Best Tea Brands – Which Brands of Tea to Buy From?
What is meant by best?
The concept of “best” is inherently subjective; it depends on what standard or measuring stick is used to compare tea companies. Each person has their own personal taste, and it is impossible to argue about tastes when people disagree. Different brands of tea cater to people with different senses of taste, and thus no one will ever agree on a universal “best” tea company.
Different companies also have differing areas of focus and complementary strengths and weaknesses. Many companies specialize in tea from a particular region or regions (often Japan, China, or India), and some specialize in particular varieties (green tea, oolongs, herbal teas, blends, fruit teas, British-style teas, etc.). Some companies offer a huge selection, whereas others focus on a few well-chosen offerings.
Buying locally in stores:
For the simple reason that supermarkets mostly mostly sell tea bags, I recommend against buying tea from a supermarket. Loose tea is superior in flavor and value, as you are paying for the quality of the leaf, rather than for packaging and presentation. If you have not yet tried loose tea, I suggest doing so; buying a tea infuser (such as a brewing basket) is a good way to make this process easier.
If you live near a local retailer of loose tea, I would recommend checking out such a store. The best choice is a specialty tea store, but some ethnic food stores, especially Chinese and other Asian ones, often carry high-quality loose tea. You may wish to research some tea-related topics online so that you know a little bit more about what to expect and what to look for when you go shopping.
In many areas, however, the only good option available is to order tea online.
Choosing a company to buy tea from online:
When buying tea online, it is best to be cautious. I strongly recommend against ever buying from a company that markets tea as a weight-loss product or nutritional supplement. The same benefits are able to be obtained from teas marketed as a beverage, and these teas are often higher-quality and lower in price. Legitimate tea companies are those that focus on the quality of their product, and offer teas at a fair price. I also recommend making sure that a website is current, and that it is run by a legitimate business with a phone number and address, before purchasing from it.
Tea blogs, forums, and community websites can be a great way to locate new brands to try, and to get a sense both of which brands you want to buy from, and which particular teas you might want to order. Before buying from a particular website, check to see if others have had positive experiences with the company. This can give you an additional sense of security when buying from an unfamiliar online merchant.
My personal favorite brands:
Sustainability, encompassing both preserving and protecting the environment, and protecting human rights, is an important factor when I buy anything. There are both environmental and human rights issues associated with tea production, which is why I look for companies that aim to address these concerns in their business model. Two well-known aspects to sustainability in the world of tea are organic certification and fair trade certification, but these issues only scratch the tip of the iceberg. Many companies have gone above and beyond, supporting biodynamic agriculture, promoting education, cooperative ownership models, and other community initiatives that directly benefit the tea growers and producers.
I believe that the best brands of tea are those which have a strong commitment to sustainability. The first and foremost leader in sustainability among tea companies is Rishi Tea. Some new sustainability-oriented companies have recently entered the market, including Shanti Tea, a Canadian company, Arbor Teas, and Teatulia tea, a company with its own cooperative tea garden in Bangladesh. More mainstream brands with a significant organic and fair trade offerings include Numi Tea, Choice Organic Teas, and Organic India.
I also enjoy a number of companies that focus on offering a high-quality product at reasonable prices. My particular recommendation in this area is Upton Tea Imports, which boasts a huge catalog and a wide range of prices, although there are a number of other good options out there.
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