A while back I wrote about tea selections in supermarkets in the U.S. This post highlights a newly-discovered exception to what I wrote in that post.
I have heard things about the outstanding tea selection at Wegmans supermarket for some time, but I don't think I understood the full magnitude or scale of what people meant by saying "Wegmans has a good tea selection." I wish I had brought my camera with me yesterday, for my first trip into a Wegmans, this one located in Cockeysville, MD, but alas, I did not. Instead, you'll have to settle for this backlit photo of one of the bags of loose tea I bought there:
What did I find in Wegmans, and why am I so excited about it?
First of all, there was a whole section of the store dedicated to tea. In the supermarket I visited, it was a sizeable room set in the back of the store, easily as large or larger as some retail tea shops. Two of the walls were lined mostly with tea bags, with a selection that would be unrivalled among any supermarket I've ever set foot in. But there were several things that really excited me.
Teaware: although I did not buy any teaware here, I was excited to see a wide variety of tea pots and tea infusers for sale. But what was even more encouraging was that the teapots and teacups for sale were not strictly from western traditions. There were more of the smaller teapots and teacups associated with tea cultures in southeast Asia, and if anything, significantly less of the western-style teaware.
The small and marginalized coffee section: while I do drink coffee on rare occasions, I'm definitely someone who gets more excited about tea (in case you haven't already noticed), and it was a nice change of pace to see only a small subsection of the tea section with a few varieties of coffee beans for sale. Most big corporate stores in the U.S. seem to have big gourmet coffee selections and negligible, if any, selections of loose tea.
Wegmans store-brand of loose tea: this was absolutely the highlight of the store. Taking up a large section of the back wall of the tea room were four shelves of large metal canisters filled with loose-leaf tea. These, with the exception of the Gyokuro, were left free for the customers to handle. There was a self-serve area with a scale, and some small bags and scoops.
Wegmans Loose Tea Selection:
I was immediately impressed by the selection, pricing, presentation, and freshness of the teas. I was also highly impressed by the way it was presented and stored. The tea was stored properly, in airtight metal containers to keep the light out, and it was presented in such a way that you could both see and smell the loose leaf before buying anything. With a few exceptions, the teas smelled really good, suggesting to me that they're quite high-quality. Some of them were organic.
The selection was great, and balanced. Although there were more flavored teas than I would have preferred, there were teas from a wide variety of styles and regions represented: Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri blacks, several Japanese greens, Chinese whites, some Jasmine teas, and quite a few Taiwanese oolongs. The weakness of the selection was Chinese greens: there was a dragon well / long jing, but the color and smell of the leaf did not impress me and I did not feel compelled to sample it. There was a decent gunpowder green, but I did not buy it. I would have appreciated more Chinese greens, especially on the low end of price (chun mee?). By contrast, there were two senchas and both seemed reasonably priced relative to how the aroma and appearance of the dry leaf. The rooibos smelled really good, and was organic and outright bargain-priced: I can't wait to try this one.
Overall, the prices on many of the teas were amazingly low, although the range of prices was wide, ranging from $9/pound for Yerba mate to $200/lb for Gyokuro, with most teas around $20/pound. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the setup was that there was no minimum purchase, enabling me to purchase exactly the quantity I wanted of each tea: enough to sample several times by several different brewing methods, and no more. I purchased nine loose-leaf offerings, including seven pure teas, one Yerba mate, and one rooibos. I have sampled one tea so far, a Tie Guan Yin from Taiwan, and it is quite outstanding for its $54/pound price tag. and I think I look forward to writing reviews and sharing them.
Update: you can now view my reviews of Wegmans teas on RateTea.