Here's a review of the large tea sampler I bought at Teabox.com, but first a little history: I discovered how much I appreciated a good tea 3 or 4 years ago and started off buying various samples from eBay and educating myself along the way. I tried almost the whole range of oolongs, black, white, yellow and green teas. At the end of that I began to zero in on some favorite types: Bai Mu Dan, single-estate Darjeelings, Pinhead Gunpowder, Dian Hong, Tie Guan Yin.
The two main problems I ran into where authenticity and freshness. We all know very little tea of note comes from the US, so it passes thru one or more middleman on its way to you, and the time it's kept in inventory you take entirely on faith. The Wiki article on Darjeeling tea says that only 1 in 4 teas sold as Darjeelings are authentic.
One tea retailer that has solved these problems for me is Teabox.com. They are based in India and ship direct from India. This place is especially good for "tea explorers" because it has a huge selection teas from India and the immediate regions. They have samplers of almost any size, type and price range.
I ended up buying their largest sampler: 134 10-gram samples representing their entire line. There are more than just single estate darjeelings:
Nilgiri: Never had one before. Amazing stuff. A real man's tea. Strong and complex. Ernest Hemmingway would have loved this tea. Maybe it would have given him a reason to NOT blow his own head off. A new favorite for me.
White Darjeeling: Like Bai Mu Dan but with a fresher spritey edge. Quite expensive, and now I know why.
Darjeeling Oolong: (What?) Drinking it as I write this. Hard to describe because the Chinese oolongs have such a wide flavor gamut. A little stoney, yes, but much less than your average Oolong, with that Darjeeling astringency, and a very slight vegetal hint; sort of a "0-th flush" if you will.
In these last few weeks I have had only a handful of the samples. It's like I'm being pulled in nine different directions as far as my tea preferences go --but I like it!
The price (currenty $230) at first gave me pause, but I rationalized: Heck, look what people spend on a half ounce of hash in Colorado. (Tea is my hash.) That sort of took the guilt away.
The samples come in separate little black mylar ziplock bags. Each bag is labeled with year, season, origin, plantation, color, flush, grade, type and SKU. Many times even the field within the plantation is listed.
This is horrid, I know, but: I stored the entire collection in a black plastic lidded 5-gallon bucket (thoroughly cleaned) that used to contain driveway sealer. Fills it up perfectly. (Do you have any doubt I'm a guy now?) When I want tea I reach in there, grab 5 or 6 bags I find intriguing, then do an eeny-meeny-miny-moe to make the final selection. Kinda fun. If I really like my pick I throw the empty bag back in the bucket as a reminder to possibly buy more later.
Fully oxidized tea leaves for a robust cup.
BTW, what does 1/2 oz of hash sell for nowadays?gaaah wrote: The price (currenty $230) at first gave me pause, but I rationalized: Heck, look what people spend on a half ounce of hash in Colorado. (Tea is my hash.) That sort of took the guilt away.