t4texas wrote:I have been buying my Oolong from a local shop. While they have some good moderate cost teas ranging up to some very fine quality teas of all types, I want to try some other sources, too.
What style(s) of oolong do you like? Oolong / semi-green is such a huge range of tea, since it encompasses pretty much everything on the spectrum between green tea and red tea. I find that most vendors specialize in teas from a particular country or region, and also of a certain type. I think you will find very few vendors who have great tea across the board (and if you do, the cost may be higher than at a vendor who specializes more).
Find out where the vendor is from originally, and whether they specialize in teas from Mainland China or Taiwan, whether they have more teas that are higher on the oxidation / roasting scale or greener.
IMO, Hou De (http://houdeasianart.com/
) is definitely worth checking out even if you're not near Houston. His mainland stuff is good too, though I think he sources most of it indirectly via Taiwan, so the prices may be higher than comparable tea from another source. But overall, I think Guang has good taste and sells excellent teas at generally somewhat reasonable (though certainly not low) prices.
For some mainland oolongs, especially Dan Cong, I would check out Tea Habitat (a shop local to me) -- http://teahabitat.com/
(full disclosure - I'm friends with the owner, who's also part of our little LA-area tea group). Also Jing (http://jingteashop.com
). First is in the US; second ships direct from China (Jing also has very nice porcelain and teapots, though their markup and prices are relatively high -- that said, I think the quality of what you get is MUCH better than your average vendor that ships direct from China).
I can't really recommend a source for mainland Tie Guan Yin right now - it's so popular in China that most of the stuff that makes it out of the country is either not actually Anxi TGY, or is of very poor quality, or both. And it's getting harder and harder to find the higher fire stuff. salsero suggested checking out the traditional TGY from http://just4tea.com/
, and I find it to be very nice for the price. Best Tea House in Vancouver (I've posted about them before) has some nice medium and heavily roasted TGY, and there are a few other HK vendors which have US branches that also sell a similar product. No online shopping for BTH, but you can call them if you want to order.
Stéphane at http://teamasters.blogspot.com
is very much worth checking out for Taiwanese oolongs, and he has a good selection of both the greener types and more traditional teas, as well as a few excellent aged teas (his '90s Dong Ding is excellent in my opinion). Overall, I think the consensus is that this spring wasn't very good for Taiwanese high mountain style oolong - even vendors who typically sell these teas were saying that.
J-tea in Oregon (http://jteainternational.com/
) and Floating Leaves in Seattle (http://floatingleaves.com/
) may also be worth checking out, especially for Taiwanese oolongs. I believe J-tea has lowered their prices a little since the owner last updated the site, so give a call before you order anything online.
Tea Gallery in NY (http://theteagallery.com
) has finally started expanding their online presence. Their prices are somewhat high (though not out of the scope of some of the other vendors here), but worth a try. One good thing is that they have a fairly limited, but carefully chosen, selection, which I think is actually a good thing, though they don't always provide really detailed information about a tea's origin, specific varietal, or actual Chinese name, (unless you ask).
Last comment: buying tea online is tricky, and lots of times, people explain things in terms that might mean something different to you than it means to them. So especially before you get a sense of what the different terms mean, and which vendors sell tea that tastes good to you
, I suggest buying small quantities at first, and get the vendor to send you samples of some stuff they think you should try. Some vendors will even send you a set of samples for a nominal fee. This is worth doing, because lots of times, a tea sounds great on paper, you get really hyped up, and then you're disappointed when it arrives and tastes nothing like you expected.
Buying tea blind is never good, but over time, you will develop a better sense about which teas you're likely to like and which ones you aren't. If you can find any good brick and mortar stores within easy driving distance (where in TX are you?), I would suggest trying them first.