Loose leaf tea recommendations
April 26, 2006 3:38 PM   Subscribe

I recently discovered loose leaf tea. Can anyone recommend some brands/flavors that they like?

I'm a yank in New Zealand, and the only kind I've had so far is Dilmah's Earl Grey, which is very nice. I like basically any kind of tea, herbal or black, oolong, whatever.

(I saw there was a tea question already this month, but it seemed to be more about brewing and less about specific kinds, so hopefully this isnt a double.)
posted by supercrayon to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Fortnum & Mason.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:45 PM on April 26, 2006

I can recommend the Xihu Longjing. A nice non-bitter green.
posted by subtle-t at 3:45 PM on April 26, 2006

If you like the taste of smoke (which I actually do), then Lapsang Souchon is a a very nice variety of smoked Oolong. This blog entry describes it well - it's one of my favorite flavours. In black tea, I like Darjeeling, but you have to be careful not to brew it too much - I take my tea strong, but Darjeeling is lighter in colour and brews quickly, so I have a bad habit of overbrewing it, even for me.

With good teas, I've tended not to buy so much by brand as buying by type and from a good shop. I'm lucky - where I am right now there is both a very good tea and coffee stall in the market, and a shop downtown. That said, Twinnings has always been good for me, and Whittards is good, though neither as good as the local shop. They are both British, but I found Twinnings in Canada and the US as well.
posted by jb at 3:48 PM on April 26, 2006

I have never been a fan of tea, but this stuff is delicious!!
posted by clh at 3:51 PM on April 26, 2006

Harney & Sons.
posted by ericb at 4:07 PM on April 26, 2006

Be sure to check out these previous threads: 1, 2 and 3.
posted by ericb at 4:10 PM on April 26, 2006

posted by kcm at 4:22 PM on April 26, 2006

I second Adagio. Fast shipping and great tea.
posted by Ostara at 4:22 PM on April 26, 2006

Surpriisingly enough, the Twinings loose-leaf tins aren't bad.... way, way better than the teabags. I like the pure, unflavored teas.

They're cheaper than most brands, and decent quality.

I have no idea if you can get them in NZ though. They're a supermarket tea here in the States.

I don't know if they ship worldwide, but Freed, Teller, and Freed have been in the tea business in San Francisco for over a hundred years. They have good stuff.
posted by Malor at 4:28 PM on April 26, 2006

I got hooked on Twining's looseleaf early gray.
posted by boo_radley at 4:30 PM on April 26, 2006

The New Yorker may consider it working-class but I love Ty-Phoo.
posted by nicwolff at 4:31 PM on April 26, 2006

Adagio. Adagio. Adagio.. Stash Tea is a second. I also have liked some Republic of Tea teas, but, they're too damned expensive for what you get (IMO, especially compared to Adagio).

I didn't know they made Ty-Phoo tea in loose form. I have a box of it up in the pantry, but I don't use it very often. It stains the cups pretty badly... imagine what it does to your teeth.
posted by jeversol at 4:56 PM on April 26, 2006

Best answer: When I decided I wanted to get into tea about six months ago, I learned the most from:
- rec.food.drink.tea
- tea-disc (a lot of the same people as the newsgroup, but more active)

When I found a tea I liked, I searched for its name on the groups, and almost invariably, I'd find a good discussion with suggestions on similar teas. They're a little snobby, but extremely knowledgeable.

Upton's and SpecialTeas are online tea shops with good reputations, inexpensive samples, and excellent packaging. While I've ordered from Adagio more than once, they don't have as good of a reputation with the snobs. (I think part of it is that they actively market to non-snobs, but hey.) In Pursuit of Tea has really fantastic stuff, but they're pricey.

Samples, not samplers, are the way to go. Upton's and SpecialTeas have tons of teas available for $1 (American). If you decide you want to find the very best Earl Grey ever, order five or ten of them for $5 or $10 and have a good time. I found that actual packaged samplers were never as good of a deal.

I have one more suggestion: as you're sampling teas and learning what you like, keep a notebook. Write down your tasting notes and brewing parameters, and you'll thank yourself later when you can duplicate results. If you're sampling a lot of teas, you might also forget which ones you liked and which ones you didn't. ("Did I like the Second Grade, First Grade, Imperial Grade, or Special Grade Tie-Guan-Yin?")

Good luck!
posted by liet at 5:00 PM on April 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Second Teavana for their Sikkim tea. Amazingly good.
posted by aberrant at 5:16 PM on April 26, 2006

The problem with the US tea market is that it's basically divided between low-end bagged sweepings and high-end single-estate loose stuff without much of a middle, unless you find a good ethnic grocery store. Blame Boston. (I got some fantastic cheap loose tea from a gas station convenience store in Raleigh, NC, run by Somalis.)

In NZ, you have the British influence, so there's a decent mass-market -- Bell Tea, Choysa, Twinings -- all with loose-leaf ranges. That'll introduce you to what Brits tend to call 'tea tea': bit of Assam, bit of China, bit of Kenyan, bit of Ceylon.

Me, I like Russian Caravan, which is a very loose term for blends combining a rich malty tea (usually Assam, sometimes Keemun) with enough Lapsang Souchong to impart a smokiness. Very nice, and limited risk of becoming a Tea Snob. Also, old faithful Yorkshire Tea, picked from the groves of Harrogate.
posted by holgate at 5:17 PM on April 26, 2006

I'm a personal fan of Seattle's Market Spice Tea, a nice spiced tea.
posted by irregardless at 5:17 PM on April 26, 2006

tazo , particularly Awake (a black tea) and Montage (a blend of black and green).
tea is awesome!
posted by TheLibrarian at 5:32 PM on April 26, 2006

I don't know how easy it is to get in NZ, but I love the whole Mighty Leaf line. The bags are outrageously expensive (and not worth the premium), but the loose is almost reasonable. I like flavored teas, so my favorites are Celebration, California Fields, and their organic Earl Grey. Their green teas and white teas are also very high quality.

Having said that, if you like green, white, and other Chinese varietals, Ten Ren offers an amazing selection too. Again, I can't say how easy or hard to find they may be in NZ.
posted by j-dawg at 5:58 PM on April 26, 2006

I third Teavana. I'm usually an ice tea girl (mmmm, lipton) but I've been trying to get into hot tea a bit. Currently, my favorite is the macadamia rooibos, which tastes a bit nutty. There's also some I had with a friend that was vanilla and rum flavored. Not sure where she got it from, but if you find some, pick it up. It's delicious.
posted by damnjezebel at 6:45 PM on April 26, 2006

If you ever see a tin that looks like this, pick it up. Fujian's Panyong Congou makes a really strong but not-intense cup that's really nice. I've heard their Lapsang is excellent as well.

Amongst green teas, I highly recommend tracking down some Lung Ching. I got some of this online somewhere, and it makes a really subtle, penetrating cup of tea that really makes me feel calm and focused.
posted by selfnoise at 6:50 PM on April 26, 2006

If you like Earl Grey try Lady Grey. I've been drinking it for breakfast.
posted by lemhuxley at 6:58 PM on April 26, 2006

Best answer: In the summer I like to brew loose jasmine tea in apple juice instead of water and then refrigerate it with a stalk of fresh mint suspended in it. After an hour or so it is the best iced tea drink ever. I recommend making it in large quantities so it will last all week.
posted by hermitosis at 7:11 PM on April 26, 2006 [3 favorites]

Boh Cameronian Gold Blend. I had it shipped from Malaysia and it was well worth it.
posted by TheRaven at 7:29 PM on April 26, 2006

I like the Baker Street Blend from Upton Tea- it's Lapsang Souchong with Keemun and Darjeeling. It's got a bit of the Lapsang Souchong smokiness, but is less overpowering and more full-flavored than most Lapsang Souchongs. Their "Finest" Earl Grey is also the only Early Grey that doesn't taste like soap to me, due to the nice ceylon base and real bergamot flavor.

Their site is fairly informative, and they ship internationally.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:14 PM on April 26, 2006

Harney makes a nice pseudo-Lapsang called Russian Country. Baker Street is smokalicious too.
posted by booth at 8:23 PM on April 26, 2006

Google for "monkey tea."
posted by autojack at 8:51 PM on April 26, 2006

I like some of the teas at LadyHawk's Treasures. The Blackberry Vanilla Creme is particularly nice.
posted by Cricket at 8:59 PM on April 26, 2006

Dragonwater Tea Company

Their teas are really fresh and come in great resealable foil packets. They have a great selection, and they're a little mom-and-pop outfit. We've never had any trouble ordering from their website, though I don't know if they ship outside the US.
posted by dammitjim at 10:05 PM on April 26, 2006

sc, your profile doesn't indicate if you're in Auckland, but if so, you might be interested in this special High Tea with Stephen Twining, a charity event on June 6.

Also, the Cornwall Park Garden Restaurant on One Tree Hill offers afternoon tea. (Can't vouch for it personally, but it's a beautiful setting.)
posted by rob511 at 10:56 PM on April 26, 2006

I'll second Market Spice Tea. I've had teas from Adagio as well, they are good, but for the best, most interesting smell I go with the Market Spice Tea- even after you drink it, your whole house will smell wonderful for the rest of the day!

However, I don't know about that link that irregardless gave you- that sounds like a knock-off or similarly named one, as the real tea is not "red hearts hot". These are the actual "market spice tea", as in the famous "Pike Place Market" of Seattle. Here's a search (includes "Pike place market" as part of the query); you can even buy it on places like Amazon.com. Just make sure that it is the market spice tea with that distinctive orange logo/box. It's one of a kind, and it's fabulous!
posted by hincandenza at 11:15 PM on April 26, 2006

I really like the Earl Green that I get from Elephant Pharmacy in Berkeley, definitely worth checking out for an unusual twist on Earl Grey. I can't vouch for an online retailer, however.
posted by hooves at 1:03 AM on April 27, 2006

I'm fortunate to live close to Chinatown in Sydney. If you can find it, I highly recommend Golden Sail Jasmine Pearl Tea (email me for pic of container).

It's expensive (about $15AUD for a tiny 100gm tin) but the most beautiful tea. The "pearl" part is the very tips of the tender tea shoots being picked and rolled into round balls and laid up with jasmine blossom. Three or four pearls per cup is perfect and the little shoots unroll in the hot water.

The result is a sweet, aromatic non-bitter green tea that is sweetly scented with jasmine. Avoide fake jasmine (cheap cheap brands) like the plague.
posted by ninazer0 at 1:20 AM on April 27, 2006

Any loose leaf jasmine green is gonna be awesome-- the trick is not to overbrew it, which kills the delicacy. A good cup has a very distinctive, slightly bitter, subtly golden flavor.

Also, I could drink Twinings or Lipton's loose-leaf Darjeeling for the rest of my life. A good cup of Darjeeling, sweetened just the right amount-- not sweet sweet, just flavor-enhancing sweet-- tastes just like I imagine Ent draught would.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:50 AM on April 27, 2006

Ginseng oolong, which I'm sipping as I type this, and Aveda's Comforting Tea, which I suppose isn't technically loose leaf...but still yummy. Both leave a sweet aftertaste.
posted by phoenixc at 4:16 PM on April 27, 2006

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