As a kid, my Grandma Conner was concerned about the vast amounts of Coca-cola I drank (and it had to be Coke—that other stuff was the Devil's swill) so she hatched a cunning plan. She forced me to order iced tea, but at first allowed me to add as much sugar as I wanted. Over time, she had me cut down on the amount of sugar until today, I prefer unsweetened iced tea (yeah, I know, I'm a heretic down here in The South™).
She even got me hooked on sun tea (which is dead simple to make: take a transparent gallon container, fill with water. Add about six tea bags, seal it up tight and set in the sun in the morning. By late afternoon, retrieve the now golden elixir, open, discard the bags, and enjoy. It won't even cloud up on you, and it isn't all that heavy either.
And thus started my tea drinking career.
It wasn't until Alton Brown did the episode Good Eats: True Brew II that I started drinking hot tea with any regularity, and then, I tend to stick with Tazo teas (I love their Awake and Chai, and if their site wasn't all Flash based, I would link to the teas, but alas, I can't). But he did make me curious about loose leaf teas.
About a year ago, curious about loose leaf teas, I did a search and came across Teas Etc, a shop located in Lake Worth, the very town I lived in. From reading their pages, it seemed like they were primarily into the mail order business, but if you called ahead, you could visit their facility.
I never did get around to visiting their facility. Nor ordering teas from them.
Fast forward to earlier this week. I decided to take the plunge and visit their facility, since I'm up in that area (roughly—give or take a few miles) anyway on Thursdays. I check, and oh—they've moved to a new facility in West Palm Beach (at least, new to me). And surprise! It's just around the corner from where Wlofie lives!
I called to arrange an appointment. They're primarily a mail order company, but they don't mind people coming by, but since they're out of the way, kind of, they like to make sure they have whatever tea you want in stock so they can package it. Their Mandarin Orange Sencha was the tea I was primarily interested in trying, and yes, they did have it in stock. I ordered 3 oz. worth.
After the Weekly Company Meeting™ (which is in the area), I picked up Wlofie and we headed over to Teas Etc. Not terribly difficult to find, but I did have to look carefully for their small sign in the window of the industrial warehouse they're located in. We walked in, I mentioned my order, and one of the employees (and I regret I didn't get his name) retrieved my order.
I guess they don't get many people there, because after that, he lead Wlofie and me to the Order Fullfillment Department on a type of tour. He pointed out a large rack of 1oz packages of all their teas and started tossing a few my way.
“Here,” he said, tossing an ounce of Lemon Ginger Snap (retails for $5.95), “try this, it's our most popular blend right now. And this,” tossing me a 1oz package of Groovy Green ($4.95), “is quite good too. Anything else you like?”
I was still trying to process the $10 dollars of free tea when Wlofie piped in. “You really enjoy Black Currant.”
“Here you go,” the employee said, tossing a 1oz package of Black Currant my way (and it isn't even listed in their website). “What about you?” This was directed at Wlofie.
“I like Black Currant too,” Wlofie said, catching a 1oz package of same.
“What about Earl Grey? You like that,” I said. Wlofie then caught a 1oz package of Earl Grey.
“And here's a price list for each of you,” he said, handing us each a five sheet pricing guide. “Anything else I can get you?”
Assured that we had everything, he took us back into the warehouse section, filled with huge 50 pound bags of tea stacked high, as he told us how their operation works (primarily through mail order, and the owner regularly goes to the Far East to buy their teas).
Both Wlofie and I were impressed with the level of customer service shown. And now that I've tried the Mandarin Orange Sencha, I can say it's quite good hot. I'll have to try it on ice to see how it holds up.
(The teapot pictured above I bought this evening at a tea shop at the mall. Cast iron, and, while a bit pricy, it'll last forever. The design motif is “The Year of the Rooster” (which I was born under) and besides, it looks like early American folk art, which I typically like.)