How to Find and Buy the Best Tea Online
How to Buy Premium Tea Online
Finding an online tea retailer can be daunting! It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the variety of options and crowdsourced websites offering reviews. How should you make choices when you can’t taste the product first? Note: If you live in a big city (or a smaller town that’s graced with an awesome tea merchant!), you can find tea merchants where you can smell and taste some teas before you buy. We highly recommend doing this. But if this isn’t an option: start small. Get sample quantities first before investing in larger quantities of tea that may not be to your liking. There are such a huge variety of options, even for the same type of tea. So try those first to find your best match.
While it can be tricky, shopping for tea online offers many advantages if you know what to watch out for and how to navigate the online marketing landscape. As a tea manufacturer with an active online store and customer support team, we’ve listened to thousands of customers looking to buy tea online over the past 15 years. Below are some brief guidelines to help make this process easier for beginner online tea shoppers. Happy sipping!
All the messaging you will be bombarded with when shopping for tea online can be super confusing. Here are a few things you can and should look for to determine the freshness and quality of a tea:
If you’re buying a tea blend (like an English Breakfast, Earl Grey, or an herbal sleepy tea formula), can you tell that the tea company you’re buying from actually makes their tea in-house? Or are they purchasing pre-made blends? Most of those are blended off-shore, without quality control eyes on the process. In my book, this is not ideal. I like to have a first-hand connection to the people making my tea.
If you’re buying a single source tea, does the company you’re purchasing from have a direct trade connection to the tea? Do they know the farm and tea masters who made this tea? Since virtually no tea (except peppermint, which technically speaking is an herbal, not a tea!) is grown in any significant quantity in North America, most tea is imported to this country from abroad. To have confidence in your source, your retailer needs to stand behind their tea sources. You can also choose to look for certifications like USDA organic. However, one thing to note is that many high-end teas made in clean circumstances do not have certifications. Many tea gardens are too small to afford the steep cost of a USDA organic certification.
Pro tip 1: Unless you’re buying a brand you already know and trust, don’t make your first tea purchase from a large online retailer. You know who I mean, and we sell tea there ourselves. But there are a sea of tea options at mass retailers which are simply not fresh. Even if you love the brand, you may be better off purchasing from them directly.
Pro tip 2: Your “cup of tea” may not always be the most expensive or rare choice. I begin almost every day with organic Sencha - which is not our highest-end Japanese green tea (That, by the way, is Gyokuro, which always tops our customer favorites charts). But organic Sencha is the tea my palate happens to love the most as its first-morning taste.
Don’t get just one type of tea.
The world of tea and herbals offers a vast variety of very different types - far more than you’ll find in coffee and even wine. So don’t commit to just one type. Even if you don’t think you like green tea - try a variety. It may be that the green tea you tried wasn’t amazing, or it could have been steeped in such a way as to make it taste bitter (they can be finicky). I don’t mean to pick on green tea! It seems like the higher end a tea is, the more delicate it can be to prepare. Bottom line: explore a variety of teas. And start with small sample quantities.
How much should you buy?
The answer is just a little of each type to start. It will take about 2 grams to make one 8-12 oz beverage serving if you're buying loose-leaf tea. So 1 oz of loose-leaf tea will yield approximately 12 - 14 servings, which should be more than enough to get you to steep it in various ways and determine if you like it enough to drink it regularly. Tea sachets, of course, yield one serving each.
Loose tea, sachets or teabags?
To that point, loose-leaf tea will generally bring you the best value or lowest cost per serving. What’s important to look for is what you’re buying whole-leaf tea. Most loose-leaf teas are whole leaves. It doesn’t take an expert to make this judgment: does the tea actually look like a leaf? Or is it more like ground up granules or dust? Those are the ones to stay away from. The quality is not there, and you can find much better quality and value in whole leaf teas.
With respect to sachets, some loose-leaf tea companies offer the exact same quality of tea in their sachets as they do in the loose-leaf format. The sachets offer convenience and better mobility to steep your tea on the road. Be aware of the material your tea sachets are made from if you go in that direction. Some are biodegradable plant-based sachets, and some are nylon. You probably don’t want to steep your tea in plastic.
Find a retailer you can actually connect with.
Final point, and one which is important to me when shopping online for almost everything, not just tea: can you chat or speak with an employee there? It’s nice to be able to establish human contact with your tea merchant in case your purchase doesn’t meet your expectations or even to learn a little either about tea or the company. Since tea is a food product, you probably won’t be able to return it, but working with a seller who wants to guarantee the best possible tea experience can make all the difference. What do their reviews and social media indicate? Are they connected to their customer?
Start small, and invest in the tea leaves, not the fancy gadgetry. Even if you’re going with loose-leaf tea, all you need is a filter. We all have vessels in which tea can be brewed. You don’t even need a teapot if you have a mug or a mason jar. Understand value. Steep and sip. How does it taste? How does it feel? If you don’t love it immediately, try cold-brewing your tea and see if it gives you a better flavor profile. Don’t take your tea too seriously - keep it fun and playful! You may soon choose to make premium tea a part of your every day.