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Apr 25, 2007 08:34 PM

Suggestions for quality/economical black teas?

I have been drinking tea for a few years now, but only started brewing from loose leaves about a year ago. A few months ago, I picked up a few ounces of "Upper Namring Vintage Estate Darjeeling" from Ito En, which I am sipping my last cup of as I write this. The price of this particular tea is a bit expensive by my standards, and I'd like to find something that has a similar taste that I can buy in greater bulk. I understand that Darjeeling is typically an expensive tea, so I'm open to other kinds (although a cheaper-but-still-tasty Darjeeling would also be great).

I believe the quality of this Darjeeling that I enjoyed was its light astringency, so anything with that characteristic would be a good start. My other preference is that I like a decent amount of caffeine in my tea - I drink it in place of coffee, so I need something that will give me that boost. I also love putting the leftovers from my pot in the fridge and having it as iced tea the next day, so my ideal tea would taste good iced (with no sweetener). The Darjeeling is excellent iced, although that might be a waste, I guess...

Does anyone have any ideas? I live pretty close to Ito En in NYC, so I can take a walk down there and pick up a bunch of sample-sizes of whatever anyone suggests. I'm also open to mail-order, since I'm sure Ito En isn't the most economical place to buy tea (it's a few blocks from Central Park on Madison Ave...)

Thanks in advance!

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  1. There are lots of mail order places in the world including Upton's and Palais des Thes

    both of them sell varieties of Darjeeling, which is a region in India where the tea comes from.

    I've had good luck buying loose and bagged Darjeelings, Assams, and Ceylons in Indian grocery stores.

    I drink mostly iced teas, and find the Darjeeling not as preferable as the Assams and Ceylons, in part because of the astringency. And it's definitely NOT a waste of good tea to put it over ice. The better the tea, the better the iced tea!

    Any of the black or oolongs will be relatively high in caffeine, as compared with the greens and whites.

    One to try, as an extreme counterpoint to Darjeeling, would be a Chinese pu-erh. It's a dusky, smoky black tea with (according to Chinese tea merchants) miraculous health properties.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Loren3

      Thanks! I placed an order with Upton Tea for a variety of different teas - I liked their selection and price. I've had pu-erh before, and I'm not a big fan...for now I'm sticking to Darjeeling as my regular tea, but I also bought some Assams and Ceylons to try out your iced tea recommendations!

    2. I just bought Matcha green tea at Ito En on Sunday. I bought a 20g canister for $12--their cheapest Matcha. While I don't think Ito En is cheap, if you compare their prices to the high quality mailorder web stores, the prices aren't that strikingly higher across all types of tea. It fact for certain teas it is about the same. There is no tax on tea in the shop, so check their website price list vs. a high quality web tea dealer for example and factor in shipping cost. Also, certain teas can be tasted there at the store. I like the experience of shopping there, tasting tea and discussing tea with knowledgeable people--you don't get that online. So to me, its worth the few cents extra--and from what I can tell, its not really more $$ given the quality of the teas in Ito En.

      For non-Japanese Tea, I like Harney & Sons. I visited their plant in CT. It was really interesting. And, if you are in that part of CT, they have a tea tasting room where you can taste virtually any tea that they sell. Their website has a better selection of loose tea than you will find in stores.

      There are many good web dealers like Upton. In Pursuit of Tea has interesting teas on their site as well.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ora

        Ito En is great for high-end teas (I think), but right now I was just looking for something to buy in bulk that would be a bit less expensive. I haven't tried Matcha yet, but I'm going to give it a shot eventually - how was the one you bought?

      2. I buy teas online from - they have excellent quality teas, and several sampler sets you might be interested in - I'm thinking specifically the black savant sampler - it includes their top darjeeling, a very nice assam, and a yunnan gold tip tea which is quite possibly the single best tea I've ever had.

        And if you're looking for just a plain quick cuppa, try Red Rose tea - it's a canadian brand tea bag and blows lipton out of the water. And it makes an excellent iced tea. It is the only tea bag out there I consider worth buying - brewed with boiling water for two minutes, 1 tea bag per 8oz of water, it's pretty good, and right at home in a coffee mug at 6 am. Plenty caffeinated.

        2 Replies
        1. re: AnnaEA

          I bookmarked for next time (I just ordered from Upton Tea yesterday). And I'm definitely going to give the Red Rose teabags a shot - I start a new job in August, and I'll need something that I can make in an office without a stove.

          Thanks for the suggestions!

          1. re: AnnaEA

            I strongly agree with the Red Rose suggestion. Cheap and very tasty. We taste tested it against our usual Tetley - iced tea tasting- and it won hands down.

          2. If you're saying you don't like astringency, then look into Indian tea - it's a lot smoother than the tart type that's around. (I think that's 'Assam' as previously mentioned by a poster.) I also love darjeeling, and I like the Assams.

            I really love PG Tips, a run-of-the-mill brand popular in England (might find at a British store if not otherwise found).

            I usually have the best luck with random cheapo brands from Asian stores, for black teas. For supermarket mid-scale teas, I like Stash.

            Also, is great - nice samplers you can assemble yourself to try out different teas. I got a green tea sampler from there with very very nice teas.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Cinnamon

              I agree, PG Tips is my daily morning beverage. Brews quickly and strong and I love the taste.

     is another possible source for loose leaf teas.

              1. re: Cinnamon

                For "run of the mill English" we like Tyhpo better than PG Tips. A bit harder to find. Very good quality to price ratio. They also make the best decaf black tea I've tried, as long as you double bag your cuppa.

                We've also used Epton Tea with good results.

                1. re: JudiAU

                  Thanks for the tip, I'll keep an eye out for it.

                2. re: Cinnamon

                  PG Tips is becoming much easier to find in the US. As recently as three years ago I could only find it at my local tea shop or the international market but they've started carrying at chains like World Market and, more recently, my local supermarket.

                3. I love Ito En and 2nd the recs for Upton & Harney. You should also check out Special teas...I've ordered from all three of these for over a decade & never once been disappointed.


                  Also, since you live in NYC, did you know that Takashimaya has an excellent tea dept? You might find something you like there....

                  One of the posters mentioned Adagio...The Food Emporium at Third Ave & 68th Street has a selection of Adagio loose teas + their Ingenuitea (or however they spell it) for single-cup brewing...I find their English Breakfast & Earl Grey teas very acceptable if not up there with the best of Upton, Harney & Specialteas....

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: fauchon

                    I mentioned Adagio earlier -- their Earl Grey varies in quality in my experience -- sometimes it's pretty darn good, other times... eh. Stash makes a nice one though.

                    Let me cop to a little partisanship here though - I've shopped with Adagio for years, from back in the day when they still put hand written thank you notes and occasional free samples in your order - I'm a big fan of their teas in part because of the feeling of being a cherished customer that I still have, despite not having seen a handwrit note in the past few years. They've been growing steadily, and while I'm happy with the increased variety of teas and teawares they carry, one does miss that personal touch.

                    1. re: fauchon

                      I was looking at that Ingenuitea brewer and was considering buying one. I doesnt mention how big the cup can be that goes under it.

                      1. re: tom porc

                        I use it with a mug but it would also work with a cup. I was surprised/shocked at how cheap looking it looks & feels...also, the flip-up top doesn't open all the way back so you have to sort of hold the brewer at an angle to pour in the water (I use an electric kettle)...However, saying all this, it IS very convenient when you want just one cup of tea. I also use paper filters and the filter insert for one cup...all systems work well.

                        1. re: fauchon

                          paper filters? that's a great idea. Are they expensive?

                          I use the double spoon thing but too much debris goes into the cup.

                          1. re: tom porc

                            Here's a link to the paper filters...BTW, IMO the clips are unnecessary...I just cover my mug with a saucer...holds the paper filter in place, keeps the tea hot...A142


                            I also use the Chatsford mug strainer...AS91


                            Both of these work really well...keep the tea leaves out of your tea & do an excellent brewing job...

                            1. re: fauchon

                              Thank you very much. The paper filters will make it easier for me to blend different teas together.