Loose Leaf Teas
I'd like to see a consummate list of places to purchase quality loose leaf teas in the LA area. I'm so tired of threads with mentions of Starbucks, Pete's, and Boba shacks (no! I don't want to hear about your sugary filth and gelatinous slime). Intelligentsia, eh. They can go suck it too. I want substance over style or pretense. I want the real deal. We deserve the real deal. This is chowhound not yelp. I've got my zojirushi with 4 temp settings. I'm ready. Sock it to me. Enlighten me. I need your help, you of chowhound. You've delighted me with so many delicious insights and I'm really grateful. Can we band together for this cause, the cause of a righteous cup of tea in the comfort of one's own abode?
Ten Ren, Taiwanese chain, good for oolongs, jasmines, dragon well and I dig the pillow packs of silver needle. I have encountered language barriers, so hard to gain real insights from their sales peeps. "Is this good?" "Yes, very good." "How about this one?" "Also very good."
Ten Ren Tea (also in Monterey Park, Alhambra)
727 N. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tea Habitat, found them online. They seem dope. I hope they open their new shop and offer more tea tasting so they can infuse me with knowledge.
Tea Habitat (They're moving to a new address
)21B Peninsula Center
Rolling Hills Estates, CA
Funnel Mill, a tea house disguised as a peddler of coffee swill. They serve your teas in proper china pots with a kettle of hot water for multiple infusions and they sell teas by the ounce. Was on the pricey side, but was real tasty. Their white peony was/is outta sight.
Funnel Mill Coffee and Tea
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Neighborhood: Santa Monica
Wing Hop Fung... Ten Ren is downstairs from them, so I haven't tried any of their teas. They sell a ton-o-stuff and it ain't all tea. They confuse me. Should I buy tea or slippers...
Wing Hop Fung (also in Alhambra
)727 N Broadway Ste 102
Los Angeles, CA 90012
T - Tea Shoppe, me likes. Friendly and willing chat tea, offer suggestions. "Try the butterfly tea." Sure why not. Mint Medley? Like best iced tea brew ever (and I don't usually go for herbal, fruit infusions).
T - Tea Shoppe
6333 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Chado Tea Room, never been. Might have to rock it like sherlock, holmes.
Chado Tea Room (also downtown and mid city
)79 N Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91103
www.teamap.com has all the tea rooms in and around LA but doesn't specify as to whether one can buy loose leaf.
930 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA
21B Peninsula Center, Palos Verdes, CA
Wing Hop Fung
727 N Broadway 102, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Chado Tea Room
8422 1/2 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048
1223 University Ave Ste 110, Riverside, CA 92507
630 W 6th St Ste 110B, Los Angeles, CA 90017
the T Tea Shoppe at the Farmers Market is my absolute favorite. The woman knows her stuff, is super friendly, and I always leave with some sample of this or that. Not cheap, but very good.
I had good teas at Chado, but I much prefer the T Shoppe. Much more congenial atmosphere (and I think, more choice).
Been to le Palais des Thés in BH a long while ago, but I found the place way too chi chi compared to the original place in Paris. And much more expensive.
There's always Fortnum & Mason online, too.
re: bad nono
I recently found Gunpowder tea in Farmer's Market, I was ecstatic. It was a thing with mom, so it was more emotional than about the tea. Tried some Tigerhill and she gave me a lot extra. Am in OC, so was looking for something closer to home. Have also purchased loose tea at Jon's market and I love to browse their aisles for random things that you don't see on store shelves normally. Owner is Lebanese, I believe, but they carry much from eastern Europe. That got me started, was finally able to enjoy a good strong cup of tea and enjoyed it so much have now started searching for more; thanks to all who contributed to this search here. The water's hot ~
I like Wing Hop (Monterey Park not Chinatown) better as well. For a mere $1 you can get a VIP card and that amounts to good savings as Wing Hop often has sales. The people working the tea section tend to be more knowledgable than the college grads at Bird Pick, but as theonceler noted (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6339...) they tend to push you toward the more expensive offerings.
I really like their Peony White Tea, light and nutty. $10 gets you a fat, full bag.
Aside from the fact that I walk to Bird Pick in Culver City and I DO like Wing Hop for basics like Chrysanthemum tea. I still perfer to shop at Bird Pick because all of their teas are out and they vibe there is much more casual so I can open the pots, smell them. Take my time and when I ask for a fruity tea or a Japanese green tea, my taste isn't going be sneered at.
My favorite is Imperial Tea.
I've been trying to get Roy Fong [the owner, Tea Master] to open a tea house locally. He also conducts tours to Chinese tea growers.
My favorite, oolongs, will be on the website in a couple of weeks ... the 2010 harvest that is. He just put up the 2010 green tea harvest and is just returning from China now.
If you venture into the OC, my favorite tea place is Ten Li. Betty, the proprietor, specializes in Taiwanese green teas. She will actually sit down with you and make the tea and let you enjoy it before you purchase. I wish the economy was good enough for me to frequent it.
17086 Magnolia St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
So my love of Chinese oolong actually started at Ten Li - she sat me down and brewed the stuff in the usual Chinese tea-shop style, and made a hard-sell. And her stuff is quite nice, especially for the states - she flies back to Taiwan every spring and gets the fresh harvest. But after more looking around, I've come to find that, in most cases, United States sources suffer - almost all my tea buying is direct from China and Taiwan, and even with the price of shipping, going straight to the source keeps the prices about the same. I'm all for supporting local brick and mortar shops, but usually, the quality of most shops in the US - even the big famous ones, is so far below the direct sources it's kind of depressing.
For one thing: if a tea vendor doesn't know which year and harvest (spring, summer, fall, winter) their tea is from, they're probably not worth your time. This would be like a scotch vendor who didn't really know the difference between single malt and blends, and couldn't tell you and Islay from a Speyside. (In general, this applies to Ten Ren, Wing Hop Fun, and Bird Pick, which are sort of becoming something like the Starbucks of Chinese tea in America. Not that they're terrible - for many a suburban American, Starbucks was the first breath of decent coffee against a sea of swill. ["Hey, wow! This was actually roasted this month!"] But still: not magical. And overpriced for the quality. Also: Bird Pick is a branch of Wing Hop Fun, which mostly sells the same tea in prettier packages for higher prices.)
There are some notable exceptions in L.A.
Ten Li, like I said, is nice. She's a good local source. I frequent the store because of her incredible taste in chinese pottery - she probably has the best hardcore handmade yixing teapots in the area, and lots of really nice handmade taiwanese cups and stuff. Mixed in with the usual cheaper factory stuff. She prices accurately (as in the machine-made stuff is cheap, and you'll have to pay through the nose for the high-quality stuff), though you can bargain.
Valley Coffee and Tea, on Atlantic and Valley, is a really nice local source for Taiwanese stuff - she gets the shipments in really fast off the mountain, and it's super-fresh. Call her and ask her when her shipments are coming in - now's the time for primo spring-harvest Taiwanese high mountain! Sometimes she hides the best stuff in the back, and you have to ask for it. I really like the cheaper, pleasant low-ferment oolong she stocks - called pouchong there, others may know it as baozhong.
Bamboo Tea in Pasadena occasionally has quite nice stuff. She's Taiwanese, but her tastes are broad.
Chado Tea Room is stunning - by far my favorite source anywhere in the world for darjeelings, assams, Indian stuff. (Their Chinese/Japanese teas are poor.) They know their teas down to harvest, flush (whether it's from the first or second harvest in a season), and estate. Their teas are exceptional - EXCEPTIONAL. Darjeelings are expensive but worth it. The bargain stuff is nilgiris - halfway between the champagney life of an darjeeling, and the warmth of an assam. It's less known, so they're often, like, a tenth of the price of the high-end darjeelings, but they're incredible.
They have a mailing list and will do tastings as each season's harvest comes in.
Tea Habitat is THE PLACE. Far beyond Imperial Tea Court, in my book. Full disclosure: I'm friends with the owner now, because I interviewed her for an article I wrote about this place for the LA Times. I probably ought not much write about Tea Habitat now, because, since I wrote the article, I've become tea-drinking buddies with the owner. But I wrote the article when I was a stranger who just walked in her door and was shocked to find better dancong oolong then even the best sources I could find in China. Look for the article for my old, unbiased take on the place.
The sadness is that the retail end of Tea Habitat closed when she lost her lease; she's strictly doing mail order right now. The last time I drank tea with her, she said she was planning to move primarily to wholesale and Internet, but would do tea-tastings and scheduled events occasionally. I pleaded with her to re-open a shop; it was the only place in SoCal you could just walk in any day and get full gong fu tea service from a fully trained teamaster. Maybe if you folks who loved the place bombarded her with e-mails begging for the return of an actual retail shop.
I have found no decent local source for really nice sencha. Nothing to come even close to the specialist sites shipping from Japan. Most of the places around town just carry a few of the same big-brands from Japan. The place in the Mitsuwa in Torrance is probably the best you can do, but it's not superb.
If you want more direct-from-China Internet sources, look for Jing Tea Shop (the one in China, not the one in the UK - this is my #1), Dragon Tea Shop, Yunnan Sourcing, Floating Leaves (in Seattle, surprisingly), and this weird guy named Stephane who runs Teamasters, which looks like a blog but which is actually a shop.
For Japanese (admittedly not my area of specialty), try O-cha.com and Hojo Tea.
Sorry for the length of the post. Tea is my truest culinary love.
21B Peninsula Center, Palos Verdes, CA
Chado Tea Room
79 N Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103
re: Thi N.
After experimenting with several Japanese vendors, at the moment, the best sencha that I have found is a very pricey one being shipped to me from Paris by Mariage Freres (which seems just stupid). I have tried O-cha.com and wasn't overly impressed. However, Hojo Tea is a new one to me, so I will have to give that a try.
I also love Assams and Darjeelings, so I will have to give Chado Tea Room a try. Many, many years ago when Chado first opened on Third Street it was very elegant. Then it was sold and the new owner totally changed the decor making the place very kitschy in my opinion. So I never went back. But if they have good Assams and Darjeelings, I am willing to put aside my negative feelings about the decor.
Addendum - I just checked the Chado website. OMG, the walls are a hideous shade of lavender, there is a framed picture of two pandas that looks like the kind of thing one would pick up at Walmart and there are ugly lace curtains on the wall. I just can't do it. Even though I live 10 minutes away, I will have to do mail order - I just can't step foot in that place.
Shame about Tea Habitat. Never made it down there, but did order on the Internet following your L.A. Times article.
Chado Tea Room
8422 1/2 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Forget about having tea *at* Chado. They actually don't prepare it that well on premises. The service seems given over to "afternoon tea" crap with people caring far more about the finger sandwiches then the taste of the tea. Most food blocks the taste of really good tea anyway. Just buy loose-leaf-tea to go.
Also: Chado has the only flavored tea I like on the earth. Their highest grade Earl Grey: i think it's called Imperial Earl Grey. It's very nice.
The best way to experience Chado is to sign up for their seasonal cuppings.
re: Thi N.
Chado was sold about 13 years ago (maybe more) by the woman who first owned it and built it out. The prior owner's background was in design and I remember running in to her after the sale and she telling me she was heartbroken by how ugly the new owner had made the place.
The reason I went to Chado's website was because I was hoping that perhaps they had recently refurbished the place, but I see it is even worse than I remembered it.
re: Thi N.
I've been going to Valley Coffee and Tea for a year now and Kathy (the proprietress) is a delight. Such old school grace and hospitality. On my first experience there I loaded up on teas and whipped out my credit card to pay. "Cash or check only," I was told. As I fumbled through my wallet, Kathy said, "No problem. Send me a check in the mail." I was astounded. And although I managed to find the needed cash, she explained, that in all her years of business, no one had ever failed to send her a check. I suppose the demographic of loose leaf tea drinkers are a fairly enlightened bunch.
I tend to like lighter teas and her Tung Ting Oolong was extremely tasty. But I'm in love with the Pouchong there. I get that lingering echo with every savory sip. Many thanks for the rec!!
Ten Li is still on the list. I guess I'll report back in a year.
Valley Coffee and Tea
1101 W Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91803
I, too, appreciate Valley Coffee and Tea! Kathy is a very interesting and friendly lady; she travels regularly (perhaps monthly) to China to bring back her special teas. She is extremely helpful in her guidance and takes a sincere interest in her customers. I am not at all surprised by your "mail me a check" story...that's so Kathy!
Her Pouchongs (Bao Zhongs) are quite good. When pressed, she might offer several different levels (and prices) of her teas. She identifies them by their price, so recently I managed to purchase a Pouchong 21-pack and a Pouchong 42-pack. She will let you purchase any quantity of these teas as most are not pre-packed. Thus, you can purchase $10 worth of her 42-Pouchong. This is great because you can then purchase sample-size bags and get lots of tastes and also not be concerned about the decline in quality of a large quantity that you are slow to consume.
I found the 42-Pouchong to be a little richer in flavor and aroma over the 21-Pouchong, but both are good.
Like you, I prefer the lighter, less processed and less fired teas. With your recommendation in mind, I will try the Tung Ting Oolong next time I see Kathy at Valley Coffee and Tea.
I would love to see her open a tasting bar in the back. She has room for one, but shows no interest to date in doing so. Perhaps if we urge her on~
"Kathy should totally host some tastings."
vayabobo -- She would be so good at this. She is very gregarious and is passionate about her teas. Also, I think this would keep her busy -- and busier! Initially, she could do it a-la-the-style-of-Wing Hop Fung, with just a few cups and a couple of tea pots. Oh, I do wish she would consider such an option!
re: Thi N.
I finally made it to Ten Li and met Betty. She definitely gave me the hard sell (too much so). I ended up trying a Pouchong which was quite pricey and had none of the taste I find from Kathy's at Valley Coffee and Tea. Kathy laughed when I told her I had tried someone else's pouchong. "It had no taste, right?"
Ten Li did have an impressive collection of teapots. But so far I'll stick to Valley Coffee and Tea.
On another note, I was recently in Singapore and had the opportunity to visit Tea Chapter, an old school tea house. Their Imperial Golden Cassia Oolong blew me away. I've already ordered more.
Imperial Golden Cassia
Origin: Fu Jian
Colour: Golden Yellow
I still need to try your Jing Tea Shop rec. Making my way slowly through the list. : )