When getting into high quality tea, the options can be a bit overwhelming. You can read all the right information about tea preparation, teaware, and all the different types of tea, but knowing what flavors you like and what teas you'll lean toward is an ongoing process that can get pricey if you're buying high quality tea and buying it four or more ounces at a time (typical purchase quantities).
The answer to this dilemma is something that I have a lot of fun with: tea samples. They're relatively cheap (allowing for great varety for the same price), they're a small commitment (low guilt if you just pitch the ones you don't like), they don't take up a lot of space (I have a drawer full of them), and they're easy to mail (if you don't like a tea, cheap postage will send it on to another tea drinker!).
In fact, they're so convenient that I still buy samples of tea that I do like, because I drink through my tea supply slowly (due to the huge variety of tea I have) and the unopened packets stay fresh. I also frequently send samples of my favorite teas to friends (a bundle of tea samples makes a nice gift). Here are some of the companies I've sampled from. All of the companies on the list have samples that I have enjoyed, which is why I recommend them, but there are other tea companies that offer tea samples that you can try as well.
- Adagio Teas - The samples are 1 ounce tins and cost roughly $2-3. The tins are nice because some samples that come in pouches can get smooshed in transit. Just click on a tea you're interested in and you should see the sample size available.
- Upton Tea Imports - This is one of my favorite sites to order samples from, because most of the typical tea samples are $1 (more expensive teas can be up to $4-5, but most are under $2) and shipping on all domestic (U.S.) orders is $4. Upton has a ton of variety, so it's a great place to start sampling from, but in my experience the company doesn't prune its list of teas too selectively as it could (hence the huge selection).
- TeaFrog - These come in 10 gram pouches and all the samples are $2 each. The setup might look as though you have to order a 5 sample minimum, but you can choose as few as one. TeaFrog also gives out a free sample of your choosing with every order!
- SerendipiTea - These samples come in 1 ounce tins and are usually in the $5.00-$5.50 range, make them a bit expensive in terms of samples. I find their website a bit confusing/tedious to navigate, but have enjoyed more than a couple of their teas so far.
- MightyLeaf - This is one of the few companies I will drink bagged tea from (sewn mesh bags with lots of room). They don't offer individual samples, but have several samplers, both bagged and loose. Individual samples in the samplers are in the $3-4 range, six samples per most loose tea samplers. If you're willing to go bagged, I highly recommend the Artisan's Choice.
- auraTeas - This company is especially known for their excellent oolong teas, and they offer small samples of different sizes (depending on the tea) in the $2 and up range. In my experience, auraTeas samples come in tins, but I've not ordered all sizes.
- Felicitea - Custom blended teas by Felicitea have just recently become available in sample size tins in the $2 range. Felicitea recently switched to all tins for packaging of tea in an effort to become as environmentally-friendly as possible. Local customers can even bring back their tins for refills!