, Lupicia, and Lisa’s tea treasures – this place stands out amongst the rest.
I’ve been going to this store since they opened about a year and a half ago, and the access to the quality product here has led me to nearly abandon my previous haunts of Lupicia and Teavana.
Puripan was my first experience with Korean tea, and I’ve been learning a lot more about it through frequent visits over the months. They have a great selection of Korean teas, which I’d have a hard time ever coming by otherwise. The teaware, also, is in the traditional Korean style and comes directly from actual artists, rather than mass producing companies, and I’ve never had anything but the best regards for their products.
The environment of the store is extremely friendly and welcoming, when taking count of both the set up, and the customer service. From their beginning, I’ve liked every employee that’s worked there – they’re a different breed of workers. Whether I’m looking for tea or conversation, I can go in and be completely satisfied. The managers, Ellen and Benedict, are extremely friendly and knowledgable people, and they’ve really done a great job of running Puripan’s first US store.
As far as sampling goes, they’ve got the best deal and attitude in the area. Not only are samples free for any tea, and as many teas as you want, they’re fresh brewed – you ask, they make it right there. While at some other tea shops, it can feel a bit awkward asking to taste a tea, they make it very welcoming there and almost always ask you if you want a sample before you even get a chance to request.
As far as a chain tea shop goes, they’re top notch. An absolutely respectable and reputable place, and if you’re ever in the Bay Area, it’s really worth checking them out – you won’t find them anywhere else in the states.