If you want to drink higher quality tea, you should be buying loose leaf tea. While some gourmet tea bags do contain quality tea leaves, even those are not as good as the best loose leaves. And most tea bags are filled with whatever is left over after the best leaves have been sorted out for loose teas.
In the past, quality tea leaves were not easy to come by in the west, but thanks to the online shopping explosion, you can now get great tea anywhere. The biggest problem shoppers face these days is too much choice. It can be difficult to find the trustworthy online tea vendors among the hundreds of bad ones. Below are my favorite online tea shops, followed by some general advice for buying tea from a new vendor.
The Best All-Around Online Tea Shop
My favorite online tea shop is Art of Tea. I wouldn’t say they are the absolute best at anything, but they do everything well. There are shops with flashier websites, but Art of Tea’s looks almost as good and it is easy to navigate. There are shops with better quality teas, but they charge much higher prices. Similarly, shops with much lower prices sell lower quality teas. In short, Art of Tea offers the best value for your money.
More importantly, they allow customer reviews on their websites (any good shop should do this; see my advice below). Star ratings for the individual teas are nice, but for me, the comments left by other customers say much more about a given tea. Tastes differ, so even if others enjoyed a tea and rated it highly, that doesn’t necessarily mean I will enjoy it, too. The comments will tell you why they enjoyed it.
But the real clincher is the samples. Art of Tea sell sample sizes for all of their teas, meaning you can try anything on their site for just a few dollars. I spend a lot of time in Asia and one of my favorite things about buying tea there is getting to try the different varieties in a tea shop before making a purchase. Online shops that offer samples are the next best thing. Click here to go to Art of Tea’s website.
Several Alternative Shops That Also Do Everything (slightly less) Well
If you are looking specifically for Chinese teas, Teavivre is a great store. Their website is not quite as nice but their teas are excellent and while their prices are definitely higher than many stores, you get what you pay for. They also have customer reviews and offer sample sizes for all of their teas. They even give away several free samples with every order. I love this tea shop, but as mentioned, they only carry Chinese teas.
A good alternative to Art of Tea that offers teas from all over, not just China, is Mighty Leaf Tea. They are very similar to Art of Tea, but lag just slightly behind in everything, especially when it comes to the look of their website. In the past they did not ship outside the US, but they have since changed that. Since this is a new feature, I have not tried it, but I have not heard of any complaints concerning their shipping. Nevertheless, if you are not located in the US, you might want to use a different vendor.
Finally, I’ll mention Teavana. They are the biggest and best known online tea seller. They also have brick and mortar stores located in shopping malls in America. They are a good store overall, but I have always felt their teas cost more than they should. That’s a personal opinion though and I have nothing bad to say about them otherwise, although I do not have much experience ordering from them.
An Ugly Website With High Quality Teas
Generation Tea sells some of the highest quality Chinese teas available outside of China. They also have a website that looks like a leftover relic from the early days of the internet. If you can deal with that and want to try some really high quality tea, this is the shop for you.
An Even Uglier Site With Extremely Cheap Teas
Silver Leaf Teas has the worst website I’ve used. So why use them at all? To be honest, I don’t generally, since I spend a lot of time in Asia and have ready access to very cheap teas. But if you’re looking for a low cost tea to brew in large quantities as ice tea or to fill a thermos, this is the place to get it.
Also, if you put milk and sugar in your tea, you could save a lot of money by ordering from Silver Leaf, since having high quality leaves really only matters if you drink your tea straight. If you’ve ever been to India, for example, you probably enjoyed the local chai, but I can assure you, the tea you were drinking was incredibly cheap and far lower quality than anything Silver Leaf sells. When you add milk, sugar, etc. to your tea, the quality becomes mostly irrelevant and you might as well save money.
Finally, a Word on Amazon.com
For most people, Amazon.com is the most convenient place to buy tea. They have a very large selection, too. Unfortunately, the large selection can actually be a problem. Much of it is low quality, so it can be difficult to sift through all that to find the best values.
On my pages for the individual teas, I give recommendations for good buys on Amazon. You can also use the rating system on their website. Most of their teas don’t cost much, so you can easily try a few until you find one you love.
Amazon doesn’t have too many high quality teas, though. If that’s what you’re looking for, you are usually better off with a dedicated tea vendor. There are some exceptions, though. Again, the individual tea pages on this site point some of those out.
If you’re after lower quality tea, Amazon is a treasure trove. Silver Leaf probably offers better value overall, but Amazon has a much nicer and more user-friendly website.
I travel in Asia a lot, so I generally get my tea from local tea shops in Japan and China these days. When I am in Europe or the US, though, I end up using online tea shops.
In the US, I tend to shop mostly from Art of Tea. In Europe, I end up using Teavivre for Chinese teas or Amazon.com for others, since Art of Tea only ship to the US and Canada.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the tea stores listed on this page (except for Silver leaf, if you are looking for high quality tea), so what are you waiting for? Place a sample order and see what a difference high quality tea leaves can make.