Monday, January 10, 2011

Tea at Wegmans Supermarket

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.

8 comments:

  1. I love Wegmans! I wish there was one near me. I visited one in Rochester, NY and they had a tea bar. it was a huge surprise! You can read my thoughts on it here:
    http://teahappiness.blogspot.com/2010/11/wegmans-tea-bar.html

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  2. Oh I miss Wegman so much! I lived in upstate NY for years. Back then there wasn't much tea yet in the Wegman there, but Wegman was my favorite grocery! It has the largest vegetable selection among the groceries in the region and wide selections on many other things. I believe what's enable it to carry a lot of great things is that Wegman is a family owned business, while most other groceries have to report to the stock market and aim at selling a narrower selection of the most profitable products.

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  3. I notice there's a tremendous difference in the quality of supermarkets. I shop mostly at the Newark, Delaware Farmer's Market, which is more like a supermarket than a typical Farmer's market, but is really amazing both in terms of price, variety, and freshness. But I strongly prefer my local PathMark to the other supermarkets in town. In New Haven, CT, I used to love shopping at a store called PriceRite. It was low-end but had amazingly healthy products, and the prices were incredibly low. It saved money by being extremely minimal, which is my style. There were no shelves: products were stacked in the crates in which they arrived.

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  4. Anytime we head up to Northern Virginia, or go visit our friends in Pennsylvania, we always stop at a Wegmans and I always buy several packets of loose tea.

    A few years ago, when we first discovered Wegman's, it was clearly marked on the display tins at the self-serve section that the loose tea was Harney & Sons. On our next trip up, the tins in the store were not labeled with a brand (beyond saying Wegman's). I made careful note of the teas themselves, the descriptions and the look of them. When I returned home, I checked them against Harney and Son's offerings and found them to be the same.

    At the time, they were still selling H&S teas (but under the Wegman's label). It has been about 2 years since we've been to one so I can't comment on the supplier, but it is good to see that they continue to sell it. However, among grocery stores, Wegman's is something of a magnificent anomaly.

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  5. Thanks for your reply! I just checked some of the teas against Harney and Sons and the ones I bought do not seem the same.

    There's a thread on teachat discussing this question and there are other theories, including one based on a response from their customer service, that they use Ito-En, Rishi, and Republic of Tea.

    I see a lot of conflicting information so I'm withholding judgment. I just bought a bunch of teas the other day and some of them I can't find in the listings of any of these companies, as-is, so at least there's some renaming. For now I'm just listing them all on RateTea.net under the Wegmans brand, even if it's not an ideal solution.

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  6. I'm at wegmans in Columbia MD now and googled for a review of their Darjeeling before I bought it at 70/lb. But it smells delicious so I'll have to dive in anyway. Glad to see someone else in MD impressed by their tea section. Thanks for the post.
    P.S. I previously tried their earl grey which was delicious

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  7. No, seriously? I live just 30 minutes from that Wegman's; I rarely shop there because I buy veggies at farmer's market and tend to spend a zillion dollars at any Wegman's - haven't been to one since I moved from Ithaca NY. I'll head out there immediately - will always order online but the shipping really hurts - I drink a lot of tea!
    This is a very old entry, but blogs are eternal, and yours is invaluable, by the way. Cheers!

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    1. Thank you! I agree about blogs; I frequently discover years-old posts on blogs that I really enjoy. I don't necessarily think of blogs as a time-sensitive medium: many posts are timeless and can be useful long after they are written.

      This blog though is no longer very active: my new tea blog, Teacology, is where I'm publishing most posts from now on.

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