A discussion on the LeafBox Forums, which is unfortunately no longer available, titled "What do you want from an online tea seller?" got me thinking. When writing my reply, I realized that one thing that draws me to an online retailer of tea (or any tea retailer for that matter) is when the company sells tea from unusual regions, or interesting-looking varieties of tea that I am able to verify are legitimate named varieties of tea, but that I have not heard of.
One such company is Shanti Tea; I have yet to try anything from this company, but their offerings look interesting. Besides selling single-region and single-estate teas from a number of well-known regions, Shanti Tea has some unusual offerings, including tea from Jalpaiguri, India (a district in West Bengal that borders Darjeeling), a green tea from Shandong, China, and even a tea (not an herbal tea) from Guatemala.
I also have noticed that I tend to love green teas from Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Upton Tea Imports sells a few teas from Thailand and Laos, but these constitute a tiny portion of their offerings.
Unusual Varieties of Tea:
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the se chung oolongs, including Mao Xie, Ben Shan, Qi Lan, Fo Shou, and Huang Jin Gui. It is so easy to find Tie Guan Yin--to the point that I virtually ignore it when I see a Tie Guan Yin offered by a tea company--it doesn't get my attention. Any of the se chung oolongs immediately grab my attention because they are hard to find, and from my experience, even though they are regarded as "less desirable" than Tie Guan yin, they are generally only sold by companies that have a distinct focus on high-quality Chinese oolongs. Part of this is because they aren't well-known...so they have no value when dropped as a buzzword.
I also think there are other teas like this. I've generally had good experiences with various styles of Chinese green teas that are not well-known as well. I also like Yunnan greens, which again, seem to take a back burner to Pu-erh and even to Dian Hong (Yunnan red) like Yunnan Gold.
The same goes for scented and flavored teas. Most tea companies sell an Earl Grey and a Jasmine, but it's harder to find Osmanthus-scented tea (which I absolutely love). Also, some of the unusual blends, including plants and flavorings I've never heard of, can grab my attention, such as Teatulia's blend of black tea with the Neem tree. Another example would be Chicago Tea Garden's pu-erhs, which include several scented pu-erhs that stand out among the typical offerings.
Break out of the pattern:
Perhaps most tea drinkers aren't like me...and perhaps some tea companies need to cater to the masses by carrying mainstream and widely-known teas that everyone is looking for. But I know that I appreciate it when tea companies offer something genuinely unusual and different. Perhaps if more people sought out to experiment with trying tea from new varieties and regions, it could create a strong impetus for all tea companies to diversify.