27 February 2007
When we lived in Ann Arbor, I bought my tea at the food co-op. One corner of the store is entirely filled with bulk herbs, spices, flour, sugar, soap, pasta...er, sort of bulk everything. This includes loose tea.
Every time I go back, I end up at the bulk shelves, filling a paper bag with the best assam I've ever had. Then I take it on the plane to California and proceed to drink it daily until gone. Rationing goes into effect when the bag gets down to 1/4 full. My pinches of tea get smaller; my steeping time gets longer; I occasionally drink darjeeling or green tea first thing in the morning. Then I run out of tea.
When we first moved to California, we discovered a huge Asian supermarket called Golden Phoenix within walking distance of our apartment. They had a complete aisle filled with nothing but tea. Granted, the tea was almost 100% bagged--even the tins turned out to contain a stack of tea bags--but this was ok. We could try a hundred brands of Asian tea we'd never seen before! We bought 100-count boxes of oolong and china green for $4 apiece. I drank them every day for months. I may not have had my loose tea, but it was certainly workable.
At Golden Phoenix, remodeling signs went up. They stayed up for several months. Then they disappeared, replaced by huge placards from the leasing agent. Fabulous. We ran out of our tea stash in about a month.
Now what? I wised up the last time I was in Ann Arbor, and bought the biggest bag of tea I'd ever seen. It's currently half full. The time has come to find a new source of tea.
You wouldn't think this was a problem in the famously, stereotypically food-oriented Bay area, but it is. My normal stores here do have some bulk bins, but they're nothing like the food co-op's. At best you can get spices and grains; tea is out of the question. That's what I would prefer: loose, bulk tea that I can shovel into the same tins every time. Whole chamomile heads. Intact leaves. Tea I can inhale before I decide to buy. Yes.
So the only loose tea vendor I know of is at the Stanford Mall. As you might infer from the words "Stanford Mall," however, it's far too expensive to actually patronize. I suppose I should make the effort to get up to the city and explore, or at least find another interesting grocery here in the suburbs. Maybe one of the hundred coffeeshops around has tea for sale as well. In the meantime, I suppose I'll have to have to rely on Twinings, Pompadour, and The Internet.