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2011 – What Tea Merchants Are You Using This Year?


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#1 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 05:31 PM

Just curious about which tea merchants you have used this year so far, and any others you plan on using the rest of the year. I'll be buying mostly from some of my dependable standbys (theculturedcup.com, houdefineteas.com, jingteashop.com, norbutea.com, teasource.com, yuuki-cha.com and yunnansourcing.com.), but I'll probably try two or three additional tea merchants. I have stuck with the above ones for similar reasons and individually distinctive reasons that I'll get into in a post a little later.


So what tea merchants are you using this year...and why.

#2 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 07:07 PM

I've ordered from most of those on your list, except teasource, and this year I've also ordered a couple of puerh cakes from Essence of Tea, ordered some sencha from Dens, and had a first order from Dragon Tea House.

I've been generally quite satisfied with most of my online orders, and mostly have branched out and tried different sources because they had a particular tea that I very much wanted to try, like when I wanted to try Rou Gui and HouDe was about the only place that had any left of that year's harvest; or trying Essence of Tea because they had both a good reputation and a good selection of affordably small samples of fine aged puerh teas. And of course it's silly to pay for international shipping for just one tea....

But now there aren't many teas left that are on my 'must try' list, and I've got a better idea of what I really like and want to focus on for the future. I anticipate fewer orders for the rest of 2011, because I ordered and have been enjoying so much tea from 2010 or earlier.

#3 mbhank

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 11:39 AM

InPursuitOfTea.com, teadog.com, adagiotea.com, TheTeaTable.com, svt.com, StashTea.com, RepublicOfTea.com
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#4 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 05:18 PM

I am curious about what keeps us coming back to our old standbys and why we may try some new tea merchants this year.

As for me, all of those I listed above have all been dependable, generous with information on their website, by email, by phone or in person, with prompt shipping of products that were as described. But each of them also offers specific pluses that are attractive to me, and occasional minuses, too.

The Cultured Cup is here in Dallas, so I can buy retail from them, inspecting the tea leaf of various teas I may be interested in. They have some extraordinary teas and some value priced everyday teas. Exquisite tea bowls and other attractive teaware. Their website has not shown all of what they offer in the past, but I understand they are doing a major change on the site in the near future. Knowledgeable and helpful, but sometimes more responsive to phone calls than email. A member of the Society and a Certified Tea Specialist (CTS) recognized by the Specialty Tea Institute, co-owner Kyle Stewart has provided many teas for our Tea Tasting & Discussions from the first day. A tea friend of many years.

Houdefineteas.com carries some very fine teas from China and Taiwan. I have especially appreciated their Dan Cong offerings. In the past they have offered a sampler of (any) three Dan Congs and I hope they do that again. Some interesting puerhs, Yixings, ceramics and tea info. Can be pricey, but the quality is there. Responsive and helpful to email inquiries.

Jingteashop.com has a wide variety of Chinese Oolongs, Red Teas and Green Teas - some inexpensive and some quite rare and pricey. Helpful detailed info on each tea. Quality ceramics of tasteful design and Yixings. Shipping from China is reasonable enough, but I make a large order once or twice a year to reduce the percentage going to freight. Helpful when responding to email, although often a time lag before they get back to you.

Norbutea.com has a wide variety of Chinese and Taiwanese teas, some unusual and very difficult to find elsewhere: Red/Black, Green, Oolong (at both ends of the Oolong oxidation spectrum), Puerh. And also Japanese teas. At reasonable prices and fast shipping from the US. Inexpensive tea paraphernalia. Owner and Society member Greg Glancy has introduced us to many interesting teas through the Tea Tasting and Discussions. A tea friend of many years.

Teasource.com is a place I have bought a number of fine Keemuns, Nilgiris, Assams and Darjeelings. Responsive to email and phone inquiries. Owner Bill Waddington has provided teas for several Tea Tastings & Discussions.

Yuuki-cha.com has been the primary place for my Japanese teas: shincha/sencha, gyokuro and matcha of course, but all organic and single breed/single farm, so that I can learn to appreciate the regional, breed and terrior differences that are typically masked by the blending done by the large purveyors. Many other rare, unusual and less known Japanese teas such as Oolongs and Black teas. Well made, well-priced Japanese teapots and matcha supplies, including beautifully crafted tea whisks. The owner, Dan, replies promptly to inquiries and has provided several interesting Japanese teas for our Tea Tasting & Discussions.

Yunnansourcing.com is the place I initially bought many Puerh samples and and a brick or two, and it's one of the sites I would go back to for more. Carries more than just Puerh, but I have not ordered much else in the way of tea. Lots of inexpensive tea accouterments. Prompt response to inquiries.

I am very satisfied with these vendors and am already creating want lists for this year. May also order from one or two new vendors - maybe for Puerhs and Darjeelings that I can't get from any of the above.


So what do you all like about your current vendors? What are you looking for from a new vendor?

#5 mbhank

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 07:14 PM

I have bought Mariage Freres teas from The Cultured Cup for some years now. Thank you the additional sites. Some of them were new to me.
'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

#6 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 02:27 PM

Yes, The Cultured Cup is best known nationally as a source for Mariage Freres teas, but they have been expanding their offerings for about five years. For example, I have found yellow teas usually to be only ho-hum, but Kyle sourced one a few years ago that was exquisite...pricey, but exquisite.

#7 mbhank

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 02:44 PM

I found the Anhui Yellow from In Pursuit to be quite nice. Also pricey. What is Kyle's called? Thanks in advance.
'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

#8 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 04:07 PM

I really don't recall the name. This was a few years ago and I don't think they have carried it since, though they have carried others.

#9 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 05:44 PM

I first discovered Norbu Teas through a tea tasting here on eGullet. The Alishan oolong was so fantastic that I immediately placed a larger order, and tried a variety of different teas. I've now ordered from Greg every few months, white teas, green teas, oolongs and puerhs, teas from Taiwan, China, and Japan. There is enough of a selection that I nearly always start with one or two things on my wish list, and after several iterations of saved carts, I and up ordering many different things besides.

The best thing about ordering from his shop is that I've now got enough experience with Greg's detailed descriptions of things to be able to predict whether or not I'll like a tea from his prediction, and he knows enough about my palate to pick a couple of samples to include with the order that I am usually going to really like. I also like that he has found some really lovely teas that are quite bargain priced along with the pricier ones, like the wonderful Huang Jin Gui oolong I enjoyed last year--not as long lasting as his Diamond TGYs, but a quarter of the price, and quite lovely for my 'bulk brewing' to share at work.

I've had good experiences--good service, good teas--from most of the other merchants I've tried. I have had several lovely teas via eGullet tastings from The Cultured Cup, but their online site is apparently not a patch on the variety and selection of their store. I've had very good results from e-mail and telephone inquiries when I wanted a particular tea I already knew about from a tasting, however--their Pai Mu Dan was particularly impressive after a couple of other experiences that were 'meh'. And the Lemon Myrtle Rooibos continues to impress those I share it with who prefer herbal to C sinensis teas. It was tasting their sencha that finally opened the world of japanese green teas to me.

Most of the other sources I've dealt with have had something available that I'd heard about and put on my list of 'must try' teas, and once I am placing an order, a few extra things usually come along too.

I enjoyed some very nice green teas from Denstea.com in their sampler, placed an order, decided I prefered light sencha to gyokuro, and then explored a little more last year with a first order from Yuuki-cha. I explained to Dan in an e-mail what my taste preferences were (less umami-sweet, more sugar-sweet) and he picked a group of four teas for me, two of which I liked, and two of which I loved and have reordered a couple of times.

I think I tried Yunnan Sourcing simply because it sounded interesting after many mentions here and in other forums. I found some neat teas there--like the Yunnan 'Oriental Beauty' that has been such a delight. I have been working slowly through most of the puerhs I bought there, some because they seem to need more aging, and some--Menghai Golden Needles White Lotus--because the brick is just so firmly compressed that it's hard to break bits off of it.

I found HouDe because I was looking for Rou Gui, the 'cinnamon' oolong, but while I enjoyed that tea, I preferred some of the other teas I added just because, like the winter wood-roasted Shui-Xian. The prices seemed in line with the quality of the tea, so I wouldn't expect to find bargains, but definitely good tea.

I tried Jing Tea Shop because I wanted to try a few high quality green teas, because I was not sure whether what I was buying from my local tea shop, often at quite high prices, represented the best I could expect to find. And I was not surprised to find that the teas from Jing were much better, while not that much more expensive. I've written elsewhere here that when I first ordered from them, I did not receive a package delivery notice from my local post office, so the package sat at the PO for several weeks. It was about to be returned to China and Sebastien was notified, sent me an e-mail, and I promptly picked it up. That was nice service.

While I was aware of Essence of Tea from several sources, it was a plan to finally try some high quality aged puerhs that prompted my first order. I'm still working my way through those samples, and waiting for my 2nd order from them. I love that I can order a small sample of some very pricey aged teas, making it affordable to see what I'm missing in the really aged stuff. I was quite surprised today to get a personal reply when I noted elsewhere that my current order still hadn't arrived--I hadn't contacted them to inquire or complain yet, because it hasn't been that long, and I was the one who didn't pony up for registered/EMS service. That was an unexpectedly friendly touch.

It really seems like the online tea business is still small enough that there is a lot of personal touch involved, much more than with most of the other online business I do (and I do a lot of online purchasing). I've been equally happy with the service I've gotten ordering teaware online, direct from the artisans or one via a retailer one step removed from the artist, but just as with the tea, I'm not buying a lot of the really high priced stuff where people may be more highly motivated to commit fraud.

#10 mbhank

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 05:57 PM

Simpson and Vail Teas (svt.com) have a Cream Assam that I fell in love with and always have on hand.
'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

#11 Vieux Carré

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 04:09 PM

If you were a specialteas.com regular, where have you shifted your online shopping, now that they've closed? I've found Upton's to be pretty similar for their price and the quality of their mid-range teas (what I typically drink), but am not overwhelmed with their breakfast blends.

#12 mbhank

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 06:45 PM

Have you tried Harneys?
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#13 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 10:02 PM

I had some very nice teas from Harney's the one time I ordered from them. My only complaint would be that the samples were rather pricey. But the teas were good. I didn't continue ordering from them because other vendors had a wider variety of the teas I prefer.

#14 Vieux Carré

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 06:05 PM

I have tried Harney's and do like their blends, but am not as happy with the rest of their selections. Maybe I will just end up using Harney's for the blends and Upton for the others. Nothing wrong with that but I guess I was just wondering if there was a good vendor that might provide both.

#15 mbhank

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Posted 03 August 2011 - 12:06 AM

If you are looking for the top end teas then InPursuitofTea.com is as good as it gets but Sebastion is expensive.
'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

#16 mentalrph

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 03:25 PM

I found a marvelous tea merchant in Chinatown (SF) a couple of weeks ago. Their staff is very knowledgeable and quite helpful. I have always been an English breakfast tea drinker (w/cream and sugar) but have been converted to straight up tea. Check out their website www.redblossomtea.com
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#17 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 10:18 PM

Looks quite interesting. Will have to check them out next time I'm in SF.

#18 avaserfi

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 07:28 AM

I found a marvelous tea merchant in Chinatown (SF) a couple of weeks ago. Their staff is very knowledgeable and quite helpful. I have always been an English breakfast tea drinker (w/cream and sugar) but have been converted to straight up tea. Check out their website www.redblossomtea.com


I just visited their shop for the first time as well. I grew up in a tea drinking family and was excited to expand my knowledge on the subject. I found the staff helpful and well informed. I walked away with a Heritage Aijiao Wuyi Oolong and Grand Shou Pu-erh from 1997 for myself along with gifts for a couple friends/family. Now I've got a lot more learning to do.
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