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Best Loose or Bulk Tea in San Francisco?

I'm putting together a gift basket for a friend who drinks a lot of tea at home, and was surprised that I didn't find much help in the Chowhound archives when I searched for local purveyors of loose tea.

I know that Rainbow sells loose bulk tea, and I've been to the tea shop that is (was?) in the Bloomingdale's/Nordstrom mall downtown, but where are local tea fiends buying their favorites?

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  1. The problem in buying tea in bulk is freshness. What you save in $, you lose in taste.

    SF Herb is a fine place to buy commercial tea, because it's so inexpensive. I'm drinking some of their ridiculously cheap white tea right now. Their Lapsang Souchong is good. It's not the same caliber as Peet's but half the price or less.

    The Outer Avenues coop on Judah has a great selection of organic teas and coffee beans by the pound. Everything from jasmine pearls to gypsy "tea."

    Red Blossom will sell individual blooming teas for $2. Pricey but beautiful and very good. All their teas are sold by the oz at the store on Grant. Imperial Tea in the Ferry Building will also sell high quality Chinese teas in small amounts.

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    San Francisco Herb Co.
    250 14th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

    Red Blossom Tea Company
    831 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

    6 Replies
    1. re: Windy

      Thank you, Windy! This is fantastic.

      1. re: pane

        Oh, and the Japanese tea shop at Westfield is Lupicia. They also have a branch at Stonestown. Some of their teas (momo oolong with peaches!) are fantastic. Others are horribly floral and perfume-y.

        They will brew you a cup if you ask, and have nice gift basket accessories.

        Let us know what you end up with.

      2. re: Windy

        I second the recommendation for Red Blossom Tea Company. It is family owned and staffed, and they have a great selection of teas which they import themselves. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and the teas are all fresh. You cannot go wrong here.

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        Red Blossom Tea Company
        831 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

        1. re: Paul H

          Which teas do you recommend at Red Blossom? I love their monkey picked golden assam and the blooming tea with orange flowers in it, but usually get overwhelmed by their selection.

          1. re: Windy

            It depends on what you like. They will brew almost anything and let you try it. I prefer Oolongs above all else, and like to keep the following teas on hand:

            Wuyi,
            Formosa High-Mountain Spring Oolong,
            Phoenix Oolong (I like Huang Zhi Xiang),
            Iron Goddess of Mercy - Monkey Picked (Tieguanyin), and
            Dragonwell - Spring Reserve (which is green, not oolong, but is worth having)

            1. re: Paul H

              Thanks, will try the oolongs next time I'm there.

      3. You have to check out Aroma… Aroma Tea changed my view about tea completely... I now know that tea can be as complex as wine...
        They are also family owned and run by a young couple (there is no staff that I have ever met). They go to China regularly and hand pick the tea themselves. The best thing is that they have free tea tastings, so you can try everything before you buy it, so there is no guessing at what you like. We've discovered so many amazing teas and variations between teas… it is quite an experience. We have learned so much.

        They have two stores, but we've only gone to the one in the inner Richmond.... Hayman is always at that one. Last time we went he let us taste some competition grade tea that blew our mind. They have all price ranges of tea… from very affordable to $50/ounce for the competition grade. Who knew that tea could become an expensive habit!

        http://www.aromateashop.com/store/

        (Btw, since there is a lot of talk of Namu on the board, I thought I'd mention that this is where Namu gets their tea)

        1. Try Leland Tea Co. on Bush Street (between Polk & Van Ness).

          www.lelandtea.com

          4 Replies
          1. re: DavidT

            Thanks everyone, for your help!

            DavidT, is there a particular tea that you like at Leland?

            1. re: pane

              No, truth be told, I have never been inside the shop! But I do pass it every day on the bus into work.

              1. re: DavidT

                Aha! I've stopped in before, and hadn't liked what I tried, so I was curious to see if there was an excellent tea that I hadn't happened upon yet.

                1. re: pane

                  Leland is great. My favorite is their Bogart Blend, a black tea with warm vanilla notes.

          2. You'll notice these are mostly Chinese or Japanese teas. If you don't mind waiting a day or so, Freed Teller & Freed of South San Francisco carry Indian and Ceylonese teas. They ship USPS Priority Mail, so it's quick. I like the English Breakfast and East Friesian blends at about $20 per pound shipping included, but they have many unblended teas, too. FREEDSCOFFEETEA.COM

            1 Reply
            1. re: TenderNob

              Didn't realize Freed Teller & Freed still existed since they closed the retail outlet on Polk. Those were/are great black teas.