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Online Sources for Japanese Tea [Split from Manhattan board]

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Would you please post some links to places to order tea online (if it is not against the posting rules)? Thanks!

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  1. I don't think it's against the rules. :)
    For Japanese tea, my hands-down favorite is Hibiki-an (just type hibiki-an.com into your address bar). They have their own farm in Uji and sell only first-picked tea of various styles, ranging from high-to-highest end in quality. Not only have my own dealings with them been beyond wonderful, but everything I've bought for friends has met with gasps of appreciation as well (be sure to read the customer reviews for the items that interest you). These are also LOVELY people to deal with--Mr. Yasui and his family are fanatics about their product and its quality. The only very minor downside is that everything they sell is from their plantation, which of course is in one region. But the region is Uji, so that's okay!
    Another place I like is Zencha.net. They have some nice stuff and Naomi, the lady who takes the orders, is a doll. They don't farm their own, but they have some good stuff from several regions.
    I haven't used O-cha.com, but their customers love them. Also, I haven't yet ordered from Sencha.com, but they have some interesting stuff from a number of area, including kamairi-cha, which is tea roasted the old way--Chinese-style.
    If you just type any of those names in your address bar, you'll be fine. :) Be sure to post if you find any of them to your liking!

    10 Replies
    1. re: MacGuffin

      Thanks for the info about Hibiki-an http://www.hibiki-an.com/

      I think I will try Hibiki-an for my next order.

      Zencha Net http://zencha.net/index.php looks interesting also and they have a nice selection of Japanese tea cups.

      My last order was from O-cha.com http://www.o-cha.com/ and it was fine, but I like to experiment. O.cha.com did have very speedy shipping - a lot faster than many U.S.- based vendors.

      I also really like the Gold Mine brand Spirit Of Ohsawa® Organic Sencha Green Tea, which I buy at my local health food store, but which can be ordered onlline from Gold Mine Natural Foods. I buy Japanese green tea from everywhere, but this one is particuarly good.
      http://www.goldminenaturalfoods.com/d...

      1. re: omotosando

        This is probably off-topic, but Ohsawa has the finest shoyu I've ever had (it's called "Nama Shoyu" and I've been using it for 20+ years); I also want to try their tamari at some point. Given my own experience with their products, I'm inclined to take your word that their sencha is good. But I guarantee you that Hibiki-an's teas are in another class. :)
        No one vendor has it all, plus there's always the possibility that a cheaper tea might be more to your liking than an expensive one. It ultimately comes down to a matter of personal preference.

        1. re: MacGuffin

          Just got my order from Hibiki-an. I still love my Ohsawa organic green tea, but the organic green tea that I ordered from Hibiki-an is also stellar.

          1. re: omotosando

            I'm very happy that you found my recommendation helpful. :)
            A few suggestions...
            Make sure to try the limited-edition Farmers' Shincha when the shincha pre-orders are announced (don't dawdle; it sells out fast). Very little processing, extremely fresh-tasting and sweet with no bitterness if prepared according to brewing suggestions.
            Soak your used leaves in not-too-much water covered in the refrigerator overnight. It's delicious in the morning (or anytime, really) and you get more mileage out of that expensive tea. ;)

            1. re: MacGuffin

              The sinchas are here! I just ordered some top grade sincha from Hibiki-an. I hope it is good - it was quite a bit more expensive than the top-grade sincha being offered by Ito-en. Do you have any idea how long it will keep? Perhaps I should go on a sincha buying binge and try some from all the suppliers!

              1. re: omotosando

                You'll receive storage/brewing instructions with your tea. In a nutshell: you can refrigerate unopened packages with little-to-no loss of quality for up to a year. Make sure when removing it from the refrigerator to let it rest at least a few hours before opening it; don't refrigerate it after opening. Keep the bag as tightly closed as possible.
                The Ito-en folks are awfully nice, BTW. They have a few items I'd like to try that aren't easy to find and that can be expensive elsewhere, e.g., kamairicha (sencha processsed the "old," Chinese way), and mecha. They have a one-ounce minimum purchase, so I'll be able to sample these rather obscure teas without going for broke. They might not be the high end of their kind but I can at least get a sense of them before shelling out more from a vendor like Sencha.com.
                Several members of the Tea-Disk Yahoo group like Maiko (maiko.ne.jp), and someone also recommended Kaburagien (kaburagien.co.jp), which carries some award-winning teas.
                Incidentally, Zencha.net carries an autumn bancha for cold-brewed iced tea that's really tasty and not too expensive.

                1. re: MacGuffin

                  The sincha from Hibiki-an didn't thrill me, nor did the one I ordered from a different vendor (Zencha.net). Maybe it was a bad year for sincha. Definitely not worth the money.

                  1. re: MacGuffin

                    The Kaburagien site looks interesting. http://www.kaburagien.co.jp/english You can buy a teapot for 100,000 ¥! I was going to order some tea, but there is no way to encrypt your credit card.

          2. re: omotosando

            MacGuffin, I just did a taste test between my O-cha tea and the Hibiki-an and the Hibiki-an is clearly superior.

            1. re: omotosando

              Good to know. I know that I really like everything I've bought from Hibiki-an but don't have much of a basis for comparison. I really wish O-cha's top grade matcha was in the budget because it sounds wonderful.
              For the record, I bought some of Zencha.net's exhibition-grade Yame sencha last year and it's sublime. I wouldn't say that it's better than Hibiki-an's Pinnacle Grade Sencha, but it's different. Definitely worth investigating if you don't mind spending the money.

          1. you can get ocean brine-y japanese green tea from www.ultimatemunch.com

            1 Reply
            1. re: cpark

              Cpark, I get an error message when I try to shop at ultimatemunch.com. The tea sounds wonderful, though. Are you sure it is an actual working website set up for e-commerce? The copyright on the home page is from 2007.

              I have to say that reading the description of the tea at ultimatemunch.com made me realize how truly inferior most of the product available is. I have been brewing the tea I recently ordered from Ippodo in Kyoto at triple strength, desperately trying to wring some flavor from it.

            2. For my money, this is the finest tea importer in the United States (they are based in Central Europe, but the teas sold here are imported directly here), Tea Gschwendner: http://www.teamerchants.com/MyPages/H...
              They have a wide variety of Japanese Teas, but unfortunately no hojicha. They also have just about every other major variety of tea one could hope for.

              14 Replies
              1. re: danieljdwyer

                Hibikl-an has fantastic houjicha, most especially their houjicha karigane which I've come to prefer. Free shipping with a $38 order and all tea ware ships free. Why bother with a distributor when you can order direct from the source? In addition, this is first-pick tea, which isn't usual for houjicha.

                1. re: MacGuffin

                  For me, buying tea from only one estate would be just as hard as buying wine from only one vineyard. Obviously buying direct has its advantages, but there are advantages to buying from a distributor also. A really fine tea merchant like Gschwendner doesn't just buy from the same estates year in and year out. The best estate for a certain style one year might not be the best the following year. A thorough tasting of a large variety of teas from hundreds of sources multiple times a year assures that a tea merchant is only selling the best available product.
                  I also find buying directly from an estate to be limiting. This is less true with Japanese teas than with others, as a single estate may produce a wide range of styles, and Japanese tea has evolved to favor uniformity within a style (where a single varietal of tea in China can taste completely different from one place to the next). No matter how big the estate, however, none of them produce all the styles I want.
                  Ideally, given enough time and a much bigger travel budget, I'd source the teas myself, and be buying direct from multiple estates. Lacking both that time and money, I'll let a good tea merchant do that heavy lifting for me.

                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                    Your point regarding uniformity is well taken given a single plantation (or region, for that matter--the climate varies enough in Japan that shincha is available at different times), but who suggested buying from one vendor? I still do better ordering direct from Japan, even if it's not from the producers themselves. Zencha.net, which carries tea from a number of different regions, has some fabulous exhibition-grade sencha from Yame (shipping included in price) that knocks the socks off everyone to whom I've served it (Including an extremely fussy and wealthy friend who has been buying tea in Japan for the last 20 years) and although I can't vouch for them personally, O-Cha.com has a very devoted customer base. Hibiki-an's high-end fukamushi is a favorite, as are their kariganes. I can cover pretty much most of my Japanese tea bases from a few providers, most of them in Japan. My favorite source for Taiwan tea is in Taiwan, my Assamese vendor is based here to sell the family estate's goods, and while I'll occasionally buy tea direct from China, my favorite vendor is based in Tucson. The good vendors (all of them tea fanatics) who specialize in specific countries all know who has the best goods from other regions and are happy to pass along recommendations. A friendly relationship with your vendors opens lots of doors if you're looking to expand your tea horizons.

                    1. re: MacGuffin

                      I don't disagree at all with your methodology; that's basically how I used to go about my tea buying. I've used Zencha a few times and was always very impressed. O-Cha never really impressed me.
                      I don't especially see buying from a distributor based in Japan as absolutely advantageous - or Taiwan, or whatever the region of origin of the actual tea is. As long as the buyer is travelling to the estates - or, in the case of Japan, more often to the tea houses - to taste before every purchase, it shouldn't matter where their warehouse is or where their CFO does his work.
                      Gschwendner employs a good number of tasters, some of whom do specialize in certain regions - but, like with wine, there's no reason a talented expert can't cover tea worldwide. They take things a step farther than most tea merchants by then testing each shipment they receive in one of their tea laboratories (I've been to one in Germany, they're quite impressive). As far as the actual products, the two Japanese teas I drink most frequently are bancha and kukicha (not only because of pricing, I prefer these styles). Their bancha is in my top five, and the kukicha is absolutely the finest I've ever tasted.
                      Essentially, there are many routes to acquiring fine tea. Gschwendner does have some disadvantages. If I was looking for a special occasion tea like gyokuro, I'd consider Zencha, as they have a higher ceiling for fine teas than does Gschwendner. For the teas I actually drink every day, or even every couple weeks, I've yet to find a vendor I prefer to Gschwendner, not simply for their ability to meet ninety nine percent of my tea needs, but for the individual teas.

                      1. re: danieljdwyer

                        Zencha has a very nice autumn bancha that's perfect for iced tea (in fact, it's sold for that purpose--I know I wouldn't want to heat it). I've had O-Cha's top-of-the-line matcha and while it was wonderful and frothed beautifully, it was no better than Hibiki-an's pinnacle-grade matcha. I'm glad that I was able to sample both, though--koicha-grade matcha, even if prepared as usucha, is sublime. For the record, both far surpassed what was sold to a friend as top-grade in Tokyo's oldest tea shop (go figure).
                        I think what it boils down to is that I prefer vendors who specialize in teas from one country (my favorite vendor for Chinese is in Tucson and my favorite for Indian--I prefer Assam--is in Washington state). When I first got into tea, I bought quite a bit from Rishi because they seemed to cover a lot of bases. Not to sound arrogant, but I outgrew them pretty quickly and they apparently outgrew themselves as well and not in a good way because their offerings in general have shrunk dramatically (including the few I really enjoyed and would have bought again). I have a theory that Japanese vendors keep the best stuff there to sell themselves and I'm usually delighted with those I use (if I could find a good source for kamairicha I'd die a happy woman...okay, maybe that's overstating it but you get my point). In general, I'm not a bancha person and I prefer karigane to kukicha, so it's best that I stick with my sources for those (plus the shipping's free). I had some disappointing kuradashi gyokuro last fall after having been delighted the year before with a grade lower so I guess you just never know with these things.

                        1. re: MacGuffin

                          I agree that unfortunately Rishi seems to have gone downscale in their tea offerings. I guess they have determined it is easier to sell mass market cheaper tea. Still absolutely love Rishi's Japanese teaware selection.

                          http://www.rishi-tea.com/store/tokoname/

                          Really beautiful and well made. I've attached a photo of the Rishi Japanese tea pot I use every day. I love it.

                           
                          1. re: omotosando

                            They do have some lovely tea ware, although I've bought most of mine on eBay (my favorite seller seems to have gone OOB).
                            One of Rishi's problems was (is?) that they sold a lot of so-so tea at premium prices (I especially hated the Japanese greens I bought from them). Their jasmine dragon pearls were quite good and probably still are. They used to sell a wonderful peppermint-ginger houjicha both online and at Whole Foods that seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur; however, I notice they now carry a sakura green I'd like to try. Their chais are still wonderful. All of their interesting oolongs and blacks have been gone a long time now, which is too bad because I liked those best (although I came to realize that they were overpriced).
                            I think their current slump probably boils down to trying to do too many things, which brings me back to my preference for vendors who specialize. They find their niche and are pretty consistent in doing a good job.

                    2. re: danieljdwyer

                      Timely post. My Gschwendner order arrived today, and I will try tomorrow and report back. Frankly, I was just recently thinking, how come buying great tea isn't as easy as buying great wine?

                      P.S. I know it's off topic, but how are the Darjeelings from Gschwendner? Also, how do you think Gschwendner compares to Mariage Freres? (I have gotten both good tea and disappointing tea -from Mariage Freres - usually the more I spend at Mariage Freres the better the tea, although there was a clunker of an expensive green darjeeling, although maybe darjeeling is just not meant to be green).

                      P.S. I just opened my Gschwendner package and I see that they threw in a First Flush Darjeeling sample, so I guess I will find out how their Darjeelings are.

                      1. re: omotosando

                        I am generally not a big enough fan of second flush or autumn Darjeeling to be a great judge of those, but it was a first flush Darjeeling was what initially sold me on Gschwendner. They no longer sell that specific Darjeeling, and I haven't ordered any of the first flush Darjeelings they are currently selling - I got hooked on first flush Nepal almost two years ago and haven't bought any Darjeeling since then.
                        The big difference between Gschwendner and Mariage Freres is, I think, in the age of the company. Mariage Freres is quite old, and they seem stuck in the old methods of tea buying - like most London tea merchants or the old American guys like Harney and Sons. They're very immersed in the politics of estates and tea houses, and seem to do a lot of buying based on relationships rather than quality. Gschwendner is very modern, and, while they have relationships with a good number of growers, they have no trouble dropping them when the quality slips. Their purchases are all tested in their laboratories. To me, the old fashioned tea merchants rely far too much on reputation. Having received a Royal Warrant in the Edwardian Era doesn't make the tea taste good.

                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                          Danieljdwyer, I just had some Shincha Shimoyama from Gschwendner - a very nice tea once I figured out how to brew it to my taste.

                          I can't believe that I had never heard of Gschwendner until I happened upon your post. With my order, Gschwendner sent me a nice booklet about tea with descriptions of some of their offerings. The book was very informative -- I already know more about tea than 99% of Americans, but this book added quite a bit to my knowledge.

                          In the booklet they sent me, they rated all of their teas on a 100 point scale (with some extra special teas getting ratings over 100). I found this useful, but noted that the website, which has the current offerings, doesn't seem to have this rating system.

                          I can't wait to try some of Gschwendner's other offerings. I like kukicha, and will order on your recommendation.

                          P.S. I'm wondering if they are shipping from a warehouse in Germany to Illinois (where my package actually came from) as the shipping was somewhat slow.

                          P.S.S. I still think Mariage Freres has much better tea paraphernalia than Gschwendner - pots, cups, tins.

                          1. re: omotosando

                            Glad you're happy.
                            I agree on the teaware. Gschwendner's mostly looks like lab equipment. The "Miraculous Tea Maker" (same thing as Adagio's IngenuiTea) is a really great though. They also have some things that have so far proven to be more money than I'm willing to spend, but are really cool - the Zojirushi water boiler is a good example of this.

                            1. re: omotosando

                              It turns out that all the great tea listed in the Gschwendner catalog that they slipped into my order is not available in the U.S. Apparently, only a fraction of the teas that Gschwendner sells are available to U.S. customers -- i.e., there are completely different websites for Europe and the U.S. and U.S. customers can't access the European website.

                              I just discovered the following online vendor of Japanese teas: White Crane Tea in San Francisco
                              http://www.whitecranetea.com/

                              Looks like they have some interesting teas, so I think I will give them a whirl with my next order.

                              1. re: omotosando

                                I ordered the Fuji no Tsuki Gokujyo Sencha from White Crane Tea. Very nice sencha. Came in lovely packaging with a piece of hand-done calligraphy (the owner of White Crane Tea is a calligrapher). Definitely a place to add to the list of websites from which to order Japanese tea. White Crane also has a bricks and mortar store in San Francisco.

                                1. re: omotosando

                                  White Crane Tea is unfortunately now out of business.

                    3. I have found a new source for Japanese tea -- American Tea Room (dumb name). http://www.americantearoom.com/

                      I ordered the Fukamushi Shizoka Shincha 2010 for a whopping $80 for 3.5 oz.
                      http://www.americantearoom.com/fukamu...

                      I would admit that for that price it is not your everyday tea, but it is delightful.

                      Plus, my order arrived in the mail the day after I ordered it, which was quite nice (although probably has something to do with the fact that I live less than a mile from the bricks and mortar store -- but was still too lazy to actually go there).

                      They threw in a generous size sample of an oolong from Taiwan, which was a nice touch (haven't tried it yet).

                      They do have some less pricey Japanese teas and, OMG, a $165 matcha. I have to admit that the $165 matcha has me intrigued. I may have to try it just to see if it is that much better than the usual matcha. http://www.americantearoom.com/artisa...

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: omotosando

                        Hi, omotosando!
                        I know you are serious about your tea. This is a nice find...thanks!
                        I'd like to visit the store and sample a few of their teas.
                        Please report back when you try the oolong sample that was included in your order of Japanese green.

                        1. re: liu

                          Hi, Liu -- I tried the Dong Ding oolong this afternoon and enjoyed it. I will probably order some, although that too is pricey (although not as pricey as the Japanese shincha). I am glad to have found this place and in my own backyard. I think it is the old French tea store on Canon in Beverly Hills, which is now no longer affiliated with the French company.

                          1. re: omotosando

                            Ahhhh...good Japanese and good Chinese teas in one space! While that concerns me, it also interests me.
                            I will go there next time we are in that area. I like that they sell sample 2 oz. sizes, so I will be able to select a couple to take home and try -- before I commit to a 3.5 oz. bag.
                            Again, thank you!

                            1. re: omotosando

                              did you ever end up taking the plunge on that matcha? Regards, Epop

                              1. re: epop

                                As a matter of fact, I ordered it a couple of months ago. Perhaps my palate is not sophisticated enough, but I don't understand why it is a $165 matcha as opposed to the run of the mill expensive matcha. Reminds me of the disappointment I have sometimes experienced in buying a really expensive bottle of wine and then wondering why in the world it was so expensive.

                                1. re: omotosando

                                  I know what you mean. Thank you for saving me those funds. I'll stick to the other matchas, which I'm ordering now.

                          2. re: omotosando

                            Greetings, omotosando!

                            A local tea friend just sent me a copy of The American Tea Room "Tea*Vents" for January, February, March and April:

                            http://www.americantearoom.com/teaven...

                            Perhaps some of these tastings might interest you?