Today you may legitimately label me a hypocrite: I’ve started indiscriminately buying tea online as long as it’s from an established vendor that allows Paypal. I still very much dislike and discourage buying things online when there’s a chance of obtaining it from a nearby brick and mortar store (unless of course you’re agoraphobic). I’m not, you know, against e-commerce–that would be completely absurd and luddite. Rather, i much prefer to support my local businesses first. Since my blog requires me to do a great deal of continuous consumer spending (three cheers for Macroeconomics!), I want the bulk of that money to be spent in support of local businesses and friends.
That being said… Ann Arbor isn’t London. In terms of tea, It isn’t even London, Ontario. Assuming you’re okay with considering all of Washtenaw County plus Plymouth to be “Ann Arbor” (it’s only a matter of time before i get hate mail for suggesting such a thing), we have ten or twelve businesses that retail tea in a serious way, two or three that wholesale tea and one actual producer (Unity Vibration Kombucha). That’s been enough to keep this blog busy so far, but realistically, there’s a good… i don’t know, 19,000~ish? teas that cannot be purchased at brick and mortar business in my little cul-de-sac of the wrong hemisphere. I want to expand my education and experience with tea, and the only way i can come up with to do so (apart from the prohibitively expensive jetsetting) is buying it online.
As it happens, one of those aforementioned Ann Arbor tea wholesalers is itself an online retailer. And so, it feels kind of fitting that I begin this transitional (blogging) journey with the vendor that’s “closest” to home, Arbor Teas. Arbor Teas has at least a decade of establishment, having previously been a business under the name “New World Tea”. As you might infer from the name, Arbor Teas espouses the kind of culture and mentality of many a Townie: holistic and progressive with a healthy dose of social justice. Although it’s not really possible to do so anymore, Arbor Teas distinguishes themselves through their commitment to terrific tasting, all organic, sustainable teas and packaging, as well as seeking out the most fairly traded products in the industry. If they wanted to, they could sell only fair traded, but as they’ll tell you doing so ties one hand behind their back, and involves linguistic nuance. Sure, but why should you care more about this online tea vendor than those 300 other ones? So, more or less a first for this blog: Arbor Teas packaging is compostable. I can toss all the individual loose leaf packages in with the rest of the tea into the compost. o.0; Err, yup, that’s impressive engineering/cost expenditure on their part. Also, their entire catalog consists of nothing but organic teas and tisanes.I get the distinct impression that if it were possible for a company that doesn’t engage in agriculture to be Demeter Certified, Arbor Teas would be one of the first. Actually, Arbor Teas is so gung-ho about their products being organically produced that it’s problematic: navigation on their site requires the visitor to always look at the second word in the tea’s name, since the first is always “Organic”. This problem is compounded by their desire to include the label “decaf” after “Organic” before the name of the tea in the alphabetical list, requiring the visitor to then skip to the third word. This sort of thing drives a librarian crazy, let me tell you. ^^;;
If you’re interested, here’s what i bought for my first order with Arbor Teas (I think in this case it’s a little redundant to include the word “Organic” as part of the tea’s name and so i have omitted it):
(for which I was impatient and actually already reviewed earlier in the week) – Also Known As Jade Cloud, an Hubeian fine Green, plucked at high elevation in early Spring. Not to be confused with a similarly named tea from Shandong (China has so many mountain ranges it’s not that uncommon for a mountain to have five peaks, if you can wrap your head around that).
– a 2nd flush SFTGFOP1! Eek~ You may remember I mentioned during last month’s Darjeeling Week that in terms of refinement, it doesn’t get better than SFTGFOP1. Whether or not a SFTGFOP1 from Assam outperforms a SFTGFOP1 from Nepal or Nilgiri is of course a matter of opinion. ;)
– It doesn’t get much rarer than this. Occasionally used for the Korean Tea Ceremony, Woojeon is grown on the volcanic, wind-swept Jeju Island. Although I have previously reviewed a Green from Jeju, TeaVana’s Jeju Island Green, Korea Woojeon looks a good deal more expensive and enticing.
– Easily the most popular Darjeeling Estate in the Western tea world, I’m no stranger to Makaibari. In order to highlight other just as deserving Estates, I actually went out of my way to avoid Makaibari tea during last month’s Darjeeling Week. However, when I saw the color of this loose leaf i did a double-take. If it’s even remotely like the advertisement, I need to review it.
– Usually i wouldn’t order something with a name this generic, but I would like a baseline to gauge Arbor’s premium teas against. Also, realistically, the sample from Arbor only cost me $3.50, and I haven’t had a good Bancha for blending in a while. ;)
– For the sake of argument, let’s suppose we’re ignorant Americans and don’t know much about Vietnam tea. So, let’s do our homework, shall we? Although it rarely gets much attention, Vietnam is the world’s 7th largest tea producer, similar in output to Japan. Vietnam borders Yunnan and Guangxi. It’s climate zones range from Subtropical to Tropical. Honestly, that much right there is enough to tell me I want to try more of Vietnam’s organic tea. As it happens though, the Suối Giàng region of Yen Bai is home to an ancient tea forest similar to those in Yunnan… with over 85,000 trees, many of which are hundreds of years old…Yup. You’ve certainly got my attention… The trees are fertilized with local manure, and the teas are produced by traditional methods and taste similar to Sheng Pu-erh… And Nam Lanh is on the banks of the Red River about twenty miles away… Ahem. Sold. xD
– I admit it, I freaked out and went all Looney Toons-eyes-popping-out-the-front-of-my-glasses when I saw that Arbor has Hawaiian tea. Hawaiian is… the Final Tea Frontier? Hawaii is the largest tea-producing state in the US (although that’s not saying much) with Asia-like climate zones, volcanic soil and high elevations. You may remember earlier this year when I reviewed Eli’s Hawaiian Black Cliff, a tea more or less not for sale (Yeah, I owe Eli a few favors at this point… >.>). Hawaiian teas have only been in production since 2000 and output is so small it’s “not considered an important player in the global market”. So basically, it’s crazy uber rare. xD A .5 oz sample costs $9. I cannot wait to review this one.
In addition to the seven teas I ordered, I was able to get my hands on Arbor Tea’s Korea Sejak as well. I’m not really the hugest fan of Sejak, since when I’ve tried it in the past it had the same adverse reaction on my IBS as Oolong does–it’s probably oxidized to some extent? Meh. I’ll give it a whirl.