HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Best website to buy tea?

Looking to buy some great loose leaf tea online. I've come across several. Wondering if there are any recomendations out there. Thanks

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. re: ItalyFan

      I agree with the choice of Upton Tea. I have been buying from them for years; their selection is encyclopedic.

      1. re: Wineack

        I'll third Upton Tea. Top quality, huge selection, fair prices. I've been buying from them for at least ten years, and they've never disappointed.

      2. re: ItalyFan

        Count me in on Upton Tea as well. I like that they date the packages. They arrive so quickly though that might just be because I am in MA.

        1. re: ItalyFan

          add my recommendation here. Going on 12 years, great quality and selection, plus I always learn something from them.

          1. re: okra

            Yet another for Upton. Comprehensive catalog, great tea, great service.

          2. re: ItalyFan

            Has anyone tried the tea biscuits? Do they hold their shape under hot water as advertised?

          3. I strongly recommend Special Teas. Very good selection and info on their site, fair prices and free shipping for a $50+ order. If i order before noon, the tea often arrives the next day!

            4 Replies
            1. re: WTF51

              I second this rec. I've been using this site for a few years and have never been disappointed.

              1. re: lucyis

                Special Teas closed end of 2011 and turned their mailing list over to Teavana, which I don't like the selections or prices.
                I have wondered what became of Specisl T so suddenly and really miss them for the large variety, quality and very reasonable prices.
                They suppliied the best Tie Kwan Yin. Have not found another supplier, yet.

                Due to the heavy metal toxicity, I only drink ORGANIC Greeen, OOlong and White teas.
                Black teas have the highest like Flourides. Less chance of insecticides, etc. also.
                Recent order was for Peony White Tea and organic Heavily Roasted OOlong from THE TEA DEPOT. They are out of stock for the Tie Kuan Yin favorite. Good pricing and prompt service.

                1. re: nutrition

                  Have you tried organic green and white tea from Darjeeling? See my post above. I have no commercial interests whatsoever, but being from Bengal, am curious to learn how these stack up against the best of the Chinese!!

                  These people also have completely organic black, and some oolong teas as well. I personally can attest that the Darjeeling blacks from this Makaibari estate are among the 2 or 3 best in the world, and the Silver Tips is the best in its class.

                  Happy hunting!

                  1. re: nutrition

                    I had used up my supply from Special Teas, Tea Depot, and took a Tea shopping trip to China in October to stock up my Tea Cellar. Prefer Organic teas to avoid any heavy metal contamination.
                    Much to my surprise, the prices in China are on the high side and often more then those in the USA. It must be the unfair exchange rate, which is less the then half of what it should be for everything.

                    Tea Galleries has nice teas at prices on the high end and simpler to Teavana! Location of shop is with their Warehouse in a LOW traffic Industrial area of San Diego. I was looking for some tasty White Teas to round out my Tea Cellar with a low caffeine, high anti-oxidant evening treat. When I arrived, there were two customers waiting at the counter for some time as I look over their extensive inventory. One peron left without making any purchase, and I don't know what happened to the young man, when I got waited on.

                    I just found a website that I like with more reasonable pricing and a complete inventory of traditional and flavored teas. Second Cup.com looks very interesting for Internet ordering. That will be my next stop for ordering.

              2. I have been very happy with the fragrant leaf for the past 3 years.

                1. Tea Gschwendner is by far the best online merchant I've found:
                  I'd only recommend it if you already know what you are looking for in tea, however. It's not a great site for the beginner, or for an introduction to loose leaf tea.
                  For that I would recommend Adagio Teas: http://www.adagio.com/
                  SpecialTeas is pretty similar to Adagio, but I find Adagio slightly more user friendly. I use Adagio for less expensive, everyday teas, and Gschwendner for pricier, premium teas.

                  1. Absolutely Upton Tea. Be sure to check out the Seasons' Pick section.

                    1. I really like Design-a-Tea
                      You can design your own custom blend and get a free sample and their customer service is excellent.

                      1. Excellent, I'll check these out. Thanks for the recommendations!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: julep19

                          Harney and Sons is another good place to check.


                          1. re: chocolate

                            Love them - I definitely second that. They have a variety of blends and most of them are offered loose.

                            1. Here is a prior discussion that might be useful.


                              Covers a lot of the online retailers.

                              I order from various places, but keep going back to Mariage Freres www.mariagefreres.com despite the fact that they might have the single most user unfriendly website in the world.

                              I have never been wowed by anything from Upton and my last offerings from Tea Gschwendner were awful, particularly a mint tea that turned out to have additives and has a repugnant smell.

                              I order my "house" green tea -- SPIRIT OF OHSAWA® ORGANIC GREEN TEA -- by the pound from Gold Mine Natural Foods http://www.goldminenaturalfoods.com/T...

                              I also order the OHSAWA® ORGANIC TWIG TEA (KUKICHA) bags from Gold Mine Natural Foods for the office, although I only drink loose leaf at home.

                              Tea Habitat http://www.teahabitat.com/store/ is a good source for high end oolongs. I'm not actually that enamored with oolong, but I emailed the owner explaining why I haven't liked ooling in the past and she got right back to me with some suggestions as to ones that might be to my palate. I ended up ordering one and I do like it when I want a change of pace from green tea or black tea. The owner is very helpful and they ship very promptly.

                              Would like to find a really good source for the world's best Assam.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: omotosando

                                my regular tea is assam from adagio

                                1. re: thew

                                  Mine is Upton's China Congou Wu-Yi Golden Monkey, catalog #ZP80. It's the one black tea my wife and I can agree on. She prefers lighter teas like darjeeling, I like heavier flavors, but this one has richness, flavor, and delicacy enough to suit us both.

                                2. re: omotosando

                                  Tea Gschwendner carries 8 different Assams. I've tried 5, and all have been excellent. The Assam Marangi is absolutely the finest Assam I have tasted outside of the region itself. The Assam Mokalbari is not as refined, but I prefer the earthier flavor for everyday drinking.

                                  1. re: omotosando

                                    Thank you for linking to Goldmine Natural Foods. The site has a lot of things of interest to me. Have you purchased anything else from there and if so, does the quality match that of the green tea?

                                    1. re: EmmaToo

                                      The only things I have purchased from Goldmine are the green tea, the kukicha tea (which is a style of green tea) and the lotus root tea powder. However, I am familiar with a lot of the other products offered by Goldmine, such as the various Ohsawa brand products, because they are available at my local health food store (Erewhon on Beverly Blvd. for those of you who live in Los Angeles). In my experience, Ohsawa products are always first-rate. I buy my tea online rather than at the local store because the local store only carries the smaller sizes and I drink so much tea that I find it more economical to order it by the pound from Goldmine.

                                    2. re: omotosando

                                      "Would like to find a really good source for the world's best Assam."

                                      Recommended to me by Andrew at Seven Cups (my favorite vendor for most Chinese tea) years ago; I've never been disappointed. They grow and market their own on two plantations and they usually have some select Darjeeling offerings from other small plantations.

                                    3. I like Porte Rouge. They were very nice to deal with. I liked buying Mariage Freres tea from them. You can buy it in bulk rather than the canisters at a better price. They have a nice selection & also carry some other teas & tea accessories.

                                      1. Savvy Tea (Madison) also has a website: Zhong Guo Cha, with many exotic blends. You can access it through
                                        or jump directly to

                                        1. It seems to me that while some tea vendors sell all kinds of tea, they may have strengths in certain areas. For example, a seller with a Taiwanese background may be the best source for Taiwan oolongs. (And sites like Tea Habitat and Shan Shui for other oolong types.) There are Darjeeling experts with sites (Kevin Gascoyne), Japanese tea sites, pu'er specialists, and more. I do find that once my preferences are set, I tend to gravitate to the more specialzed sites.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: comestible


                                            This is my favorite place to buy tea. The owner, Ms. Anupa Mueller, is extremely nice and helpful. She sells Makaibari teas, a high altitude tea estate in Kurseong/Darjeeling that has become famous for its social & ecological awareness. Try some out, including my favorite lower ends Autumn Flush for ordinary drinking. There are the high end teas as well, including the rarefied Silver Tips.

                                            1. re: Hachidori

                                              Hi Hachidori,

                                              I do not know what is meant by "monsoon chai" but there is a category of Darjeeling tea called the "monsoon flush". This is when the tea bushes grow very lush and strong, and frequent pickings are possible. Most of the tea you see marketed as Darjeeling in tea bags are from the monsoon flush. Naturally, with such rapid growth, there is little time for the plant to manufacture all the components that make for flavor, color etc. That is why the SPRING flush, coming after the winter sleep, is so prized; it grows slowly in very cold weather.

                                            2. there r several good sites to buy tea
                                              different sites for different types of tea

                                              I enjoy oolong tea
                                              I usually order from www.houdeasianart.com

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. My favorite is:


                                                They have some of the finest teas I have ever had. It might be hard to pick if you don't know what you want because the selection is so extensive. I used to live near there and have favorites that I reorder. They have seasonal teas and you would not go wrong with picking what ever crop just came in. I have had no problems with the shipments to the US.

                                                1. Murchies Victoria if you can afford it.
                                                  I saw a man and wife from Hong Kong pay over five hundred dollars for less than a pound of tea.

                                                  1. My favourites are Mariages Freres and Palais des Thes for sure. While a bit more gimmicky, I also like David's Tea as well.


                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: wontonfm

                                                      Almost all of David's Tea offerings contain artificial flavors...there's no call for that in a loose leaf tea you're buying from a vendor exclusively offering tea.

                                                      1. re: NewlyBronxite

                                                        There is if that's what you like. It's not my thing but different strokes . . .

                                                      2. re: wontonfm

                                                        Davids must be an eastern company, Ive never heard of it. I will not buy tea in a bag. It's not full leaf and it does make a difference.
                                                        TimsMom from Oregon

                                                        1. re: TimsMom1

                                                          I've had some very decent CTC tea from my vendor for Assam. It makes excellent cold-brewed tea and is good value.

                                                      3. For truly premium tea you'll be hard pressed to beat Harney & Sons. (http://tinyurl.com/kpzql6k)
                                                        When it comes to superb teas, they have everything! For example if you like the convenience of tea bags but hate the flavor of "coffee filter paper
                                                        " (I certainly do!), they have tea "sachets," little silk purses, so to speak, of tea leaves to brew a pure delicious cuppa without any undesirable side effects. If you're not looking for quality, don't go here! '-)

                                                        12 Replies
                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          LOL! I'm being suckered in to 4 year old threads because I don't bother looking at the date of the original post! <sigh>

                                                          1. re: Caroline1


                                                            Your wording "for truly premium tea" might give the impression that some of the vendors suggested below have teas LESSER in quality than Harneys. Trust me that this is THE one area that I do not defer to Harneys or any other. I have lived teas, and an uncle was a tea-taster by profession.

                                                            Someone else remarked on price, $500/kg for a tea in Hongkong. It is unwise to substitute your own tastebuds and your training and trust in your checkbook. But if snobbery is the criteria, as Harney et.al. appear to have learned too well, then the Makaibari Silver Tips used to be purchased by the Shah of Iran, and at more than $1441/kg WHOLESALE in those days; not available to lesser mortals until that wonderful chap Khomeini got rid of him. Who says we should not erect a monument to K-dear, a quite Confucian gentleman and adorn him with a cup of Makaibari Silvertips as his contribution to posterity.

                                                            I am no shill for anyone, but fiercely partisan for my native Darjeeling teas, and I understand the terroir of this estate. Also, I understand the vicious practices of the trading classes who have taken over the older English plantations and they are absolutely Satan's minions. For all sorts of reasons. This planter is not. The teas are organic and biodynamic.

                                                            BUT, I challenge Ms. Caroline to try a double-blind test, without allowing herself to be told what the teas are [all Darjeeling of course] : Makaibari Silver Tips, First Flush, Second Flush, and Autumn Flush.

                                                            These are in descending order of price. Surprisingly, as with wine, years have their vintages. One may find 2nd Flushes of certain years to be exceedingly winsome, occasionally potent. people must know what they are drinking, how to drink it, and not be affected by snobbery and pretense that is such a large part of the Harneys pitch. I shall put an uncomfortable question to Harneys because I know how the tea trade of India is conducted and this is an open question they can choose to answer or not. It will also put paid to those who claim to understand a lot about "premium quality" in teas!

                                                            So, when do Harney's open their Darjeeling tea chests and how long does it take them to sell each one?

                                                            A Makaibari Sole Selling Agent in the World, is the ONLY source authorized to sell MAKAIBARI. Makaibari chests are shipped directly to her, not Harneys!

                                                            When opened, that tea is exquisite, and the Silver Tips, 1st, & 2nd Flushes need to be consumed ASAP like fine wines. That happens only under the auspices of the Makaibari agent.

                                                            You must be joking when you suggest that a jack-of-all trades like Harneys, that opens a chest after chest, and sells in tiny dribbles to many offers "premium teas".

                                                            Let me ask you a question: have you ever tasted tea as it a) comes off a drying oven, b) after it has been packed in paper-lined plywood, c) when it reaches the Calcutta auction; d) after shipping, e) after being opened in the UK or the USA? Each interval produces a different tea. Temperature and handling during shipping affects quality, and various ports do, as well. Container shipping on open decks, as opposed to open cargo HOLDS of yore have an effect, and many more minutiae that would bore the tears out of anyone. The bottom line is that you can do a few teas well, but not a whole many lines or things at once.

                                                            And, you cannot make silk purses out of sows' ears!! How many quality sashimi restaurants run on one master chef and how many run on the principle of the assembly line?

                                                            If people have no personal experience, then how are they able to speak to what is premium tea or what is not? Please pardon my forthrightness. I resent the implication that other sellers are less than premium, merely because some clever salespeople have silver-tipped tongues, but not the real Silver Tips, of Darjeeling!

                                                            I personally recommended Silver Tips and Mrs. Anupa Mueller because I know what they sell. Verify my antecedents at Kurseong and Siliguri; I shall offer references. I don't shill. Feel free to contact the vendor or the planter himself. Therefore, my word is unblemished.

                                                            So, if the insinuation is made that these vendors are less than the very best in their particular niche, then that allows me to question those that ARE claimed to be the best. I did go to the Harneys site and carefully checked each and every offering. I strongly disagree that their Darjeelings are of premium quality for their price points. I should like to call them out on this issue, if they want to argue the fine distinctions.

                                                            They are making fools out of those who are beguiled by price and a sense of false superiority over others, and who know less than nothing about what makes a truly FRESH PREMIUM DARJEELING.

                                                            I challenge them to place the dates when they opened the chests for each batch they sell, plus when EACH batch was oven-dried and packed, AND when they were auctioned in India. That would establish a multi-layered time sequence and really put a crimp in the extortionate pricing as well as somewhat supercilious consumers who assume they are buying from premium vendors as opposed to sellers of "lesser quality", who don't show off as much.

                                                            Is Poilane's baguette, aged 6 months on the shelf just as good as the one 48 hours old and the one 48 minutes out of the oven? Think this one through!!!

                                                            1. re: GTM

                                                              I am going to place a small order tomorrow am

                                                              1. re: jpr54_1

                                                                Hi jpr,

                                                                How was your experience with the Darjeeling teas? Would love to hear the critique, the good with the bad.

                                                                One disturbing note is that many teas, including good Chinese teas, are now grown with pesticides in significant amounts. Even when denied, there are semi-looper caterpillars and other pests and pathogens that almost force small and large producers to use strong chemicals that have NO REGULATORY OVERSIGHT. This is not a condemnation, just an alert. Resistance develops, and the plant pathology of tes is not well-researched in spite of a plethora of empirical data.

                                                                Although the tannins themselves are anti-herbivory compounds. Sadly, their concentrations are at their lowest in the youngest apical leaves and terminal buds, highest in the mature leaves.

                                                                I know the Makaibari estate and its interesting and eccentric planter, who hs interesting ideas that he feels free to experiment with. One of these is organic and somewhat "biodynamic" culture of tea. I am a plant cell biologist, which means someone deeply involved with plant physiology, roots, and also plant pathology [leaves] Leaves and roots do many things in concert when challenged by pathogens, like bacteria. if you were curious.

                                                                Nearby estates producing very high quality Darjeeling teas cannot make any such claim. No other Darjeeling estate can, and I wonder why there is not more information published on the pesticide content and contaminants present in TEAS in general. Why does the FDA not set some GUIDELINES, rather than regulations? We now have seafood imports being banned because of the presence of noxious chemicals. Is it not time to turn our attention to teas?

                                                                I feel safe purchasing Makaibari, for their organic growing practices, and also because they practice fair labor ethics in a cesspool of wickedness in that particular area. My two cents.

                                                                1. re: GTM

                                                                  your tea recommendation was excellent-
                                                                  I wish I could afford more of the Makaibari-
                                                                  The Harney's was decent.
                                                                  I also purchased Darjeeling First Flushes from Upton Tea which were of lesser quality and cheaper.
                                                                  I was also able to sample second flushes and autumnal Darjeelings.
                                                                  I am not a tea expert but enjoy a properly prepared cup of tea.
                                                                  later this week I am going to place a small order from silvertips

                                                                  1. re: jpr54_1

                                                                    Thank you. I am glad it worked out for you. The Makaibari silver tips allegedly used to be purchased by the Shah of Iran for something close to $1444/kg, more than the price of saffron at the time!

                                                                    But the Autumn Flush is a good compromise for everyday drinking, since 1/8-1/6 teaspoon makes a light brew in a good porcelain cup. This is a refreshing, fragrant sipping tea, a bit on the ephemeral side.

                                                                    The Chinese have a habit of re-steeping a cup several times, eking out the very last traces of fragrance and color, and I find this frugality very appealing. It also helps one to drink more hot water during the colder days of winter!!

                                                                    I hope you will be able to chat personally with Ms. Anupa Mueller, who is the sister-in-law of Mr. Rajah Banerjee, the planter, i.e. owner, grower, and producer of the Makaibari estate. This is very well-known in West Bengal, India, and Rajah is a well-liked eccentric on many levels. You should visit it some day, perhaps in deep winter! Very bracing climate. Visit Sikkim, and also the Nilgiri tea regions, Assam too.

                                                                    So, this is a family operation, very hands-on, and the people who are here are very closely connected to the success of the whole.

                                                                    I have been visiting tea gardens in the Kurseong-Darjeeling area since I was six. Although I know nothing at all about tea, an uncle was a professional tea taster; I remember all of his sage counsel, understanding nothing at that age, or since! But the excitement of being surrounded by the fragrance of dried tea, the noise of tea machinery, and chests of tea! This is something that I cannot describe, it enters your blood, something like love!

                                                                    1. re: GTM

                                                                      I don't find the Chinese (or, for that matter, Japanese) "habit of re-steeping a cup several times, eking out the very last traces of fragrance and color" a matter of frugality. Rather, each brew is nuanced and different compared to its predecessor; I've not found this to be the case with, e.g., the very fine Assam tea I enjoy. It gives it all up in the first brew. It would be a waste to dispose of fine Chinese tea after one steep. Many short steeps makes much more sense on several levels.

                                                                      As to Makaibari Silver Tips, I was privileged to be able to buy the imperial grade (you had to ask for them) at Ito En when they had a store on the Upper East Side. They were indeed sublime (they even looked beautiful) and I corresponded a few times with Rajah by e-mail--a very interesting guy! I've always thought it would be nice to vacation in the Stone House. I was very sad when Eto En closed because my source for small quantities of Silver Tips was gone. :`( Lovely, lovely stuff.

                                                                      1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                        I was sorry to see Ito En close, too. I shopped for Japanese teas there; now I wish I had tried the Makaibari too.

                                                                        Just a note on the Chinese multiple-steep method: Yes, it's traditional, and I do it all the time. But even with Chinese teas, some of them give it all up in the first steep. My tea buddies and I would refer to these as "one-steep wonders." But indeed, there is much to appreciate in the succession of flavors and intensities that multiple short steeps have to offer.

                                                                        1. re: comestible

                                                                          "One-steep wonders"--I love it! (And kudos for hyphenating the modifier.) Yes, it's true but I haven't found it to be that common. However, I spend quite a lot for my tea and tend to favor heavier oxidation/roast and . . . who am I kidding here? I like everything, so forget that explanation. Still, I've been pretty lucky on the multiple-steep front. And someone on a site years back shared a tip to put the supposedly spent leaves in a covered cup or so of water in the fridge overnight. This yields yet ANOTHER brew, not robust but flavorful and refreshing, especially if you favor cold-brewed tea (which I love). Gotta love the value of good tea. :))

                                                                          A quick edit: I wasn't crazy about any of the Japanese tea I tried at Ito En. I always did a lot better for less money buying online direct from Japan. Try, e.g., www.zencha.net and I guarantee you won't regret the loss of Ito En except for the convenience. I know lots of others, too--wonderful offerings that aren't cheap but are much better value than what's carried at brick-and-mortar stores here in town.

                                                                        2. re: MacGuffin

                                                                          You are right about Assam teas. But Darjeeling tea IS Chinese tea in origin, a high-altitude tea of wonderful fragrance. Assam: heavy, full body, not much "fragrance" as such, all gone when steeped, boiled in hot water. Not a sipping tea, not for me! These get converted into the CTC teas of India, and give people their caffeine rush, their chais and what-not.

                                                                          I would appreciate conventional teas to declare pesticide levels in their products. Am I being too irrational? I am happy to be criticized. I have no problems with Integrated Pest Management, but I fear that too many Indian and Chinese concerns act with impunity. We are hearing of Chinese meat companies owned by Illinois majors selling meat products that are beyond their stipulated time, pigs fed melamine, dairy contaminated. Indian teas are no less vitiated by sharp practice. Some level of accountability can be brought if Western consumers insist on a minimum degree of labelling, just as we have managed to do with farmed shrimp.

                                                                          Ms.Mueller should definitely have some of the Silver Tips! She has named her outlet after them!!

                                                                          1. re: GTM

                                                                            I'm familiar with Mrs. Mueller's site (it's in upstate NY, I think?) but $60 for Imperial Silver Tips isn't in the budget right now. That's why I loved Ito En--you could buy small quantities.

                                                                            I've fussy about my vendors so don't worry much about pesticides. I use Seven Cups and since they buy direct, they know their growers and processors very well. Assam Tea grows their own and one of their plantations is organic but I have no fear when ordering their conventional tea. As to meat, well, it doesn't surprise me. I haven't eaten meat since 1987 but if I were still eating it, I'd have to start thinking seriously about suppliers. And no, I don't think you're being irrational.

                                                                            BTW, as I mentioned above, Assam Tea has sold me some very nice CTC. Caffeine doesn't affect me so I can't speak for getting a boost but it's nice and smooth and quite inexpensive. That's a nice vendor. Excellent blends if that's your thing and super-nice whole leaf offerings. The had their own version of Silver Needles that were out of this world; unfortunately, they didn't have any this year. :`(

                                                                  1. re: TimsMom1

                                                                    what have you purchased from them?

                                                                    1. re: jpr54_1

                                                                      okay, here goes: Pai Mu Tan [I ran out, so I just ordered some from Strand Tea to try], Ti Kuan Yin [which I'm drinking now], Imperial Silver Needle, Golden Superior Needle Pu Erh, Drum Mt White,Three Monkey Keemun [very good],Los Andes Black Organic; all good tea and I've tried a lot. I've been with Adagio for years, and they are a little less expensive, and you have lots of choices.

                                                                      1. re: TimsMom1

                                                                        I've never bought from Adagio but they sponsor a very nice forum: http://www.teachat.com/ . Chip, one of the moderators, is extremely knowledgeable, as well as being a very nice guy who's always open to learning something new. It's worth joining, especially for newbies looking to learn.

                                                                  2. I think it depends on the type of tea one wants to buy because it has been my experience that it's usually best to buy from vendors who specialize in tea from one country or even one or two regions of a given country. Tell me what you like, I can probably recommend a vendor. A notable exception to this is the Shan Shui recommendation that appears farther down although I think his best items are those from Taiwan (my one order from Hou De was notable for being deeply mediocre).

                                                                        1. re: Raffles

                                                                          I can't recommend Porto Rico for tea, sadly. I used to purchase some tea at their Bleecker St. store, and those teas were part of my learning process. But really, IMO there are purveyors of better quality teas out there.

                                                                          Now, it's possible their internet portal sources different teas, but I"m going on experience with the storefront.

                                                                          1. re: comestible

                                                                            I have to agree. Cool store but rather mediocre tea, especially when you become more experienced.