Shopping for Tea

I wouldn't really call myself an avid tea drinker, but when my local supplier for Yorkshire Gold went out of business, I had to get serious about finding a new favourite tea. While it's fun to bug friends to send you boxes of tea, that gets tiring for everyone after a while. Instead of trying to find an alternative source, I decided to branch out into the world of teas to see what else I liked.

I wouldn't call myself an avid shopper either, but there are times when I'm willing to do a little comparison shopping. Just before leaving for OSCON I put together two tea orders: one from Adagio and one from Upton. I've shopped with Adagio before (and was even part of their very early link-to-Adagio-get-free-stuff offer when they first opened), but Upton was new-to-me (I tried it at Addison's recommendation). I've been enjoying the two purchases and I thought it was time for a bit of a comparison.

Overall: I will shop with both companies again, but for different reasons. Upton wins on flavour of traditional blends (what I typically drink during the day) and packaging; Adagio wins for fun blends and gift packaging.


I love their little tins. On my very first Adagio order I thought they were the best thing ever. This time 'round I got three different sampler packs: black, green and white. That makes 12 little tins. I also got a sample-sized container of the chocolate tea. Thirteen tins. (The tea shelf is no longer in love with the little tins.) The order was well packed, but packaging is the real kicker. This box represents a lot of "extra" to me.

Adagio tea shipmentAdagio tea shipment

In larger sizes I got the Earl Grey Bravo, the chocolate chai and the mint chocolate tea (a member-contributed flavour). When you're getting this many flavours the tins get a bit overwhelming and slightly ridiculous. There's no way to refill the small tins and they end up going into the recycle bin. Maybe I could find something other use for them, but realistically that's a lot of tins to deal with. Flavour-wise the teas are fine. I will probably reorder the mint chocolate and chocolate chip teas. The Earl Grey Bravo will take me a long time to get through, and it's unlikely I'll re-order it.

I like Adagio's Web site and their customer service is good. It's easy to find what I'm looking for and it's easy to order lots of things. Shipping rates and delivery times to Canada are reasonable. The social aspects of the site seem fun, although I've never participated in the online community (nor submitted a flavour of tea). Adagio seems to have done everything right, but the over-packaging doesn't sit well with me. It's perfect for gifts, but once you start getting crazy with sampling new teas, the packaging feels less appropriate.


Let's start with the basics: their site sucks. It's old school and crammed with information without providing easy entry points for people who are new to tea. The search works and there are recommendations of, "If you like this, you'll also like that." It's hard to see if you've already ordered a specific tea and getting duplicates if you're getting lots of samples is easy (I managed to avoid this). The shipping rates and delivery times to Canada are reasonable. So far there have been some real winners flavour-wise (all of the Earl Greys and the two chais have been great) and one absolute loser (a Japanese tea that came out way too bitter because the water temp and timing were off--but that's my fault, not the tea's).

Teas are packaged in vacuum packed bags (you can get tins as well, but the default is a vacuum packaged bag, as shown below).

Upton Tea samplersUpton Tea label

I wish I could reseal the bags (you can order reseable bags for storage), but I much prefer the small bags to Adagio's tins for trying out new flavours.

As part of the Upton shipment I asked for a paper catalogue. I've been adding notes to it about the teas I do and don't like. I'll definitely order from this company again.

Moral of the story

For my "grown up" tea purchases I'll continue with Upton. Even though I don't know a lot about tea I feel their flavours are stronger and more delicious. I may still do the odd Adagio purchase if they have a fun blend that I want to try, but over all the cute tins and social networking hasn't earned my exclusive business.

Environmental side-note: Unfortunately Owen Sound does not take "film" (aka bags of any kind) for recycling pickup, so the Upton packages will have to go in the garbage whereas the Adagio tins can go into the recycling. Landfill is never good, so that's unfortunate. I don't know the energy costs to produce, ship (at least twice) and recycle a tin that held two pots of tea, but for some reason I feel better about the landfill option. The goal of samplers is to find something that I like so that I can buy it in bulk though, not to continue buying in small container sizes.

PS No one paid me to write this review and none of the links above are affiliate links.

I love Adagio, but I hate

I love Adagio, but I hate their "little tins". The larger containers with the plastic clamp-top lids are awesome, though. Even better is once you've gotten enough of them, you can re-order the teas you like in bulk (the come in a bag) and then refill those containers. Very eco-friendly there! I'll have to give Upton a try, though. I've got some empty Adagio containers I can put them in. :-)

I've been a great fan of

I've been a great fan of Ahmed Tea's Ceylon and Assam Teas. A pound (500g) is about 7 bucks US, and lasts for months, and is ceriously the best tea I've ever had.

But then, I'm more of a Yorkshire Red guy myself.

Just a quick note on the

Just a quick note on the "landfill" bit, but landfills aren't bad. Properly managed with a long term view, they can and do provide the potential for renewable energy just by sitting there. Landfills produce methane which can be burned and used as a clean source of energy.

And any serious study on recycling will show that the costs for a good portion of what is currently considered the politically correct "green" thing to do actually costs MORE energy than just pitching the junk, to yep, the landfill. (Notice I said energy. This includes greenhouse emission and waste that ends up in...the landfill.)

Penn and Teller did a wonderful show on this very subject a few years ago that sums up the "opposition" to knee jerk recycling quite succinctly.

Oh and please don't take that last statement as a blast at you directly, Its just another perspective on something that usually only gets one side of the coin revealed in our "green politically correct world".

Tea is consumed by many

Tea is consumed by many people but most of them are taking just as a habit & very few people do have a choice on it.Some like black tea or hard,but the brand makes a lot of change just Upton as in your case. crystal colored wine glasses

I think a lot about packaging

I think a lot about packaging of tea too. I do like the way Upton uses biodegradable packing peanuts, but I don't like the way the bags end up in the landfill.

Do you know about Rishi Tea? They are one of the leaders in sustainability in many ways: packaging, energy usage, as well as issues of fair trade, organic agriculture, and supporting small farmers and preserving local growing traditions. More info on Rishi's page on green initiatives.

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