A Look at Tea Subscription Services

Not so very long ago, the word “subscription” referred almost exclusively to some form of communication media: you signed up for a magazine or newsletter, or you joined a book or record club, and automatically received some item on a regular basis. Accounts were settled at regular intervals, and the process started all over again.

Today, subscription services can bring a wide range of diverse products to your door, from intangibles like access to internet or software…to razors, pet supplies, and even wine. So it makes perfect sense that a number of companies now allow you to subscribe to receive tea. Is one of them right for you?

What Am I Subscribing to?

Subscription services have come a long way, to the point where it’s considered a legitimate business model. In the case of more tangible consumables like tea, subscribers are signing up for a recurring delivery of actual product. Accounts are still settled regularly–almost always on a monthly basis–but now involves a credit card: the card is charged every month for the product shipment, which offers convenience to the customer and a steady cash flow for the merchant. Nothing wrong with that, but it can cause problems, as we’ll see.

Tea for Me

Tea subscription services send hand-picked, high-quality brews to tea lovers every month. Instead of making trek to your local grocery or café, you’ll enjoy high quality teas in the relaxing atmosphere of your home.

What kind of tea? Well, most services give you plenty of options. The prices for these services start under $10, and go as high as $40 or more monthly. What you get for that money varies, of course, but most boxes will include a sampling of teas and some sort of extras. Shipping is often but not always free; be sure to check.

Subscription Tea Options

Some services, such as Teabox, offer a tiered price plan where you can get anywhere from 12 to 150 cups worth of tea every month. They work closely with farms across India and Nepal, so you’re assured of the best and freshest teas. You don’t have a lot of say-so in what you receive, however: new subscribers take a short online quiz, then Teabox creates a set of teas for your particular tastes.

Teas-selected-by-quiz is also the model of Sips By, an Austin-based company founded by a small group of tea lovers who “want discovering tea to be fun, personalized, and affordable.” You’ll create a free tea profile, including a quiz that will help them determine the types of teas you’re interested in.

Simple Loose Leaf, as the name implies, brings you a nice selection of loose leaf teas from around the globe each month. As one of the more cost-effective services, this company will typically send a box filled with a tea from different categories (black, green, etc.). This is a good option for subscription novices…as long as you’re ok with loose leaf!

If cost is a serious consideration, take a look at Hello Tea Club, which actually lets you subscribe for free. Each month’s box will include teas, prices, and samplers. You’ll have 10 days to try the sampler for each tea; if you don’t love it, simply send back that tea. Naturally, you’ll only charged for the teas you keep.

A Great Idea…but…

Overall, tea subscription boxes are a wondrous idea for tea lovers. There are a few things to watch out for, however.

For one thing, make sure you read the fine print before you sign up for the service. Pay special attention to policies concerning shipping and returning, including the cost and who covers it.

Also, you need to keep in mind that the subscription service will go on indefinitely, automatically renewing until you cancel it. If you’re out of town one month, the shipment still comes. If you forgot to return a box, you still get billed. And if you decide to cancel on the day after the automatic payments went out, you’ll most likely still see the charge on your credit card statement.

The good news here is that any company that has been around at least a couple of years with good reviews is NOT trying to scam you. You can almost always get a refund for that first honest mistake. Merchants don’t want you calling your credit card to complain: if the credit card decides to credit you directly, the merchant will still be out the money, plus they’ll be hit with hefty chargeback fees. If you do encounter any push-back from the merchant, usually just threatening to call the bank and demand a chargeback will get you results.

Ready, Set, TEA!

In our fast-paced, non-stop world, it can sometimes seem impossible to squeeze in enough “me-time” to read a book, hit the gym, or take a nap. But a 10-minute tea break could be just what the doctor ordered…and signing up for a tea subscription box is a simple way to sneak a little self-care into your daily routine.

A Beginner’s Guide to Appreciating Tea

OK, coffee, you’ve had your day: now it’s tea’s turn. More and more, even diehard coffee aficionados are finding themselves talking and learning about high-end teas. We’re talking straight loose-leaf tea: none of those little paper bags or premixed concoctions that smell more like potpourri than anything you would want to drink. These are folks who take their tea as seriously as they took their coffee.

It makes a certain amount of sense: tea, after all, has been enjoyed the world over for thousands of years in the making: that’s long time to learn how to get it right. It offers its own culture and history matched only by wine. And just like wine, there are people who live and breathe tea in a way that borders on obsession.

You think coffee can get complex? Tea is all that and then some. We’re not throwing shade at coffee–seriously, we understand that it can be an art form–but tea offers a vast range of flavors, aromas, and characteristics that makes the magic bean look like a one-trick pony. Not to mention the fact that the caffeine in tea is absorbed more slowly, so the kick is much smoother.

And have you ever heard of being coffee-drunk? “Tea-drunk” is an actual thing.

We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with coffee. Only that it seems unfair that here in the US, you mention tea and people start thinking of the Nestea Plunge. Anywhere else in the world, if someone asks what type of tea you want, they’re asking if you want it hot or cold. People in America asking that question want to know if you want sweet or unsweet.

In an effort to level the coffee/tea playing field, we’re here to offer a quick rundown on appreciating all that tea has to offer.

  • Skip the Prepackaged Stuff. You grind your own coffee beans? Same logic applies here. Buying loose-leaf teas generally means you’ll get a higher quality product. In addition, bigger leaves tend to have a fuller body and more balanced flavor, if properly prepared.
  • Flavored vs. Flavorful. To serious tea-drinkers, flavored teas are a little like barely-alcoholic drinks with cute paper umbrellas. Nothing wrong with trying out flavored tea, but it’s not the best place to start: drinking flavored tea by default is like trying to appreciate coffee by drinking white chocolate mochas. Tea doesn’t need a flavor; tea IS a flavor.
  • Understand What You’re Getting. Tea grows all over, from sunny lowlands to rocky crags to misty mountaintops. And just like coffee, a tea’s soil, environment, and growing conditions impact its ultimate taste. The minute the leaf is plucked, it starts to oxidize–a process which impacts the tea’s flavor more than where or how it’s grown. To a large extent, this can be controlled by applying heat; green and white teas, for example, are barely oxidized, while Oolong and black teas are allowed more time.
  • OK, the Brewing. When it comes time to brew your loose leaf tea, there are all sorts of detailed methods to try and specialized tools you can buy. Our advice: skip all that for now. Novice tea drinkers make the mistake of focusing too much on whether they’re brewing the “correct” way; go too far down that road, and start wondering if it’s worth making at all. On the other hand, truly good tea can give you different subtleties with different styles of brewing–all of them delicious. Instead of fretting technique at this stage, just start drinking. There’s always time to experiment later.
  • It takes some time to train your palate to pick up on a tea’s peculiarities. That’s why–like wine–you don’t guzzle fine tea. Take time to sniff. Appreciate the bouquet. Take a sip and let it sit in your mouth. As you keep tasting, you’ll start to differentiate between fruity and woodsy tinges, between a light taste on the tongue and a creamy robust body.

The bottom line is, you can’t pick up a bottle of green tea from a convenience store and really say you’ve experienced tea drinking. Schedule a little time in your hectic schedule (experts say that’s a good idea, just on general principle) to educate yourself and experiment. Like any fine food, it takes time and patience to learn to pick out all the nuances of tea. But the end result is worth the effort.