Pictured above is Upton Tea Imports's Website.
What I like about Upton Tea Imports:
Since this is my favorite company, this list will naturally be a little longer:
- A clear focus on single-origin teas - Although Upton does carry a few blends and flavored teas, these occur at the back of the print catalogue, and are also not emphasized on the website. Upton's focus is clearly on single-origin teas. The catalog covers a wide range of different countries, although showing a strong focus on India and China.
- Unusual offerings - There are many teas and a few herbs that I've tried from Upton that I've rarely or never seen for sale anywhere else. Among teas, this list includes a Thailand long-leaf green tea, and an orthodox black tea from Tanzania. For herbs, this list includes green honeybush, lemon myrtle, pure vana (wild) tulsi, and Yerba Mate Buds processed like tea. One thing I especially like about Upton's herbal offerings is that they tend to focus on tea-like herbs, including rooibos, mate, honeybush, and other pure herbs that are likely to satisfy pure tea enthusiasts.
- Very good prices - Upton has a wide range of prices, but I find that their prices are consistently lower than most other companies. I've purchased more bargain buys and teas that I would consider to offer exceptional value from Upton than from any other company. The company truly shines, in my opinion, in the number of offerings that cost well under $10 for about 1/4 pound (sometimes under $5), yet compete on par with teas selling for well over twice this amount.
Another interesting point, related to prices, is that Upton carries a lot of "low-end" or "low-status" teas that I think are overlooked by other companies, but that offer exceptional value. Although these teas are cheap, price-wise, their quality demonstrates a careful selection process, whereby Upton is choosing inexpensive teas that compete in quality with much pricier offerings from other companies. Some examples include Upton's offering of 4 different Shou Mei (longevity eyebrows) white teas, an inexpensive grade of Chinese white tea that is rarely sold at all by companies in the US, and a very good selection of broken-leaf first flush Darjeeling teas, some of which have been top-notch, and many of which are extraordinarily inexpensive. I also find some of their inexpensive Chinese oolongs really shine, including their green Se Chung oolong, an osmanthus-scented version of the same tea, and some of their cheapest Tie Guan Yin offerings, like this medium-roast Tie Guan Yin. They even surprised me with a Chinese-produced gyokuro, which was not bad, not to mention both cheap and organic certified.
- Affordable, usually generous-sized samples of every tea in their catalog - Most of Upton's samples are $1 or a little over $1 for as much as 15 grams. As someone who loves trying new teas, this sends the message that Upton is oriented towards people like me. One small caveat about the samples, because Upton uses a fixed-size sample pack, the large-leaf teas come with a smaller weight of sample, which I don't like for the largest-leaf teas (often coming with as little as 6g of leaf). These teas, however, tend to be pricier so it usually works out that these are the teas I'd be happy buying a smaller sample of.
- Honest, concise, yet informative descriptions of each tea - I like the length, style, and focus of the descriptions of each tea in Upton's catalogue more than the teas from most other companies. More so than with any other company, I've found that Upton's descriptions fit my own personal perception of the teas. When Upton says "citrus" or "mint" or "apricot", I'm pretty likely to detect these aromas when I brew the tea. I recognize that different people perceive taste and aroma differently, so Upton may not be a match for everyone, but I get the sense that the people behind the scenes at Upton have a similar sense of perception to me, and this also keeps me coming back because this match helps me to pick teas that I am likely to enjoy.
- Affordable shipping and great customer service - I've never had anything go wrong when ordering from Upton. Orders are packed and shipped promptly, and I never had a single mistake happen. The company also has responded very quickly to my email inquiries, and they are also equally responsive when engaging them in more casual conversation on social media, see Upton's twitter and Upton's Facebook. And shipping is very affordable, low enough that it's pretty clear Upton is eating a small loss on the shipping rate on some orders.
With such a big catalogue, there will inevitably be some "misses" if you sample a large number of their teas. I can't say I've liked everything to come out of Upton. But I've been really surprised at how few teas like this there have been, given how many I've sampled. I do think that Upton excels in some areas more than others; I would say that their largest strength is in inexpensive, pure, single-origin teas and pure, single-origin, tea-like herbs.
When I recommend people a single company to buy loose tea from, Upton is the one I point to. When I recommend a single company to look into when "getting into tea", Upton is the one I point to. And when I look at the company that I've ordered the most tea from, and keep coming back to, it's Upton.
What is your experience with Upton?
I know that many of you are also big fans of Upton...do you like them as much as I do?