Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Try New Brands of Tea?

Most serious tea drinkers have one or two favorite brands of tea or tea companies that they like to regularly order from. Humans are often creatures of habit, and it's easy to settle into the routine of ordering from the same company over and over again. This is especially true when dealing with tea companies with large catalogs, like my good old favorite Upton Tea Imports, where it is virtually impossible to exhaust the myriad of offerings of tea of different varieties and from different regions of the world.

But are people with such regular purchasing habits missing something?

The World of Tea is Always Changing:

There are so many tea companies out there; RateTea's list of brands of tea currently stands at 189, and there are many important companies that are still not included in that list. I'm constantly astonished both by the number of new tea companies being started, and the uniqueness of some of the newer companies' approaches. This is particularly true of companies that are leaders in sustainability--many of these companies are relatively new. For example, Rishi Tea, now a major force in the U.S. tea market, was founded in 1997.

However, Rishi's founding is old news compared to a number of other companies. Innovative tea companies are continuously being founded. Shanti Tea, a Canadian company, and Tony Gebely's Chicago Tea Garden both come to mind; both of these companies have a number of unique offerings, completely unlike anything you'll find elsewhere, and both were founded in 2009.

I know this post is not doing justice to all the amazing tea companies out there so my apologies in advance to other new, innovating companies.

What have I learned from trying teas from different companies?

They're different. Besides the difference in what particular types of tea are offered (which in itself is important), often, trying the same style of tea from different companies will reveal substantial differences. This is true both of companies that blend their teas, and of those that select unblended teas. Different companies cater to different tastes, and in a few cases, I've even noticed patterns and trends that seem to carry across teas of different styles, from a given company. For example, I've found that Adagio teas tends to seek out lighter, sweeter, more aromatic teas that tend to be less full-bodied. And the Darjeeling teas I tried from Fresh Darjeeling Tea (another recent startup, I might add) all had a noticeable vegetal quality in common to them--one absent in a number of other Darjeeling teas.

So the lesson is?

Get out there and try tea from new companies. You will be surprised what you find!


  1. Another interesting post Alex! - I do like trying out new companies, but one thing I've learnt over time; just because you choose a different company, doesn't mean you're selecting a different tea.

    Frequently companies offer teas from a handful of wholesalers, and I end up drinking the same leaves, whether I order from A or B. It all boils down to marketing, fancy names, packaging etc. Yes, there are exceptions. But do you know who they are? There is so little transparency in the tea business, you might never know.

    When I order a fairly ordinary tea, by that I mean a popular tea, I mainly look at price. I don't want to spend my money, on the hype, I prefer it to go to the tea I actually drink.

  2. This is true, and this is a major issue, which is why I try to focus on companies that source their own teas as much as possible.

    I am hoping to promote increased transparency among tea companies; this is one of the primary purposes behind I think that ultimately, this will benefit the companies that are doing the bulk of the work, and will favor these over the companies that rely primarily on marketing. The idea is to take marketing out of the hands of the tea companies and place it in the hands of a decentralized, independent community of people--sites like, tea blogs, and other third-party sources.

    In the end, this will greatly benefit the tea companies that are doing the bulk of the work sourcing teas, because they'll get free marketing.

    I believe that consumers almost always want by highlighting the most transparent companies, it will create a strong incentive for companies to become more transparent, in a "race to the top" so to speak.