HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Best cheap tea?

  • t

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. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. 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 Trader Joes Earl Grey is repulsive, vile, and nauseating.

    2. 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

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

      2. 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. 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. 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

              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. 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

                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. 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. 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. 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 Reply
                    1. re: oryza

                      Also referred to as Lipton Yellow Label - you can also now get this via Amazon.

                    2. 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. 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. 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. 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

                              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. 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: Soup

                                  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

                                    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

                                      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

                                        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

                                          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. 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

                                    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.

                                    1. re: Riatta

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

                                    2. I find Lipton tasteless and suitable only for watering my plants, Red Rose is at least acceptable. I used to bring Fornam & Mason back from UK when I travelled, but since I have retired your tax dollars no longer subsidize my tea travels. Pity.

                                      My local grocery in the States carries PG tips and Twinings and I found a speciality store which carries Yorkshire, so there is hope for a proper cuppa.

                                      There is a Trader Joes about an hour's drive away, which gives me a reason to travel inside the moderate damage radius closer to DC for a day trip. Cheers!

                                      1. My folks were east European and since I was little, we glugged lots of "standard" black tea in glasses mostly with lemon slices and honey. Even in the ‘50s and ‘60s here in Ottawa there was a decent tea selection (lots of Ukrainians and English ex-pats) but we used loose (no tea bags for mum!) Red rose and Liptons as they were less costly. Since then I’ve tried all kinds of teas but usually return to the old standard loose Yellow Label black tea in a glass with lemon. We occasionally had coffee (Turkish style) and it was gritty and strong. Eventually we got a percolator and I still found coffee gritty and strong! I stuck to tea and I find I don’t have the jitters or other coffee related maladies. Green teas are all right but I find the Yerba Mate the most refreshing and stimulating. I use the traditional gourd and bombilla and I find it makes the Yerba mellow. I do agree that the bagged teas are usually not as good as loose types even if from a highly respected brand.

                                        1. I prefer Stash and Twinings over the other bagged teas in local supermarkets.

                                          1. You want cheap? Go to an Indian/Pakistani grocery and look for Assam tea. Really strong tea that you can stand a spoon up in. They are also likely to stock fairly good brands of tea like Red Rose or Yorkshire Gold. You are unlikely to find Twinings cheaply anywhere. Beware the awful US Liptons - no comparison with UK Liptons.

                                            1. Red Rose and Lipton. End of story:)