Online Tea Shops

Real tea experts start learning the art of drinking and appreciating tea with the lowest of qualities. Any and every tea has something good in it. Yes, there are ordinary low grade teas and then there are fancy expensive leaves to be enjoyed, but the secret is to be able to find something valuable in each. Falling in love with good tea is easy, but falling in love with something basic is art.

Tea masters don’t take themselves or their drink too seriously because they understand the value of learning – and no matter how many teas you’ve tasted and experienced in life, there is always something new to be learned across the wide ranges of tea regions and countries.

That being said, when a customer wants to buy a good quality tea and pay the price for it, he should have ways to find it easily.

Buying tea online can be tricky. The best practice is to find a store, specializing in tea, and walk in for a taste of fresh brew. A taste of brew is usually accompanied by stories about the tea and a list of flavors and qualifications. Tea drinking is a ritual and the one that fosters relationships not only between merchants and their tea growers, but between end consumers and sellers. Passionate merchant will be able to teach their clients about tea better than any book could. Trying tea at the store can say a lot about the tastes and preferences of the merchant.

Specialty tea is usually a small market for a small number of tea lovers, so it’s not always easy to find little tea stores even in big capital cities. This same search is a lot easier in Europe, where tea culture has ancient traditions. This is why the vastness of internet comes handy and can direct us towards good quality tea. Read reviews before buying, but take them with a grain of salt – personal preferences and even water used vary across the board.

What to be aware of when buying online

Online Teas

Chains. Every tea lover knows a few chains that are seemingly everywhere – malls, tourist attractions, and big city shopping centers. Avoid those. They usually carry more chocolate mixes or lavender-chamomiles than you could drink in a lifetime. Those widely known merchants buy great quantities of tea leaves from a large scale middle man and then add so many flavors and spices that the real tea disappears. If they happen to sell loose leaf teas, they will be a bit better, but very mediocre at best. Take your business and your tea passion somewhere else.

Think small. Seek small merchants, who you won’t find on every corner and who won’t have an ocean of blends. They will have the best tea in simple forms. The variety here will never be huge, but that’s because they practice a more personalized approach to tea selection. A lot of times the company has a person who goes to personally visit potential suppliers and their tea farms. This is how the best tea in the world is sold – not even reaching wholesale levels.

Imagine the shop owner who flies to remote places of the world, wonders through mountains with the farmers, tastes their tea on the spot, and then brings a few batches to be sold in his shop. And then think about a big corporation selling teas by thousands in your grocery stores and never even meeting the growers. Which one is truly passionate about the tea? That is not to say about every big company, some that sell 140 types of tea from 11 countries might have a really great quality product. But their tea won’t be an art form; the store owner won’t be a fanatic with personal knowledge of the leaves he is selling. That is the main difference – great versus fantastic.

When buying online, the closest you can get to the farmer is to read product description. The detailed story of the farm and harvesting practices is a signal that the company has been to that farm and has a relationship with the grower. This will take you a step closer to the tea origins.

Choose specialist. No single tea store can cover all the varieties of teas. Bigger companies can specialize in a wide range of teas purchased through networks of experienced buyers, but smaller establishments tend to focus on one particular category. You can have a piece of mind buying Japanese green tea from a company that specializes only in Japanese greens. They will have the widest selection of those teas and will possess the most knowledge about them.

Call. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Tea lovers have a ton of questions that don’t always get answered on the website. Look for a phone number, especially if the online store has physical locations and give them a call. You will not always succeed, but if you do, you might just get lucky and talk to a personal that shares the love of tea and knows everything there is to know about their products.

Get ready to pay. The good tea, grown in a beautiful remote region and hand-harvested will, most likely, cost you. This is not always the case, as you can find a good tea priced reasonably or you can find a mediocre tea priced outrageously. More often than not though, the price reflects the quality. This is a long term investment - a $500 bottle of wine will last one evening, while a $500 pound of tea will make you happy for months to come.

  1. Song Tea
  2. This store is relatively new and located in San Francisco. Their website is not ready yet, so the only way to buy the tea here is to download the PDF tea list, choose, and order over the phone. This is sure to improve with time, especially when the tea is so worth the effort. Peter Luong sells spectacular Chinese and Taiwanese teas and offers a wide range of varieties – from succulent greens to oolong and black. All his teas are on a pricy side, but totally worth it. Green tea boasts a few dimensions of nuttiness and not just the usual chestnut undertone. Taiwanese black Twenty One tea reminds of cherries soaked in whiskey and Gold Peony white tea possesses sharp citrus tones with a hint of honey sweetness.

    Song Tea Shop
  3. T Shop
  4. The website here is unassuming and plain, but don’t be fooled by it. Don’t get discouraged by a small selection either. The store’s owner Theresa Wong is passionate about her Taiwanese oolong varieties and can tell you all about it in her New York boutique tea shop. She will offer you the Four Seasons Spring oolong tea for everyday use, loaded with gentle floral scent and a hint of sweetness. Theresa Wong specializes in old fashioned charcoal-roasted oolongs, which adds woodsy and burned sugar flavor to the tea that mixes perfectly with fruity tones to create one spectacular treat.

  5. Verdant Tea
  6. David Duckler heads the Minneapolis-based company and came to tea business from unrelated field research. He fell in love with tea and with Chinese tea culture. He specializes in less known tea of Laoshan in Shandong Province. The summer green tea is so spectacularly thick and creamy that it smells like cookies and biscuits. The relationship with farmers is very important to Verdant Company and they are known to sell teas only a few days post-production. That’s the reason why they update their stock every few weeks versus once a season.

  7. Crimson Lotus Tea
  8. The company was started by Glen Bowers and his wife Dawa Lamu in Seattle. They never dreamed of being in tea business because they got there by chance. Glen was passionate about roasting his coffee at home and then had an opportunity to try a funky fermented Yunnan pu-erh tea. It was love at the first sip. Now they run a website dedicated to unique pu-erh teas and their beginner drinkers.

    Some of the pu-erh teas are raw, airy and freshly tasting, like the affordable 2005 “Top of the Clouds”, full of wintergreen and sour fruit notes. Others come in cooked varieties and brew thick as coffee. Good example of such is 2008 cooked Bulang Imperial Grade infused with earthy sweetness and ready to be brewed over and over.

  9. Eco-Cha
  10. This company is based in Taiwan and specializes in local family farm oolongs. They sell small batches and offer 13 teas. Those 13 teas represent an incredible range of country’s amazing tea culture. Roasted organic oolong tea brings brothy flavors in addition to pumpkin toned leaves, like Dong Ding. Another wonderful tea from Eco-Cha collection is low elevation grown fresh Jin Xuan with butter flavor and flower notes. One other great example of Taiwan goodness is mountain grown Shan Lin Xi oolong with lightness mixed with cassia and marigold undertones. Overall, this is a great place for luxurious Taiwan teas.

  11. Breakaway Matcha
  12. Eric Gower opened his San Francisco-based company to cater to matcha lovers everywhere. He sells great quality tea, green and vivid texture. He currently offers 4 types of “hyper-premium” matcha, famous for creaminess and sweetness that reminds tea experts of Chinese green teas. The tea does not have the usual bitterness and thus is quite unique.

    In addition to traditional hot matchas, Breakaway sells cold-brewing matchas and also inexpensive teas for cooking – culinary matchas.

    Breakaway Matcha Shop
  13. Everlasting Tea
  14. Sammy Levine explores and specializes in unusual long-aged teas from Taiwan. He sells 1972 Bao Zhong oolong which is a remarkable example of a great aged tea – dark wood flavor intertwined with fruity taste. This is a true pleasure for educated tea connoisseurs, who know all too well how difficult it is to find an unaltered beautiful long-aged oolong tea. Some of them are roasted like crazy to taste a lot older than they really are.

    Everlasting offers some wonderful younger teas. They too suggest that the owner likes to explore funky side of flowery oolong teas.

  15. Te
  16. Another beautiful source for unique Taiwan oolongs sold in small batches. The website is very informative and has oxidation percentages, elevations, and roast levels for customers to compare before making the decision. Dongfeing Meiren surprises you with a zesty lemon kick and heavy fruit flavors, smooth and velvet like. Another great specimen of roasted oolong is Te’s Graceful Hill - so oily that it leaves a lasting taste in your mouth long after the drink is gone.

  17. Red Blossom Tea
  18. Another San Francisco company specializing in Chinese Tea varieties with a mixture of gentle pu-erhs dedicated for those who are just learning and experimenting with fermented teas. Their Silver Needle is a wonderful white tea, light and airy but with a hint of creaminess.

  19. Rishi
  20. Rishi has it all – loose leaf, tea bags, and various tea blends, so the scope is really wide here. Despite being more populistic, the company holds ground when compared with specialized tea merchants and offers some solid choices. They sell some of their blends in supermarkets and are easily accessible to tea newbies everywhere.