Ellyn select said

How do you decide where to buy?

We have had many discussions in this forum about what places we like to shop from…but how do you decide where to buy from?

For online I look at prices, shipping cost, samples. etc.
For tea shops I try to visit as many as possible!


16 Replies
SunnyinNY said

Hi Ellyn!
I tend to something similar. I shop around for pricing & deals. Then I read some reviews on here to see what others are thinking. Then I go with my gut feeling. I love sites that offer sample bags so I can try something at a cheaper price & then if I love it go back for more.

I am a big fan of Adagio at present.

SunnyinNY said

I’m now also a big fan of California Tea House. Such great choices & amazing customer service!

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Steepster obviously is a big factor in determining who to buy from. If many people are raving they must know something….

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Uniquity said

Well, I prefer to shop in person, in which case I check out everything local and do a lot of sniffing and so on. I try to minmize ordering online, but if I do go for it, I try for places that offer free samples (so I can try samples first then decide if I want to do a full order). I always look at shipping, as many places are unaffordable in terms of shipping to Canada. Free shipping is a very good sign.

I also look at Steepster to see what people have to say about the teas, the company, the service, etc. Other than that, I obsess over the website, checking out the full line of tea offerings and making notes of which I would like to try. It can be very hit and miss, and I like to minimize the risk as I don’t have many local tea lovers to share my “mistakes” with. Of course, cost is a factor in there as well, but it comes after all those other considerations. I am a big fan of value, but I like to see if the options are reasonable before I worry about the cost.

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Here is one discussion of the things that some of us look for in online shops (http://steepster.com/discuss/1892-what-do-you-look-for-in-an-online-tea-retailer). I have an updated list of most of the things mentioned in that discussion in the online company review template I posted here: http://steepster.com/discuss/2134-help-me-review-online-tea-retailers

Price used to be the highest priority for me, but after trying lots of so-so teas I now seek out quality tea for a reasonable price. It takes work to find them, though. That’s part of the purpose of the above thread about online tea retailers: to have a common place for all of our experiences when buying from online retailers.

Price aside, there are so many other things to consider. It really comes down to what you value most about the tea you want to buy, brew up, and enjoy. For example, I largely value fresh, inexpensive unflavored green tea; I also prefer to buy tea from small retailers who have a presence out here on Steepster. The list goes on …

This afternoon, I have been drinking a sample I brewed up from Adagio, and as I have heard before about Adagio’s unflavored teas, this tea is just so-so (Anhui Emerald seeds). But obviously not everyone feels this way about them (as SunnyinNY stated above).

As far as B&M tea shoppes I have visited most (if not all) in my town and I am not very impressed; I have tried green tea from just about every one of them and the quality of their green tea does not compare to the quality of the green tea I can get online (and for the most part, they don’t have information about where and when the tea was harvested, which is very important to me). That’s why I almost exclusively buy tea online.

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Camiah said

I’d love to be able to try actual tea shops, alas, other than a Teavana, we really don’t have anything that fits the bill here. I’ve tried shops online on the basis of: recommendations by either friends or fellow Steepster users (David’s Tea), their tins (Andrews & Dunham), and the availability of an intriguing product (Butiki Teas). I also want to try Upton based on their large selection for what seems like reasonable prices for straight teas—compared to what I can buy from Teavana for straight teas, even the more expensive teas are well-priced.

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Free samples! That’s the one thing I always look for in an online shop. Price is important too, but I understand that cheaper tea means cheaper quality.

Adagio is a great place for tea. I am going to try to branch out and order from other tea companies in 2012…maybe I should make that a resolution (there’s one I can actually keep!). I agree with @Camiah – I’ve heard such great things about Upton so I want to try them out as well.

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Tamara Fox said

I lucky to have several local tea businesses I can shop at, and I do. I like to support local businesses – especially when they sell a product I love. I do buy online from some of the smaller tea companies. I like quality tea, and there are some good ones out there that I can’t get in the local tea shops (though they have great products too).

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DC said

Personally I prefer to try out before buying, so online is generally not my preferred option.
There are many different grades for the same type of tea so comparing the type and prices online is actually quite meaningless IMO.
Nothing tasting it in person if you can help it.

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When I first got into tea I got my stuff from Teavana — originally online, but then saw they had shops both where I live now and at the mall in my home town. Teavana is good enough if you’re not going heavily into the details of tea. Most of the time they don’t go into the different codes and don’t name the region it came from beyond possibly the regional level. Still, beautiful website, excellent customer service, and okay selection for what it is.

As I went along in matters tea, I looked around the net for places that did go into the details about their teas, and found Upton. It was like going from a car dealer showroom to the mechanic’s garage filled with tools. Suddenly there were all these codes and exactly where each tea came from, and the qualities of tea from each region and type, and on and on. And their website might not be pretty like Teavana’s but boy oh boy did they pack in the information. And their prices were better than Teavana’s.

So to me, it depends largely on how much info you want about your tea. If you’re happy with just “Golden Monkey” or “Assam Gold Rain” and no more than that, go with places like Teavana. If you want “STGFOP-1 Banaspaty Estate Organic”, go with somewhere like Upton.

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Excelsior said

Personal realtionships and their commitment to quality

From a large exporter of Oolong teas in Taipei. The owner of the company also lets his wife run a small tea store. She can speak Japanese so it makes it easy for me to communicate. I can taste a wide variety of teas while I am there. I usually end up buying the High Mountain teas. The fresh green Oolong teas of that season and the Oolong tea flavored with Osmanthus. Since I am able to taste all of the teas, it is never a hit or miss purchase. I can buy in any currency and if I need Taiwanese NT, she will call over a money broker (probably not legal) offering the best exchange rates. When it’s time to leave, she’ll call me a taxi making sure that I make it back to my hotel safely. The store offers the best Oolong teas I have ever had. The prices are always reasonable. The service is always top notch. I have been buying my Oolong teas there for over 20 years. No matter the time, she will always keep the store open or re-open the store even past normal business hours if I call ahead of time.

Mariage Freres Paris, before that, Mariage Freres Ginza, and before that Mariage Freres Shibuya. The first tea that opened my tastes to a whole new world was the Princeton blend from Mariage Freres. As with the store in Taipei, I have been buying my teas from Mariage for over 20 years. The manager of the Ginza store has become a personal friend and is always helpful in picking out the best of the best First Flush Darjeelings for the year. The prices for the Highest Tier Darjeelings are not reasonable whether it be from Japan or France. 40 euros for Castleton, 36 euros for Margaret’s Hope, 35 euros for Namring Upper (all 100g increments) plus the COD tax. Yet Mariage never disappoints in terms of taste, aroma, and quality. I have tasted teas from retailers listed above. I do wish they were on the same level, for I hate spending ridiculous amounts of money on tea. But all have fallen short. In many ways, the Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1 from Mariage is on a higher playing field. So I will continue to buy from Mariage. The customer service from Paris has been exceptional thus far always replying to my emails in a timely manner.

This is my honest opinion. I don’t work for Mariage nor do like the prices I pay for their teas. Taste a properly brewed Mariage Freres 2011 Namring Upper and you may understand my ranting, raving, about their Darjeelings.

Happy New Year, have a great day, and happy brewing!!!

Excelsior : Wow. Great information about your experiences with these tea retailers. I especially like hearing stories about buying from the little shops (it reminds me of a very memorable experience of my own buying jewelry from an Inuit gentleman in his tiny little store in rural Alaska).

I am not certain if your Mariage Freres experiences are all in person, or if some (or all) are online. I just checked the ‘Place’ for Mariage Freres, and I don’t see a review from you there. Would you consider reviewing Mariage Freres (http://steepster.com/places/2372-mariage-freres-paris-ile-de-france) and the Taiwanese store in Taipei (although it may be too small to create a new ‘Place’ for, that’s up to you)? Putting these valuable experiences in a review for a ‘Place’ makes it that much easier for others to find and read about your experiences later. Of course, it’s totally up to you.

Thank you for sharing this with us!

Excelsior said

there are lots of things I should add yet have never gotten around to it. Like tasting notes for the Mariage Freres Top Tier FF Darjeelings. There are many notes on the popular flavored teas from Mariage but almost none on the FF Mainstay estate brands, (Castleton, Margaret’s Hope) and none on less known brands (Bloomfield, Namring Upper, Moondakotee, Jungpana, Puttabong, Orange Valley, etc.).

As for your question, my experiences are from the Main Mariage Store in Ginza/Tokyo Japan. the offers the huge selection of 500+ teas, a tea salon, and some museum artifacts placed throughout the store. The staff is always proffessional, always knowledgeably, always helpful. The manager comes out to greet me each time I am there. I have learned more about tea from him than any other publications or websites.

So I’ll get around to it sooner than later.

Happy Brewing.

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