Shopping Around - Are you loyal to one company or a proud bargain hunter?

Since I’ve been looking into different tea companies, I was wondering how everyone felt about buying teas from different companies? I am a big proponent of buying locally, but most people in the states don’t have tea plantations in their back yards. Looking it up, I’ve found that only five states grow tea commercially. Lipton and Bigelow tea companies grow their teas in the states, which may put fair trade proponents at ease, but I doubt many of you buy tea from either company. That, and there is a real lead concern when drinking teas grown by these companies – hopefully this fact won’t throw your life into utter turmoil.

Then there are small business owners who sell tea, but as most are not well-established, it may be harder to buy teas online, and delivery can be even more difficult when you have a nontraditional mailing address to contend with. Even then, the people who open their own shops to sell teas and tea mixes buy their tea in bulk from some other company or manufacturer, so now you have to determine if it’s better to buy from the small business or to go directly to the middle man – it sounds like I’m talking about drugs now.

The two options that most people rely on are the mass production type companies that sell their teas in grocery stores and supermarkets and the companies that sell higher grade loose teas online and through stores in outlet malls and shopping centers.

Any novice to tea would be incredibly confused by those two options alone, so they may find themselves confused when they find that there are still more options for sating their tea addictions. And of course, once you find a tea you like, you may find that same tea or different variations thereof sold at multiple stores by different companies at competitive prices, and not merely assam and darjeeling, but mixes and blends as well.

I was looking for an herbal tea the other day, and thought because of the name, that it must be a custom blend sold by one particular company. Instead, I’ve found that multiple sellers and companies offer a similar tea by the same name. So, either these sellers all buy from one supplier or custom tea blends don’t come with copyrights.

• So, when you find a tea that your absolutely in love with, do you stick with that company, or do you look for cheaper variations to get the tea you love and save money at the same time?
• How do you guys normally try new teas when you decide to buy tea for yourself? Do you search one company first, or do you buy tea at random?
• How loyal are you guys to the first company(s) that you bought tea from?
• Do you ever buy your teas through sites like Etsy or Amazon?
• Most importantly, what draws you in when looking at different online sites? Is it the wording (ex. custom blended micro-brewed freshly picked tea), the organic and fair trade labels, or is it the free shipping or discounts offered to loyalty customers? What is it about a company that converts you from window shopper to customer?

Sorry about the essay, guys. I am more than a little curious about your preferences, and just so happen to be a Russian novelist in the making – though I’m not actually Russian…

28 Replies

Interesting question. Having had phases where I bought everything and anything, I am now very selective. I prefer small business owners who care for their craft such as Mandala, Whispering Pines and Butiki.

If you question something with those vendors, there’s no middle man, you deal directly with the owners. For me, once trust is established, I can just sit back and enjoy their product. I don’t ever question their sourcing, work ethics and integrity cause I KNOW who I’m dealing with.

I do like a good sale and will occasionally try new companies if I feel they have what I’m looking for. But a sale is not my main motivation to buy. Good tea and awesome customer service are :-) My loyalty to those vendors is fierce! I will be a client for as long as they sell tea.

On a larger scale, Teavivre also gets my business. They are also a company I admire and fully trust, cause they provide all the information and more than you could ever need before making a smart purchase.

I don’t care for tea from Amazon and Etsy. Not that I believe you can’t find anything good, just not my thing and I have no need for them.

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MelissaTea said

Interesting questions. Here are some are reflections . . .

When I first got into tea, I bought nearly anything from anyone as long as the price was good. Now that I have defined my preferences, I have three or four teas I really enjoy and buy them from the same on-line shops.

It surprises me that the teas I enjoy are from moderate to bigger online retailers. I’m not sure how this happened as I assumed I would favor the small business person. (But as the OP said, “. . . the people who open their own shops to sell teas and tea mixes buy their tea in bulk from some other company or manufacturer . . .”)

Even now, I am still open to trying new teas from new vendors, but the price has to be appealing and free shipping.

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I’m still trying find my selective companies, so I’m looking around. There are a few I really like so far. I don’t really have local shops (the good ones are an hour or more away), so I shop online. Never bought any tea on Amazon or Etsy. One thing I look for is sample sizes. I found a couple places I rather like by trying samples for review. Teavivre comes to mind, and I’ll put in an order for Teasenz when I can. As for shipping, I’m not paying more than 6 bucks.

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AllanK said

I am very fond of Yunnan Sourcing as I drink mostly ripe Puerh Tea and they are an excellent source with both a China website and a US website that ships from Oregon. I like the service and price provided by Puerhshop but am fond also of the tea sold by On Ebay I am fond of Berylleb King Tea. I am still a customer of Dragon Tea House despite the controversy surrounding a particular tea they sold someone. I have just received my first order with Mandala Tea today although I haven’t yet started drinking it. I could see myself shopping at fewer stores simply because I have acquired so much Puerh in my quest to try as much as I can. I have easily enough Puerh to last ten years or longer. I like the fact that Mandala’s shipping is so reasonable. I can afford to buy only one tea cake from them if I choose and the shipping will still be reasonable.

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Nicole said

I don’t have many local shops, either. Resellers but only one original crafter/blender of tea that I can drive to easily and another within a few hours. I have large companies that I love the tea they offer but I also buy a lot from the smaller boutique tea vendors. Customer service is what earns my loyalty as much as having teas I enjoy.

I will try new companies when they have something that appeals to me at a price that appeals as well. Sticking to only the same vendors means you may miss out on something really spectacular! :)

Price is not a huge issue when I find a tea I love but, as Lariel mentions, shipping is a big factor as are inexpensive samples so I can try a tea before committing to a large amount of it.

So I guess I am loyal once I have found a company I like with tea I like but that doesn’t mean I won’t leave the reservation and try new things.

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sherubtse said

Although the OP has asked numerous questions, I’ll reply with a more general response.

I have ordered from about a dozen online tea companies. All have provided good service, but only 3 have provided excellent service – going beyond my expectations and surprising me on the “upside”.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Mellow Monk
Capital Tea

I am very loyal to those 3 – the others not so much. Of course, quality of tea is important. But the #1 factor in getting my dollars is excellent service. If that goes, so do I.

Best wishes,

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awilsondc said

I drink mostly chinese tea which comes from, well… China, so the whole local think is out the window. I do regularly buy from a few companies in the states that source chinese tea (cough Mandala cough), and I also order from several sites based in China. For me, it’s important to buy from a reputable dealer so reviews are important.

When looking for specific teas again I look at the reviews. Sometimes that’s enough to make a big investment in a particular tea, but if I’m not convinced I’ll get a sample to try before committing to a large purchase. I’m also very fond of sales, but then again, who isn’t. :)

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Cwyn said

I buy from a lot of different sources because I drink a lot of different types of tea. For example, if I want sencha I will look at O-Cha in Japan, obviously a Chinese purveyor won’t be selling this. I have a special fondness for Korean teas, a country which has teas unlike anywhere else.

That said, I do have my loyalties because the purveyors have earned my trust and I appreciate their taste and hard work sourcing and pressing tea. Scott at Yunnan Sourcing, TwoDog at White2Tea, Garret and Jamie at Mandala, Glen and Lamu at Crimson Lotus. Anything new they get in will flag my attention. And if I have a question, they answer right away.

On the complete flip side, I enjoy the Taobao experience too because it is a complete gamble at times which makes it fun.

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MzPriss said

I would echo pretty much everything TheTeaFairy said and I would add Verdant and Yunnan Sourcing.

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Argg, Steepster ate my nice long reply.

I used to be a bargain hunter – only shopping when there’s a deal and being more free on trying new companies – this tactic was great as a newer tea drinker. Now, with a stash of 300 teas and being a tea blogger, I’m very selective on the teas I’ll personally purchase. I want amazing or unique teas.

I’ll research the tea company – see what their teas are rated as. Buy only samples, or try to acquire samples. Deals are more incentive for me to try – say a new buyer’s deal or promise of more samples.

But if it’s for a tea company that I got strong loyalty for, I’m happy to give them my money, deal or not.

My first teas and tea companies I don’t hold so much in loyalty for. The experience is in my heart, but I’ve since have had better teas or tastes have changed.

That’s quite a lot of tea. Right now, I have little to no space for tea, so I have to consider space, but I always have this lingering urge to buy one tea or another. Still, 300 different teas is mind boggling. How do you even keep track of those teas? Do you have to store them in a separate closet?

I’m sure at this point, your blog alone provides incentive for companies to send you samples.

I use Steepster’s cupboard system and crazy tea tin system that needs better labelling. Failing at the moment at remember where every tea is once I past the 200 mark. When I had just 200 I could find any tea very quickly.

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