May52012

Teavana’s Monkey Picked Oolong

Just got an email today from Teavana. It said, “Sip the highest grade Oolong in the world.” and my first thought was “Bullshit”

The description of this tea on the site reads:

Description:  As legend has it, Buddhist monks trained monkeys to gather the youngest leaves from the tops of tea trees for this Imperial Reserve blend. When infused, the leaves unfurl to create a complex yet light orchid aroma and highest grade of oolong in the world.

And they charge fucking $25 for TWO OUNCES! For basic mild oxidized Tie Guan Yin oolong tea, which wouldn’t and doesn’t give it that “light orchid aroma” which is actually found the lightly oxidized Tie Guan Yin. I have had Tie Guan Yin which is fresher, more aromatic, higher quality and I can get EIGHT OUNCES of that stuff for the same price Teavana sells two ounces.

I think I was fortunate enough to have a good quality Tie Guan Yin before I ever heard about this “Monkey Picked Oolong”. I just kept hearing people rave about Teavana’s “best” tea, so I thought I would see what Teavana was all about and so I ordered the smallest amount I could, for $25 bucks. I still can’t get over that price. And when I got it, I had a “this is it?” reaction? Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that bad, but for the quality it definitely isn’t worth the price by a long shot.

And that brings me to the claim that Teavana has the highest quality teas in the US, which is pretty much a bullshit claim. Pretty much the US produces an insignificant amount of tea, while China, India both produce over half the tea in the world. Also many pure teas that people enjoy so much, such as Tie Guan Yin, which kind of have to be produced in China since the taste and the process the tea goes through is specific to one particular region, due to the specific environment and soil quality.

My long winded point is, that their criteria of “highest quality in the US”, is pretty much based on where they buy that tea from other countries, and any other US company can buy that tea as well. It isn’t like Teavana is doing anything differently, with their pure teas at least, that someone else can just buy. I think they mean to say that they are the largest US retail loose leaf tea chain with the highest quality of teas, which is true, since they are the ONLY retail loose leaf tea chain in the US. It is easy to be the best when you are the only one in the room.

It seems like in the end they tend to brainwash their loyal customers that there are no other sellers of loose leaf teas in the US. That the only way they get that “awesome” “Monkey Picked Oolong” is to pay their insane prices. They are the gatekeepers to all that is tea, creating a false sense that the US tea market is a captive market justifying the insane prices, the pushy customer service, and somewhat unethical business practices. Fooling customers into thinking that they are a captive audience.

However, the truth is that the best teas I have had I have bought from US companies. They are small companies, in which the owners physically go to China, India, Taiwan to get the best quality teas. I can go to my local tea shop and talk with the owner of the company in person and ask him questions about the plantations and the processes, the working conditions, or how to judge quality of particular types of teas. Even if I have to order from some US online sites, I get the package with a note written personally by the owner of the company.

The all just boils down to the fact that Teavana is a business, not the sweet little personable tea shop down on the corner. They are out to make money. They probably get their teas from large plantations because they can supply the large amounts of tea, and not necessarily because they produce the highest quality of tea. Also most of their teas are blends. I have heard they have good blends. They are good at making blends, but don’t be fooled in thinking that they are the only or the first company in the US to make tea blends. Actually most tea blends kind of have to be made in the US, because to import flavored tea is taxed. So it just makes fiscal sense to blend everything in the country.

But anyway, it seems like they tend to want to place large bits of fruit in their tea blends just for the hell of it. I could barely find the real tea, I just kept seeing berries, lemongrass, chunks of mango, whatever, and I have to dig for the real tea. But if you prefer blends, good for you, but most blends I like actually have tea which is flavored, not a bunch of fruit and stuff with some tea.

One last thing, the name of this over priced tea, “Monkey Picked Oolong” and the story that they train monkeys to pick the tea from the tops of tea trees. Umm, if you Google tea plantations, you see that all of the tea plants are right about waist height, while it is true that tea plants can grow up to a tree for the ease of picking, they continuously prune them to a shorter height. So they kind of don’t need monkeys. Also the Buddhist monks probably didn’t “train” them (even if there is some smidgen of truth in the legend) more so antagonized them, by throwing rocks and sticks at them, until the monkeys decided to retaliate by throwing what they had available to them, a handful of tea leaves to throw back down. So every time those monks came back the monkeys eventually had the response “Hey look the assholes are back.”

But the more probably name for things that are dubbed “Monkey” is because it was picked for the purpose of offering it up to the Monkey King deity. And if you pick anything to devote to a deity it is most likely going to be of a high quality.

So in conclusion, “Monkey Picked Oolong” isn’t high quality, and it doesn’t even deserve the name Monkey. And don’t take this as an argument that no tea should cost $25 for two ounces, last week I had some Li Shan, DEAR FUCKING GOD, worth every penny.

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