I have tried hundreds of teas from dozens of different tea companies and brands of tea. There are a large number of smaller and specialty tea companies, and in some respects I tend to prefer ordering from these companies, as I like to support small business. However, I think among the larger and medium-sized players in the market, there are three companies that I strongly prefer to buy tea from. This article is about three of my favorite brands of tea.
Rishi Tea is a leader in sustainability. An overwhelming majority of items in its catalog are both organic and fair-trade certified. Rishi's offerings that are not certified in this manner are mostly produced in small batches by small, artisan producers. The focus on small producers is an important and often-overlooked facet to sustainability. In addition to supporting fair trade and organic agriculture, Rishi goes above and beyond in its support of sustainable practices, including promoting environmental organizations and using sustainable packaging materials to reduce its environment impact.
All this said, there is one final and compelling reason to purchase from Rishi: their teas are outstanding. Rishi's teas are not only delicious, but unique. This company offers something that most mainstream brands do not--vibrant, refreshing tastes and complex aromas that cannot be found from any other brand. Rishi tea can be purchased by mail-order through the internet, and is also available in a number of stores across the United States. Rishi also offers sample sizes, allowing curious customers to try as many different teas as possible.
Upton Tea Imports
Upton Tea Imports is a mail-order tea company that publishes the Upton tea quarterly, a mail-order catalog that also contains fun and valuable historical information pertaining to tea. In my opinion, Upton has a number of strengths that make it excel relative to other tea companies and brands of tea.
Upton's biggest strength is the sheer size and diversity of their offerings, especially in the area of Chinese and Indian teas. Their second strength is their pricing--Upton carries everything from the cheapest teas to some of the most expensive ones, including competition winners and limited production batches. But overall, their prices are surprisingly reasonable. Like Rishi, Upton also offers samples for every item in its catalog. Upton carries a fair number of certified organic teas, and has been increasing its fair trade offerings as well.
Ten Ren Tea
Ten Ren is a Taiwanese tea company that specializes in Chinese and Taiwanese teas. Among the larger, more mainstream tea companies, I think it is the best brand from which to purchase greener oolongs such as pouchong, dong ding (tung ting), and other Taiwanese high mountain oolongs. Their teas are available by mail-order through a number of different websites, and the company also has stores in a few major cities, including one in New York City's Chinatown, and one in Chicago's Chinatown, and a few on the west coast. Their teas are also available in some southeast Asian import stores.
Ten Ren is a unique brand in that it is the only brand of tea that I know of that sells inexpensive tea bags that are worth buying, with the possible exception of Foojoy. Ten Ren's Ten Wu tea is, in my humble opinion, the best tea available in teabags without going into an exorbitant price range. Ten Ren also has outstanding loose tea, and some of their loose teas are among the most reasonably priced. Their shou mei is an absolute steal, and their lower grades of pouchong (bao zhong) oolong tea are the most inexpensive pouchongs I have sampled that are still true to the style and pleasing to drink.