Good online loose-leaf tea vendors?
February 17, 2011 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Good online loose-leaf tea vendors?

I'm on a quest to find good online loose-leaf tea vendors.

The only vendor I've ordered from thus far is Thunderbolt Tea. From there I ordered Arya Ruby which is widely regarded as being one of the best Darjeeling teas in the world. I was thoroughly impressed with the Arya Ruby and will likely buy Darjeeling tea from there again.

Other vendors I know of that are well-regarded but that I haven't yet purchased from are Adagio and O-Cha.

From what I've heard, it's best to get tea from places which specialize in a particular type of tea rather than various types. The vendors that specialize in one type of tea tend to know their tea better than the people who sell all sorts of tea and seem to care more about the quality of their products.


By the way: I'm craving Earl Grey at the moment and would definitely like to know if anyone here knows of a vendor that sells superior loose-leaf Earl Grey.
posted by GlassHeart to Food & Drink (38 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I really like The Tea Centre.
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 3:02 PM on February 17, 2011

I was happy with the tea I got at Adiago. Though I don't know how they compare to the others.
posted by Caravantea at 3:03 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Online I've only used Adagio and it was a few years ago but they were great then.
posted by ghharr at 3:08 PM on February 17, 2011

I buy quite a bit of tea from Upton Tea, although I find that I prefer the Earl Gray Bravo from Adagio to any of Upton's Earl Grays. I don't know what you consider "superior grade" though -- the teas are all good, but the flavor balance is different.
posted by jlkr at 3:11 PM on February 17, 2011

I'll list a few places I order from, but I should mention that I'm not really a tea expert. I'm just someone who loves to try different sorts of loose leaf black teas.

Upton Teas - very good prices, perfectly serviceable teas, nothing too exciting. Was disappointed in all their breakfast teas until I found the Baker Street.

The Tea Cup - a store located in Seattle. I like them for their selection of Dammann Frères teas. I often buy violet black from them as a gift for my sister. Also like their French Breakfast and Commodore Grey.

Simpson and Vail - a new place to me - I will be getting my second order from them next week. I like the Victorian Earl Grey, and am looking forward to trying some of their rooibos and herbal blends.

Samovar - a Bay Area tea shop. I haven't tried much from them, actually, but did love the Scarlet Sable. It seems they might be phasing it out though. It was a lychee, rooibos, and lapsang blend.

I wasn't much on Adagio - I prefer to get my tea in packets, not tins. Maybe they've added that option? I did regret giving up one tea from them, however, which was a customer-created blend that got me into gunpowder.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:13 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

My favorite tea is , from the store of the same name in the Pike Place Market, Seattle, Wa. They carry hundreds of bulk teas. They've been at the market for 100 years and I can't say enough great things about them, their tea, and the open air market that surrounds their store just above Elliot Bay.
posted by mumstheword at 3:15 PM on February 17, 2011

I only started drinking tea a few months ago, and so far I've only bought from MightyLeaf Tea, but I'm very happy with them. So far I've had a few of their green teas, a chai masala, and some rooibus. They do not specialize in one particular type.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 3:20 PM on February 17, 2011

Real Chai are a nice specialize-in-one-type-of-tea store.
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 3:21 PM on February 17, 2011

I have no tea snob credentials or anything; I just really like it, and I also like small businesses.

I love Townshend's (my best friend lives in Oregon and brings me some when she visits... my very most favorite of theirs is the vanilla spice chai with a little milk), and my hometown favorite is Bird Pick (favorite is caramel houjicha, and their Earl Grey and English Breakfast aren't so bad themselves).
posted by so_gracefully at 3:31 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think's has a few good teas available in the "Subscribe & Save" category. Basically the premise is that if you sign up for recurring shipments of tea (or whatever), you get free shipping and 15% off. You can have them sent as irregularly as 6 months apart, and you can cancel at any time (so you could sign up, get your free shipping and 15% off, and then cancel your subscription after your order ships with no penalties). Here's the teas subscribe & save area.

I've personally ordered Rishi Chai tea from subscribe and save and am very pleased with the quality and pricing of the tea. I will definitely be ordering it again.
posted by arnicae at 3:34 PM on February 17, 2011
posted by mumstheword at 3:35 PM on February 17, 2011

I've been really happy with the price and variety offered by Adagio teas.
posted by absalom at 3:52 PM on February 17, 2011

Harney Teas have some delicious blends.
posted by pickypicky at 3:57 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Tealuxe. Boston-based, tons of variety. Try the genmaicha!
posted by tetralix at 4:03 PM on February 17, 2011

We've bought some loose tea from and it was very good. They have an Earl Grey Cream that sounds wonderful, though I personally haven't ordered that one. May have to add it to a future order! Their teas have always been fresh and aromatic which I appreciate.
posted by garnetgirl at 4:21 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like TeaGschwendner, I often buy teas from their local store over here. They have some excellent flavored teas, Earl Grey being just one of many, many interesting choices.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 4:23 PM on February 17, 2011

Herbal Sage Tea Company has some really interesting blends. It's more of an herbal tea place than a green/black tea place, though they have a couple black/green varieties also (most have other herbs or plants added). I have been happy with what I've tried from there.
posted by wondermouse at 4:24 PM on February 17, 2011

The Spice and Tea Exchange is a good one. This flavor in particular is delicious.
posted by DeusExMegana at 4:34 PM on February 17, 2011

I use The Fragrant Leaf. It's the only site I've ever used, though.
posted by cmoj at 5:24 PM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: The problem is that most of the tea stores have many dozens of teas and the same tea can vary very widely season-to-season, so the following is just based on my experience with a few teas I bought from these vendors over last 7-8 years.

Upton, Adagio, SpecialTea are all sort of 3rd rate. I feel sorry to say that especially about Adagio because they host the excellent tea forum on , but all of these shops trade in mass-market teas, a step or two above what's available in supermarkets.

Rishi is interesting because they sell a passable sencha that can be bought in physical shops all over the place. However, it doesn't stand up to best senchas out there. I also tried their Assam - it was quite good but I was never much into Assams so I suspect a better one can be found online. I also had their Pai Mutan (don't remember what they call it, maybe white peony?) and the first half of a cup is really wonderful and then it completely goes to crap. It's good for showing you what a proper Pai Mutan can taste like, but otherwise frustrating. On the other hand, good white teas are generally hard to find and sell out quickly.

For darjeeling, I've heard great things about Thunderbolt tea; I used to buy Darjeelings from a different vendor but I can't remember its name, if I do remember I'll post it here.

I've had some good teas from IPOT, but also some bad ones. I think of them as 2nd rate but they have quick shipping in US Northeast. They're overpriced but I've had really good Golden Yunnans and Pai Mutans and Silver Needles from them. Their darjeelings and oolongs weren't very good, green "buddha tea" was great at first but last time I bought it it was awful.

Now on to the top rate shops! (IMHO, not affiliated, etc). Good chinese greens, blacks and yellow tea can be found at teaspring. Other types of tea they have are average. Shipments are a bit slow as they're in China but prices are great.

Really good puerhs and oolongs can be bought at HouDe, they have a few (1 or 2) good blacks and also a few okay greens. I especially love their Rou Gui and Bao Zhong oolongs, although they can vary seasonally. They ship from US so you get teas quickly but prices can be rather high.

JingTeaShop is similar to teaspring - they're in china, prices are good, shipping was more expensive though; greens are good and I've heard oolongs are better than teaspring's although I haven't had much experience with them.

Finally, for senchas, gyokuro, matcha and other japanese teas, I can't praise that you already know highly enough. I've also heard good things about yuuki-cha but I haven't tried them yet. I've been buying from o-cha for years and they're always top-notch.

Keep in mind that in order to enjoy high grade senchas, gyokuros, matcha, oolongs, puerhs and chinese greens, you need to have a good deal of experience and expertise and proper, well made equipment (proper type for each kind of tea). I recommend using a glass or ceramic kettle and spring water. You can get by with a high quality gaiwan (houde sells good ones) for puerhs and oolongs; you definitely need a good kyusu for senchas and gyo's and a matcha bowl for matchas.

Browse around teachat - there's alot of similar questions there and many knowledgeable tea people.
posted by rainy at 5:55 PM on February 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

Sorry - wrong link for teachat, it should be:

Ahh, I remembered the Darjeeling tea shop: tea emporeum. I thought their teas were excellent but then again I'm not really into Darjeelings.
posted by rainy at 6:07 PM on February 17, 2011

For oolongs and pu-erhs, Life in Teacup is just about the best. They have some other teas as well. They're very generous with free samples, too!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:21 PM on February 17, 2011

Also, another great place to look into this is Steepster. Search your favorite style of tea, and sort by rating to see some great ones.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:21 PM on February 17, 2011

Rethink your Drink at my favorite local (and online) tea shop, Gong Fu. Great independent store; owners are present everyday and will answer any question you have (online or in person).
posted by webhund at 7:11 PM on February 17, 2011

2nding Absolutely delightful.
posted by spinturtle at 7:25 PM on February 17, 2011

Ito En is fantastic. Their green teas are the best I've ever had.
posted by CutaneousRabbit at 7:30 PM on February 17, 2011

Imperial Tea Court have wonderful teas- they're usually pretty good about telling you about variations in the teas each year, as well.
posted by yeloson at 7:50 PM on February 17, 2011

My favorite is Harney, I have been buying from them for years..
posted by jockc at 8:28 PM on February 17, 2011

Coffee Bean Direct has some good teas at good prices. I like their Jasmine Green. Not sure how they compare to other stores quality and test, I'm not an expert; they're probably fair to middlin', and some teas are better than others.

On another note, one of the more flavorful black teas you'll find is Lipton Yellow Label - often sold in Indian grocery stores. It's inexpensive, and awesome for masala chai.
posted by and for no one at 8:40 PM on February 17, 2011

posted by and for no one at 8:44 PM on February 17, 2011

I liked Postcard Teas in London.
posted by jadepearl at 1:12 AM on February 18, 2011

I really like Tehku, particularly their Earl Grey de la Creme and their Cream Oolong. They have great customer service, too.
posted by amarynth at 5:27 AM on February 18, 2011

I really like Strand Tea Company. Good prices. Great tea and they usually throw either some complimentary tea cookies or samples of new teas that they're carrying in with my order for free!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 6:48 AM on February 18, 2011

I'm also a big fan of Portland-area PeaceLoveTea (link is to their etsy shop...they ship Priority mail and can stuff quite a bit in the little flat rate envelopes, so shipping is often less than five bucks!)

Particularly yummy: their Organic Spicy Ginger Mate and their Organic Masala Chai.
posted by arnicae at 9:34 AM on February 18, 2011

The best creamiest yummiest earl grey is from Argo. It is the only thing my brother in Portland still orders from Chicago. Argo Earl Grey Creme
posted by IWoudDie4U at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2011

I drink mostly Darjeelings, with some Assams and blends thrown in for variety, so I can't say much about sourcing Chinese or Japanese teas.

That said, Boston Tea Campaign is not the source of the world's best Darjeelings, but it is the source of very good Darjeelings at very reasonable prices, and I would highly recommend. Upton Tea has some fantastic teas but also some real bombs, but is definitely a wonderful resources for an educated tea drinker, or for someone willing to pay attention to reviews and experiment, accepting the occasional failures.

A TeaGschwendner recently opened in my neighborhood. They had the most serious selection of fine teas I've seen in a store in the U.S., but it didn't impress compared to my existing stable of mail order sources. Mariage Freres, based in France, makes the best blended and flavored teas I've had, but this is not tremendously useful, as only a limited selection makes it over to the US. Try Googling...they have several very lovely Earl Grey and Earl Grey-like options, but I maintain suspicions that some of what makes it to the US is inferior quality and/or old.

I have a deep fondness for McNulty's as that's what I grew up drinking and also because they're wonderful people in a wonderful old shop that I love to visit. But, they're probably better for sorting out novice tea drinkers than for satisfying the connoisseur.

And finally, apologies if this is preaching to the choir, but the single best thing you can do to improve your tea-drinking experience is to brew your tea in water of the appropriate temperature (for most black teas, that means a full boil, poured into a pre-warmed teapot) for the appropriate length of time. Even a lowly Lipton's tea bag, made with boiling water and not over-brewed, is a surprisingly acceptable beverage.
posted by psycheslamp at 1:19 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Upton tea tends to have a very good selection of Darjeelings. I'm not sure why rainy thinks they're third-rate. Maybe their Chinese teas (which is what most of rainy's recommended shops seem to specialize in) aren't as good? But I've gotten some first-flush darjeelings from them that I definitely would not describe as "mass-market".
posted by klausness at 2:04 PM on February 19, 2011

I've been a tea geek for decades and if are willing to pay over $10 per quarter pound, there no better source for single-estate Assams and Darjeelings than Upton, in my opinion. The difference between single estate teas and blends is comparable to the difference between classified growth Bordeaux anc "fighting varietal" Cabs and Merlots. I'm not interested in blends for the most part, finding them boring or an excuse for diluting good teas with vast quantities of cheap, mediocre ones. Yes, you do have to taste and experiment, but they make this easy, their prices are quite fair and service is top-drawer, usually shipping same day and arriving 2-3 days later even when you choose the cheapest shipping option. I have seen no equal to them in selection and quality for first-rate Darjeelings and Assams in particular. Chinese tea interests me less, so I can only imagine that those who speak dismissively of Upton are NOT speaking about India.
posted by kingofcats at 2:43 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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