Friday, March 16, 2007

Upton Tea Imports

Before I begin, no, this is not the tea vendor we all love to hate that I alluded to earlier. I wrote a whole review of Teavana and it was pretty juicy, but I read over it and I sounded like a big jerk. So, instead, I've decided to do a real review (as opposed to a rant).

Upton Tea Imports Box
Name: Upton Tea Imports
Location: Hopkinton, Mass., USA
Specialty: Large variety of teas. Focus on Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon.
Rank: ÜberVendor

I have to say, Upton Tea Imports is one of the best vendors out there, especially if you are in the market for Indian/Sri Lankan teas. They carry a truly monstrous selection of teas from around the world, they package and ship their products very carefully, and they provide prompt customer service.

I simply cannot overemphasize the number of teas they stock-- it is truly mind boggling. As of March 15, 2007, I counted 250 black teas, including 59 Assams and 67 Darjeelings; 98 green teas, 32 oolongs, 18 whites, 9 pu-erhs, and 124 other teas filed under "miscellaneous." Upton Tea Imports Sample Packet19 of these are sampler sets, so that totals to a whopping 512 individual teas, 103 of which are organic. Even better is the fact that you can purchase a sample-sized packet (around 15 grams) of any of these.

Though I mostly order Darjeelings from them, I have tried a few of their teas from other regions. I wasn't all that impressed with their Japanese teas (gyokuro, fukamushi sencha, and kabusecha) but I can't say they were bad, just not that great. I also receieved a free sample of their "fancy oolong," which I didn't really enjoy.

Upton Tea Imports 200g TinDespite these shortcomings, a number of their Darjeelings have been nothing less than stunning. They have a great selection of single estate DJ's, so there is almost always something different for me to try. I haven't had a chance to try their Assams or Ceylons, but I assume they are just as spectacular.

Another reason I like Upton is that they pack their teas well. You usually have a choice of purchasing a packet or a tin, depending on the amount you are ordering. Their tins (plug-top style) and packets are well sealed (though the sample packets aren't resealable) and keep out light. They also print the packing date on their containers, which is pretty nice.Upton Tea Imports Sample Packet

Unfortunately, their web site is pretty ugly. It's functional, but still ugly. They have a lot of nice information on there, but they could probably reorganize it a bit like Adagio Teas, which has a really nice site. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that they put their product first and their image second *cough*teavana*cough* (sorry, couldn't help it), but they might get even more business if they made their site more user friendly.

The icing on the metaphorical cake is their great customer service. They are prompt, thorough, and courteous. Though I haven't had the opportunity to call them for advice, I have heard from others that they are very knowledgable and more than happy to assist you in selecting teas that you might enjoy.

One more great thing about Upton is their newsletter/catalog. If you wish, they will send you a catalog (or include it in your order) that has a very nicely written article (updated each issue) on the history or current events of the tea world. You can also find these articles online, but I've always liked reading hard copies more than web pages.

In conclusion, Upton Tea Imports is an excellent vendor, and one of my favorites. Though their website isn't much to look at, this is easy to forgive. Due to their great selection of teas, especially from the subcontinent, and their dedication to excellence in quality and service, Upton Tea Imports earns the rank of ÜberVendor.


Anonymous said...

I agree with what you said about their website; it is not very browser friendly. However, it is good to know that they are worth the effort. I shall give them a try at some point.

Mary R said...

Their website is positively awful. I actually get a headache if I'm there too long...and that's not good. Revamping that site would be one heck of a resume booster for a poor CS or graphic design student.

Loved the review. It's honest and fair, and quite the deserved compliment to Upton. I'd love to read your treatment of Teavana...but I understand how that can disintegrate into a rant.

Salsero said...

Great idea to review an entire vendor, though a difficult task to do well. I'm impressed with your balanced evaluation here, and suspect that it was a wise choice to veer away from the rocky shoals of Teavana rant.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brent,

do you prefer GENERALIST type or SPECIALIST type merchant ?

I do find that SPECIALIST merchant is more often than not is also the farmer.
I think that should warrant a better quality control ?
DO you think so ?

Alex Zorach said...

I agree with your analysis of Upton.

I think it's a good observation that Upton seems to favor the Darjeelings at the expense of other teas. I'm an Oolong lover and there are many varieties of Oolong that Upton just straight up doesn't carry. Also, they don't carry a reasonably-priced pouchoung.

But overall, I like their teas a lot!

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