Unless you’re already a tea enthusiast, you may not be aware of the extensive online tea trade. Because tea is an international phenomenon, the advent of the ecommerce paved the way for teas from all over the world to be easily shipped to a person’s doorstep. Whether you’re seasoned in the art of herbal infusion a novice to loose teas, you’ll find many places to buy tea online. Here is an introduction to some of the best and most interesting online tea stores that will ship to destinations in the United States. Some of these website specialize in specific teas while others are more generalist online tea stores.
A popular brand for redistribution in coffeeshops and other retail establishments, Rishi Tea has made a name for itself as a high-volume, high-quality tea outlet. Their website touts that only 2% of the world’s tea has the “artisan” quality they deem essential to a well-crafted cup. Rishi sells black, green, oolong, white, pu-erh, and yurba mate teas, making it a one-stop shop for your steeping needs. In addition to traditional teas, they offer caffeine-free blends “botanical” blends such as lemongrass, ginger, and hibiscus.
Detailed information about the origin and flavour of each tea is available, and the categories run deep. With 32 green teas and 17 black teas to get you started, a range of tastes is available. A good way to sample the nuanced flavours within each category is to order the sample set. The oolong sample set, for example, comes with citron oolong, wuyi oolong, bao zhong, and a curiously named tea called “iron goddess of mercy.” Rishi provides suggested steeping times and water temperatures to assist in preparation, so this is a good online tea store for those just beginning to explore infusion.
Since the picky tea drinker needs the proper accessories, Rishi’s online store also features tea cups, tea pots, and containers for tea storage. If you’re planning to acquire all the tea essentials in one place, Rishi’s online tea store is tops.
Selling both loose teas and tea bags, Stash Tea is another quality generalist online tea vendor. Like Rishi Teas, you can often find Stash Teas in retail establishments. Although their website is slightly less user-friendly (due in part to the fact they publish a large print catalog), you can still find an extensive array of teas: black, green, oolong, white, and “exotic” teas are all for sale with basic information about blends and tastes.
The amount of information about each tea, however, is limited, and preparation information is rarely present. Unless you already know what you want and how it is best prepared, Stash may leave you wondering whether you’ve selected the best option. The site also misleading. If you were buying green tea, you’d get the impression that there are 54 kinds available when the truth is that many of those 54 items are just duplicate teas in different amounts. This may seem like a minor detail, but it makes navigation and ordering annoyingly inefficient.
The non-tea part of Stash’s website is a little broader in selection than Rishi’s. However, if your primary purpose is tea shopping, the baked goods and (especially) the home spa products seem out of place. With Rishi’s site being so comprehensive, there is little reason to seek out Stash Tea unless they have a particular tea Rishi is lacking – an unlikely scenario.
Somewhere in between Stash and Rishi lies The Tea Farm. Selling black, green, oolong, pu-erh, white, floral, and nerbal teas, the selection is quite broad, even though the name recognition is not as strong. Preparation and history information are still available, as are some tea accessories.
The Tea Farm allows you to search for teas by region, which is a handy feature. If you know you like teas from FuJian or GuangXi, you can see a complete list of the offerings. You can also search by caffeine level in case you can’t take teas that will wind you up for the night.
Another feature will display “recommended” teas when a particular tea has been highlighted. Since subtle differences are important in tea taste, selecting a tea similar to (but different from) one you already like can be a way to supplement your home selection without going out on a limb.
Also of note is The Tea Farm’s “premium” tea selection, perfect for special occasions. Try the green-hearted oolong tea from Taiwan for an intimate dinner party.
www.ShizuokaTea.com (specialty – green)
If you’re searching for green tea from Japan, you’ll soon find out that most Japanese green tea comes from one region: Shizuoka. Offering greens teas in both loose and bagged portions, this is a great site for its specialty. Four main kinds of green tea are available from Shizuoka: Sencha, Gykokuro, Genmai, and Houjicha – each picked at different points in the season and featuring distinctive tastes.
Be sure to try the Gyokuro, which is considered the highest grade of green tea. Specially grown and prepared for consumption, this tea comes in the shape of little pine needles. 100 grams of this tea will set you back approximately $25.
For US orders of $20 or more, shipping is free, so be sure to stock up and save some green on your green tea.
www.AfricanTea.com (specialty – Rooibos)
Since many online tea vendors specialize in Asian teas, the African Tea Company website is a welcome change of pace. Featuring teas from Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, this is your stop for Rooibos, long espoused for its medicinal qualities. Served cold or hot, with or without milk, the naturally caffeine-free Rooibos teas are worth a try.
The African Tea Company website is a bit awkward and gawdy, but it’s worth sifting through the graphics to search for teas and read some history. The site focuses on the tea itself, so don’t look here for any accessories. But do check out the recipe ideas for Rooibos tea, as it can be used to cooking.