Loose-leaf tea shops are relatively uncommon in the United States. But there are some places you can buy loose tea, that you might not have thought about. This article explores some of those places.
Ethnic food stores
Tea culture is huge in many countries outside the U.S., and it makes sense that ethnic grocery stores can be some of the best places to buy loose-leaf tea. Not only are there products available that are not widely available in the U.S., but the prices are often very good. However, some cultures are more tea-centric than others, so you’ll have better luck looking in certain types of stores than others, and the types of teas you’ll find will depend on the countries or cultures being represented.
Most European groceries will sell a variety of black teas, often traditional blends like Earl Grey or fruit-flavored blends. Middle-eastern groceries typically sell a variety of strong black teas, including Assam, Ceylon, and the like. You will also find blends including cardamom and sometimes other spices, or fragrances like jasmine. There are usually a few smoky Chinese green teas available as well.
Chinese and Vietnamese groceries are a completely different beast; here you will typically find lots of oolong teas, as well as jasmine and other floral-scented teas. Japanese and Korean stores will typically sell Japanese green teas, things like sencha, bancha, genmaicha, hojicha, and the like.
Indian and Pakistani stores also typically sell mostly black tea, usually Assam (for a strong brew) or Darjeeling, for something lighter. These stores also are a great source of bulk spices, great for making masala chai.
Health food stores and cooperative groceries
Nearly all larger health food stores and cooperative groceries in the U.S. have a bulk herb section, which usually also includes tea. Typically, companies like Frontier Coop or Mountain Rose Herbs are the source of the products for sale. The herbs and tea are usually sold in a self-service station, which is great if you want to purchase a small amount of something, such as to sample it.
Spice stores and stands
Tea and spice are a natural pairing as far as retailers are concerned: both are aromatic products that sell for a high price per weight, and have similar storage needs. Look for such stands in farmer’s markets and other markets where there are a lot of small stands. There are even larger, brick-and-mortar stores that specialize in both products.
Cafes or coffee shops that serve loose-leaf tea
Occasionally, coffee shops or cafes that serve loose-leaf tea, will also sell loose-leaf tea to customers who want it. The price usually isn’t the lowest, but you can order a cup of what you’re getting so you know what you’re getting ahead of time. These businesses can be nice when you regularly drink a particularly tea in the cafe, and you want to enjoy the same product at home without having to go through the trouble of ordering it yourself. If you know that a cafe brews and serves loose-leaf, especially if you can see the jars or tins sitting behind the counter, it wouldn’t hurt to ask whether or not they sell it in bulk too. Sometimes businesses don’t even advertise that they do this!
Gift stores and other unexpected retail stores
Loose-leaf tea sometimes shows up in random retail stores that do not focus or specialize in food products. Tea can co-exist with the products sold in these stores because of its long product life, and because it doesn’t take up much space on the shelf. Look for loose-leaf tea for sale in kitchenware stores, gift shops, or anywhere for that matter.
Alex Zorach is the founder and editor of RateTea, a social review site for tea drinkers, featuring reviews, brand listings, and articles on different styles and regions of production. The site also has local place listings and reviews. Explore the Tea Map to discover local tea businesses in your area.
One thing that sets our map apart from other maps published on other websites, is the inclusion of random businesses, such as ethnic groceries, gift shops, or other random retail stores, that sell high-quality loose leaf tea. If they sell it or serve it, it’s fair game for listing on our map!