A few places you might buy loose leaf tea from
Last night I was chatting with someone I've connected with on a LinkedIn Tea Group I started a while back (feel free to join!). We hadn't talked in a few months, but he had good reason to, he wanted an answer to what should be a simple question, "Where should I buy Loose Leaf Tea?". For the most part, this acquaintance of mine has been drinking common tea bags, and wanted to expand his palate, and see what else what out there.
He mentioned that he had done a Google search for where to buy loose leaf tea, and instead of a decently composed list or article, he was greeted almost entirely by ads, followed by direct links to tea shops. I will give Google some credit, as these are in fact places to buy loose leaf tea, but they didn't give my friend the information he was looking for, which was an informative guide on how to approach loose leaf tea buying for a beginner.
Before I get straight to the meat of this post, I want to point out that loose leaf tea is sold and produced globally, with hundreds of thousands if not millions of variations dependent on processing methods, weather and soil conditions, harvest time, and more. What follows is a list of shops that have done a good job curating varieties from growers to create tasty, affordable, options. That doesn't mean that these are the best teas, but likely a great balance of accessible and delicious.
I can't think of a better way to start this list than with Adagio Teas, a well known and respected loose leaf tea brand. They came from humble beginnings, opened in 1999, the small mom and pop shop has grown to become a staple for many tea lovers. They were arguably one of the first loose leaf tea ecommerce sites, and they've continued to offer a variety of great inventory and unique tea steeping products.
I personally began my tea journey over a decade ago, buying a number of samples from Adagio, along with their fun Ingenuitea steeper, which although annoying to clean, still works great for me even today! One of the best things about Adagio, is that you can still purchase $2 sampler tins. Anyone just diving into tea can go load up on ten different varieties for a mere $20. A steal for what promises to be a great introduction to a new hobby.
The Samovar tea business is built around five brick and mortar locations, four of which are located in San Francisco, and one in Maine. Samovar is not the cheapest place to buy loose leaf tea, but they do sell very high quality, great tasting tea. They have a focus on correct brewing methods and the process around serving and drinking tea. Their physical locations also serve up an amazing menu that focuses on pairing tea with flavors. Tea, having many similarities to wine with subtle flavor profiles and a focus on terroir, have an untapped opportunity in America to shift how we look at tea with meals. Samovar is taking great steps at paving that road.
While the cost is high, one area that Samovar excels in is sending their teas is packaging with extremely detailed brewing instructions. Where many teas (ours included), focus on brewing temps, times, and number of infusions, this company takes it another step further often with explanation of rinses, brewing vessels, and more. If you are looking for a more refined approach to loose leaf tea, this is a great place to start. Bargain readers, continue on!
If you are an herbal tea drinker, and you want to step further into the world of real tea, but still have an affinity for a variety of flavor, spice, or sweetness, David's tea is a great place to start. They have fantastic loose leaf teas that they use as a base for flavored blends that many people rave about on social media. If you've been on the edge of making the transition to loose leaf tea, these bold flavors could help you through the shift.l
David's Tea is not nearly as expensive as Samovar, but being a larger company with a fair amount of overhead and flashy packaging, it's teas are still not the cheapest out there.A quick side note on packaging:
When you purchase tea wholesale to resell through your business, there is a wide range of pricing, based on the grower, quality, season, and more. Regardless of this range, for the most part the tea that you buy from resellers sometimes exceed 1000% markups from the original costs. What you are paying for in these scenarios is usually fancy packaging, as well as operations and marketing overhead. If you can find smaller, local vendors, you are likely to find much better deals, as well as a passionate staff member. Which brings us to our next options for loose leaf tea sourcing:
Local Tea Shops
While not everyone is so fortunate to have a local loose leaf tea shop in their area, many of these small brick mortar stores have someone passionate behind the doors that has made it their goal to share their love for tea with their immediate community. A quick search for tea shops in your area on Google or Bing should illuminate if there are any good options nearby.
Check out their website if they have one, and see if they offer loose leaf tea, or just teabags. Then, see if you can swing by and check their business out in person. If you are interested in purchasing tea from them, they will often brew up samples, and be able to tell you more about where the tea is from and how it was processed, caffeine levels, flavors, and more. This can be one of the best ways to experience loose leaf tea buying for the first time, as it becomes not quite so overwhelming. Maybe you've never heard of words like Oolong or Pu'er before, and are daunted by the idea of buying something so foreign to your vocabulary. Consider your local tea shop your personal concierge into the world of tea! It's always great to be able to buy local as well, and share your tea drinking experiences with someone else.
I didn't feel like I could make a good starter list without putting Amazon on here. If you enter the term "loose leaf tea" into their search bar right now, there are 234 pages of products returned. It's a far cry from the 400 product pages that "coffee" returns, but it's still a daunting amount of information to sort through.
Choosing tea on Amazon is going to require a bit more investigation on your part. Start by reading the product information to see if they describe the flavors at all. Then, you can dig into the reviews, as you can on any product, and see if you can find both negative and positive reviews to balance out the opinions of the tea. Finally, if you can do a web search on the brand of the tea, see if you can pull up more information on their company through their website. Some people on Amazon are simply dropshipping other companies wholesale tea. There is nothing inherently wrong about doing so, but if they don't have a story or an understanding of tea to back up their business, they could be sourcing low quality tea just to make a decent markup.
Tea By The Sea
Of course I can't write this list without making a plug for our own online tea store! While we don't have as large a selection as many stores. We taste every tea many times before selling it, and have experimented with brew times and temperatures to try and recommend the best experience for both new and seasoned loose leaf tea drinkers. We are a small shop, with big dreams of opening a tea lounge. Right now we don't have much overhead and no employees other than the husband/wife team, which means our prices are extremely competitive. We hope you will mix in some of our loose leaf tea options when sampling different stores.
The stores laid out above are a great place to start, but they are very much the largely visible tip of the iceberg. Beneath these retail giants lies a long tail of suppliers and distributors that go largely unseen. Part of picking up the hobby of loose leaf tea is to explore and taste a range of styles and flavors from all over the world. We plan to have a follow up blog on how to navigate these less obvious channels of tea buying so that you can broaden your palate and experience more of the rich nuances of tea.
(Affiliate link disclaimer: This article, and others on the site use Amazon's Affiliate Link Program. Purchasing goods from Amazon using these links helps to support the site and the future goal of building a brick and mortar tea lounge with aquariums in the wall. Our goal is not to deceive our readers in any way, and to remain as transparent as possible.)Cover Photo By Ravi Pinisetti