Monday, March 5, 2012

Teas From Rare Tea Republic, And On The Consistent Character Of A Company's Teas

One thing that I have noticed fairly consistently over time is that different tea companies tend to have certain trends about what characteristics their teas tend to have. These trends are both evident in the choices of which styles of tea a company chooses to carry, and in the particular examples of each category of tea that a company sells. Thus, in trying a particular type of tea from different companies, I have observed differences which will often fit into a broader trend indicative of that company.

For example, Adagio Teas, from my experience, has tended to stock teas that are lighter, smoother, sweeter, and milder. Rishi Teas, on the other hand, has tended to stock teas that are a bit darker, stranger, and stronger tasting.

Rare Tea Republic:

Recently, I received four samples of teas from Rare Tea Republic. If you want specifics of each tea, you can read my detailed reviews of each of these teas by visiting RateTea's page on Rare Tea Republic. But here I want to comment on the company in general, and then on the trends I observed about the teas.

Here is a screenshot of the company's website:

As I have been writing about websites lately, I want to comment on this company's website: I like it very much! It is visually pleasing, with a clean but somewhat formal and elegant look, and it has its own unique character that immediately stands out from other tea companies. Showing consistent branding, the packaging of the tea itself fits with the look-and-feel of the website. I think this is a good marketing decision!

But visual things alone do little to impress me: what I like most about the company's website is that it provides a lot of information about each individual tea. In particular, it gives the specific region (not just country) in which each tea originates, as well as the plucking date. There's not a huge amount of information, but there's the information that I want. The company also offers some interesting teas, and, while it is focused on artisan teas, it has a fairly broad range of prices among its offerings.

And perhaps most importantly, the company seems to be interested in providing detailed information on where their teas originated, and in the broader context, promoting artisan tea culture in general.

Trends of this company's teas:

The catalag of Rare Tea Republic shows a clear focus on teas from the Himalayan region: all of their teas currently offered are from India or Nepal, with the exception of a single offering from Kenya. However, the offerings of teas from this company are quite atypical for the regions it covers, including numerous green, white, and oolong teas. This alone gets my attention. But the black teas they sell are also unusual. Of the four teas I sampled, three were black teas:

Can you even tell from the look of the leaf which of these teas are black teas? The tea on the right is the green tea, Jun Chiyabari Himalayan Evergreen. The leaf did not look much different from black teas from the same region, but upon tasting it, I will say, this tea was the most like a Chinese green tea of any tea I have ever tried from the Himalayan region of Northeast India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

How do the teas tend to taste?

So what are the trends I observed about the actual characteristics of this company's teas when drinking them?

  • They were all complex in aroma and smooth, but full-bodied in flavor. None of the teas I tried were strongly bitter, harsh, or astringent, nor were any thin: all were rich but somehow mellow.

  • They were all highly vegetal and herbaceous, but, not in a way I found objectionable. I often find that green, oolong, and some first-flush black teas from Darjeeling and surrounding regions like Nepal can have aromas that are too vegetal for me. I liked the quality of these teas more.

  • All the teas struck me as more similar to each other than they were to other teas from the region that I've tried from other companies. This company seems to be selecting teas for particular characteristics, so I imagine it will find a niche market of people who like those qualities.

  • They all perform well under multiple infusions. In some cases, even brewing western-style with a long (5 minute) infusion, they produced a second flavorful cup. From my experience, this is particularly uncommon among black teas.

  • The teas from Rare Tea Republic, I found, were quite versatile with respect to brewing: although some of them (like the Jun Chiyabari Himalayan Evergreen) produced radically different results when brewed in different ways, they all tasted pleasing regardless of how I brewed them. This contrasts with my experience of Himalayan teas with a highly vegetal character--I've found that these teas tend to be picky about brewing.

My one disappointment about these teas was their similarity to each other. I've tried a lot of teas, including some very interesting and unusual black teas, like the ones I described in my recent post top 5 most unusual or interesting black teas. If I had sampled one of these teas from Rare Tea Republic two years ago, when I did not have as much experience with tea in general, I undoubtedly would have described these teas as unusual, but now, I don't think they stand out quite as much. That said, they are high-quality, complex teas that I found very pleasing.

I also want to make one final note on price...the teas from this company are on the pricey side, but I also found that they are so flavorful that less leaf is needed to produce pleasing cups of tea. Considering that the teas worked well for multiple steepings, and that the leaf went quite far, and the quality is consistently good, these teas offer much better value than their price alone might lead you to think.

In conclusion:

I was quite impressed with this new tea company, Rare Tea Republic.

Have any of you tried any of their teas?


  1. Interesting. Were they indeed rare though? A quick google search for `Jun Chiyabari Himalayan Evergreen` yielded 3050 results, and within the industry, Jun Chiyabari is a very accessible company and their teas are very easy to acquire. The Himalayan Evergreen is one of their popular teas. So I'm wondering what "rare" means here.

  2. This is a really good point. I actually dislike the word "rare" in this context. In fact, rare is the first example on RateTea's page on Weasel Words in Tea Description and Marketing.

    The stance that I took in that article is that there's nothing inherently wrong with using the word rare, but, in general, it's important to back it up by communicating what makes the tea unique. I don't think I would personally name a company "Rare Tea" anything, nor would I recommend this sort of name, because it sets the bar pretty high and can evoke a negative image if you don't deliver on the promise. However, from what I've seen of this company so far, they actually are delivering on it.

    To examining the particular example you gave, I checked the google search you suggest, and it seems that there is a lot of mention of the Jun Chiyabari Himalayan Evergreen, but most of the results seem to be mentions of the tea sold by Rare Tea Republic, and when you scroll through. I did not find any examples. And, while there are certainly other companies that sell teas from Jun Chiyabari, teas from this estate are not that widely available, and, as of yet, this company is the only company we've listed on RateTea selling a green tea from this estate. I'm sure there are others out there, but I don't think this company has made an overly bold claim in the case of this particular tea.

    It's always a subjective question of when it's okay to use the word. I personally take the stance that I don't like the word, I avoid using it, and I recommend others to avoid using it. But I also am hesitant to criticize someone for using it, or make a claim that a person's use of it is an overreach. It's a big gray area. In the end, I think what matters is whether the company sells a quality product and provides transparency about what they're selling--and in this case the company is doing these things, so any quibble about their name is small. I get up in arms if a company tries to push off low-quality, commonly-available teas at a higher price by calling it "rare" -- that's definitely not going on here.

  3. (sorry, i didn't finish that one thought: *any examples of other companies selling this particular tea to a western retail market)

  4. Hi Alex and Tony,

    Thank you for the great feedback on our teas. It is really interesting to read your comments on trends and styles of various tea companies’ selections. I would agree that our collection currently trends towards, “complex aroma, smooth, full-bodied, rich and mellow”. These are some of the qualities that characterize the best teas from Darjeeling and Nepal. I generally look for a degree of briskness here as well.

    As we add teas from additional origins, Rare Tea Republic will have a greater diversity of flavor profiles that reflect different soils and climates. For example, we have 2 very unique black teas from Kenya arriving in the next week.

    For a taste of some of our more diverse selections from India, try:
    • Assam Mothola Smoked Oolong: Brisk, woodsmoke, fresh hewn timber. (
    • Castleton Oolong: Mineral, parsnip, reminiscent of a WuYi Oolong. (

    Regarding the term “rare”, it is used to describe a tea that is unique and difficult to replicate in future manufacturing processes. Many lots of Himalayan Evergreen, for example, are produced each season and each lot is different. One might be exceptional, rare, while another might not be. Each season, I travel to origin to select and develop the very best lots of the season and of the region, making sure to buy teas that are harvested in the best climate and plucked with the highest precision and manufactured with the most care.

    At Rare Tea Republic in 2012, you will find some custom made, single varietal lots made at the peak of the season as well as additional origins.

    I really appreciate your feedback and hope you’ll continue to share your experiences and feedback with us.