Tea drinkers can rejoice. We have more than that aisle at the grocery store to choose from when needing to restock our tea pantry. One of the growing categories is the “boutique tea vendor.” They bring extraordinary value to your tea experience.
What Is a Boutique Tea Vendor?
I don’t know if that term is official, but “boutique” seems to fit tea vendors who bring you a carefully sourced selection of finer teas. Just like boutique stores where you can find some less cookie cutter merchandise that is often of higher quality than is available at a “big box” store. This is sort of built into their business model. The bigger stores, like the ones I described in my article on “chain store style” tea shops, carry quite a variety of teas, but seem to focus on lots of flavored teas. They depend on large numbers of people walking in, being attracted by the aromas, and making a purchase. The drawback: flavored teas don’t always steep up tasting as good as they smelled in the shop. Case in point is Bossa Nova. Lovely vanilla aroma but not nearly as good tasting and, since it’s an oolong which would usually be good for several steepings but isn’t now because of the fading vanilla, tends to be a waste of money.
Boutique tea vendors will present teas that you most likely won’t get elsewhere. Most of the time, they seem to focus on presenting unflavored teas, emphasizing their natural flavors. If they do present flavored teas, they are mostly classics that have been around awhile such as jasmines, spiced teas (chais), genmaicha, and Earl Greys, or flavors they have created special for you, the customer. They also try to present information about tea and methods of preparation so that you can fully enjoy the teas you purchase from them. Price-wise, their teas seem higher until you begin calculating the cost per cup where most of the teas can be steeped multiple times.
Some Boutique Tea Vendors I Know
Here are some boutique tea vendors whose teas I have had the pleasure to try:
Tula Teas ― In Canada, where the “chain store style” tea shop David’s Tea has spread like wildfire. Still, it maintains focus on a limited selection of very special teas and herbals. I’ve been honored to try several of her teas, including Formosa Green, Charcoal Roasted Dong Ding Oolong, Zealong Pure Tea, Zealong Dark Tea, Four Seasons Tea, and Green Mulberry Tisane. Each was a revelation, taking me a step further away from my teadust-in-a-string-and-tag-bag days.
thepuriTea.com ― Going from techie to tea guy, the owner puts his tea knowledge to good use connecting with growers in Asia and other tea growing areas. I’ve tried a list of teas, mostly unflavored, and was never disappointed. He offers some flavored teas, but unlike some online vendors, they are not his main focus. The site tries to give you detailed descriptions, but I have found some to be a bit too much and actually off putting. Ignore them and pick teas to try that look appealing to you. Sample sizes are available, so you won’t put out a bundle just to see if you like a particular tea you’re trying for the first time.
Thunderbolt Tea ― My contact there is Benoy Thapa. He rides around the Himalayan mountains and foothills on his motorcycle visiting the various tea gardens in the Darjeeling area of India. He tastes and selects the best of the best and makes them available to you. If you’ve only had those Darjeeling tea blends, treat yourself to some First Flush, Second Flush, or Autumn Flush from some of the best tea gardens there, including Singbulli, Arya, Castleton, Giddapahar, Risheehat, and Goomtee, to name but a few. I’ve had the mind-blowing pleasure of trying bunches of samples from 2009 and 2010, and have several waiting their turn from the 2011 First and Second Flushes.
There are other boutique tea vendors out there, waiting for you to check them out. Expand your horizons. It’s fine to shop with the big guys, but you will find some wonderful surprises at the smaller shop!
Disclaimer: While I have received free samples from the above companies, the views expressed here are my own and not paid for in any way. I truly find the above companies to be stand outs in the tea arena.