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Best cheap tea?

ttime Oct 6, 2008 05:42 AM

Hi there,

After getting acquainted with the joys of fine tea, I have to face facts: I can't afford that fabulous-sounding first-flush Darjeeling at $20-odd per bag right now (could I ever?). Especially since I am weaning myself off high-octane coffee and drink a lot of tea throughout my work day.

I'm just a recent "gormay," though. I grew up on bagged black tea and have had some fine cups -- I'm partial to Twinings Lapsang Souchong -- though I know amazing deals can be had on loose leaf tea, too. What are your favorite cheap teas, bagged and loose?

Thus far, friends have recommended Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast tea and Red Rose (but the Canadian version, I think). I think the TJ's is a few dollars for 70 or 80 bags? Sounds good to me!

Thank you!

  1. b
    braisinhussy Oct 6, 2008 06:22 AM

    I can vouch for the Trader Joe's tea. I've tried the English breakfast and Irish breakfast, and both seem fine. I prefer the Irish. Nothing fancy, but not bitter or flavorless. Takes milk, sugar, or honey fine, and I even drink it black at work.

    1 Reply
    1. re: braisinhussy
      the pontificator Oct 23, 2008 10:31 AM

      The Trader Joes Earl Grey is repulsive, vile, and nauseating.

    2. anonymoose Oct 6, 2008 12:54 PM

      Red Rose is an orange pekoe. Many people like PG Tips from the UK as well.

      Personally, I'd go to my nearest Chinatown and buy a big package of loose leaf tea instead. You could use a tea strainer or even purchase bags and make your own tea bags yourself. To me, a low grade pu-erh tastes way better than some Red Rose.

      1 Reply
      1. re: anonymoose
        greedygirl Oct 17, 2008 11:26 AM

        I can't stand PG Tips, personally. I like Twinings Early Grey or Assam.

      2. applehome Oct 6, 2008 03:05 PM

        Upton tea has tea that ranges from $5.30/125gm (for a 2nd flush darjeeling, TGBOP1) on up. Ceylon teas can be even cheaper. Tea prices are going up - as with all food prices. And certainly, these cheaper teas are not as good as the more expensive ones. But they're still so much better than the powdered left-overs that go into any American tea bag.

        1. b
          basketRobbins Oct 7, 2008 05:24 AM

          I normally go online. Some shops such as Adagio have clearance teas that can be had for cheap. I've ordered some chai from herbalinfusions.ca (I'm from Toronto) and their prices seem reasonable if you are into herbal loose leaf teas.

          1. s
            SeattleK Oct 7, 2008 09:23 AM

            I don't know if you consider this cheap, but hands down the best black tea (to me) is Yorkshire Gold from Taylors of Harrogate. It's about $7 for 40 bags, and you can get 2 cups from one bag. Very rich, full bodied - will put hair on your chest!

            Don't confuse it with their regular Yorkshire tea though - that's not as rich. It has to be the Gold (named after its beautiful color).

            1 Reply
            1. re: SeattleK
              Ruth Lafler Jul 29, 2010 11:07 AM

              That's funny, because I used to love their regular Yorkshire (haven't bought it in a while) and didn't like the gold.

              I think you should look into loose teas and learning how to brew them properly. If you look at how many ounces of tea there are in a box of tea bags, you'll realize loose tea is a lot cheaper, and is better quality as well.

            2. im_nomad Oct 7, 2008 03:08 PM

              just to go a little OT for a sec....this title reminded me of the big bag of bargain basement tea my parents purchased at some liquidation place last year for a dollar or so. They weren't huge fans of it, they're Tetley drinkers....however it had this wonderful smokey taste that I just couldn't get enough of..... :) God only knows what was in it, lol.

              i hear people say good things about King Cole as well.

              1 Reply
              1. re: im_nomad
                Louise Oct 23, 2008 09:07 AM

                It might be lapsang souchong or Russian Caravan. Both these varieties are known for their smoky flavor. LS is actually dried over a pinewood fire, where it gets the smell, and RC is a blend of LS and keemun.

                Fwiw, LS is a major component in Peet's Scottish Breakfast tea, which you can buy bulk.

              2. e
                emerilcantcook Oct 7, 2008 06:25 PM

                For greens, I like to shop at Chinatowns/ Japantown. I got a pretty decent genmaicha for a little money recently, the problem is I cannot even read the brand name. I also keep my eyes open at Winners/Marshalls/TJ Maxx, whatever they are called in your environs. They do have some crappy brands, but once in a while you can score some Ahmad, Revolution and some other mid range brands that are expensive elsewhere. Some might be loose tea, but most are bagged (however this is much better for the office due to the lack of mess). But I admit, I am a snob and sometimes these don't do it for me. I cannot believe how much money I spend on tea.

                1. r
                  RGC1982 Oct 8, 2008 12:45 AM

                  Red Rose is a great black tea that has much more body than most low cost teas. I would also suggest trying a Jasmine tea from your nearest Asian market, which also comes in several varieties and in bags, for convenience.

                  1. o
                    oryza Oct 17, 2008 11:05 AM

                    If you have a middle eastern market nearby, the Lipton's Orange Pekoe is surprisingly tasty, especially if you drop in some cardamom... and it's really inexpensive.

                    1. c
                      Cebca Oct 17, 2008 11:11 AM

                      Celestial Seasonings has a line of green and red (rooibis) teas that you can get for $2-3 for 20 bags. They are delicious. Stay away from any flavors with honey though. I particularly love Madagascar Vanilla Red and the Goji Pomegranate Green

                      1. v
                        vtnewbie Oct 22, 2008 02:15 PM

                        PG Tips and Yorkshire Gold are my favorite bagged teas, and they're readily available. The estate teas from Upton are wonderful treats. Red label Lipton's CTC loose tea makes a very good strong cup as well.

                        I don't like weak tea - most tea bags are sized for half a cup at most. I remember a lady in Scotland describing a "lovely strong cup of tea - you could trot a mouse across it."

                        Oh, and I like it with a slug of real cream. I'd rather drink it black than with milk.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: vtnewbie
                          boogiebaby Oct 23, 2008 01:45 PM

                          I'm a PG Tips gal myself.

                          1. re: boogiebaby
                            ccbweb Oct 23, 2008 02:57 PM

                            I agree, my black tea of choice.

                        2. d
                          donnival Oct 22, 2008 07:46 PM

                          For those of you who like the TJ teas, am I crazy or is the bluberry green tea pretty awesome? I personally enjoy it immensely - but I am as far away from a tea connoisseur as you can get.

                          1. m
                            mmuch Oct 23, 2008 10:34 AM

                            My favorite English Breakfast is by far Twinings. I've tried them all too. -Not sure if this will be noteworthy to you, but Cooks Illustrated recently did a taste test/review on EB teas, and Twinings was best- I believe served with milk-which is how I enjoy mine . Delish! :)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mmuch
                              Ruth Lafler Jul 29, 2010 11:09 AM

                              Good point. A lot of English teas are designed to be drunk with milk; their flavor profiles might not be as appealing to people who drink it "straight."

                            2. veganchelly Oct 23, 2008 01:52 PM

                              You're from Canada, oui? I personally love the Touch Organic teas (esp. green and jasmine) and buy them in a bulk cube of 100 for around $5.00 or so. You can find this brand in the organics section of the Weston grocery store chains (Loblaws, Superstore, Zehr's, Fortino's, etc.) and at most health food stores.


                              6 Replies
                              1. re: veganchelly
                                Soup Oct 25, 2008 06:02 AM


                                1. re: Soup
                                  paulispumonti Oct 25, 2008 04:56 PM

                                  You are right!!! a mug of Lipton Tea is the best!! and likely still the cheapest

                                  When I go green, I'm a huge fan of Salada 100% green tea, naturally decaffeinated

                                  1. re: paulispumonti
                                    applehome Oct 25, 2008 06:34 PM

                                    A mug of Lipton tea is not the best, and neither is Salada "100% green tea".

                                    If these seem to be good tea to anybody, they need to open up their window to the world and learn about tea - they need to see a whole world of truly wonderful alternatives.

                                    The first step to learning to appreciate really fine teas is to get away from the commercial tea bags, like Lipton and Salada. These are made with the leftover powder from the leaves, stems and whatever else was in the pick, at the bottom of the bins. The processed leaves and pieces go into loose teas. You will never get the fullness of flavor from the powder that you can from the leaves.

                                    Buy a tea ball, or better yet, a nice tea pot, (The wonderful chatsford teapots, with the deep fitted infuser baskets, are on sale at Upton Tea right now - $11 for the 2-cup, and $14 for the 4-cup!) Loose teas don't have to be very expensive. Get on the road to great teas, and you'll never again make the mistake of thinking that US made Lipton or Salada is actually good tea.

                                    1. re: applehome
                                      paulispumonti Oct 25, 2008 06:52 PM

                                      Lipton and Salada may be USA companies ( and I am very proud to support them!) , but their teas are imported- tea is not indigenous to the USA, and their product would not be around100 plus years if it was mediocre...It does the trick!! Just as Maxwell House 100% Colombian Coffee ( not to change the subject!!) does the trick for me instead of running out to a chain every AM and blowing $$ on meh!!!

                                      I have both a tea ball and a tea infuser... I have been many a times disappointed by stale loose tea that I have bought from local tea and coffee houses with their bulk jars of tea...that have probably been sitting on the shelf since the year Gimmel

                                      1. re: paulispumonti
                                        applehome Oct 25, 2008 09:46 PM

                                        Lipton is originally from the UK, and by saying US Lipton, I was specifying the very poor grade of tea they sell here, whereas their UK and other international products are not nearly as bad.

                                        Why would you compare anything to stale tea? Get some really good, fresh, loose tea and compare to the US tea bags. Get a high-grade sencha from Japan to compare against your Salada 100% green tea. The tea growing and drinking cultures of the world have some excellent products that are well beyond what we normally drink here. Go to this site and look around. They have some excellent information on everything from regions and finishes. to proper brewing techniques, as well as history and lore - and you'll get absolutely nothing stale in their sealed bags.


                                        As far as coffee goes, there's no need to revert to pre-ground Maxwell House just because you don't want to go to your local coffee house. You can go several grades above just by grinding your own beans. Plus you can select from a great number of sources and roasts. Freshly made from freshly ground is the way to go with coffee.

                                        100 years in America is no indication of quality. Our business ethics, of driving products to the lowest common denominator, almost assures the opposite. Coming to a site like this is about learning about the wonderful world of food that exists out there - all the great options that aren't on America's grocery store shelves. Saying Lipton Tea or Maxwell House coffee is great, here, is like saying that McDonald's hamburgers are great. They're ubiquitous. They sometimes fit the bill. But there are lots better hamburgers out there, including what most of us make for ourselves at home on the backyard grill. There's a whole world of coffee and tea that most Americans never get around to tasting.

                                        1. re: paulispumonti
                                          Antithesisofpop Jul 28, 2010 06:18 PM

                                          Although tea is not indigenous to the USA, during the early colonial period, tea was commonly grown in the US. There is one tea plantation outside of Charleston, SC that began trying to bring the American tea tradition back in 1980. They have been owned by Bigelow Teas since 2003, but all of the "American Classic Teas" are produced in South Carolina. The loose leaf teas are packaged there on site. The pyramid teas are processed in a Bigelow factory.

                                          For more info: http://www.charlestonteaplantation.com/
                                          (not cheap, though


                                          Coincidentally, a nearby distillery was the first to create a "sweet tea" vodka, using tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation.

                                          Yep, Firefly Sweet Tea vodka is made with American tea: http://www.fireflyvodka.com/

                                2. t
                                  teacuppie Jul 28, 2010 02:50 PM

                                  Where can you buy Trader Joe's tea? I would like to buy some tea but i can't find Trader Joe's tea anywhere. Please help me!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: teacuppie
                                    small h Jul 28, 2010 04:40 PM

                                    Trader Joe's is a store. It sells tea (among other things). You can buy Trader Joe's tea at Trader Joe's. Am I missing some nuance, here? It's kind of like asking who's buried in Grant's Tomb.

                                  2. r
                                    Riatta Jul 28, 2010 05:30 PM

                                    Lipton and Bigelow

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Riatta
                                      greedygirl Jul 28, 2010 11:45 PM

                                      Lipton tea is terrible and not worth drinking. The best cheap tea is Twinings, imho.

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