Fancy Tea-Drinking: A Little Teavana Review

I have a lot of teas to review, so I figured I’d break them up by source. That also gives me a chance to write about the tea-buying experience with each supplier, which I think is an essential part of the process.

First up is Teavana. They have a large website that’s fairly easy to navigate, but they also have stores in malls and shopping districts throughout North America — there are certainly fewer stores in Canada and Mexico than in the USA, but there are still a goodly number in both countries. There are 21 locations in Florida, and a mere 7 in Washington. But that’s not surprising, since national chains always seem to get to Washington after hitting everywhere else first.

2018 UPDATE! In the years since this post was written, Teavana was first bought out by Starbucks, then closed down by their mermaid overlords. If you’re after good tea by mail-order, my highest recommendation goes to Harney & Sons (their Hot Cinnamon Spice is to die for), with Adagio Teas right behind.

I have not yet used the Teavana website to place an order, but I have created a user ID there so I could build a wish list. I’ve also reviewed a tea there, but in order to review a tea, you need to connect with your Facebook account, instead of using your Teavana account. Which is weird.

We visited two of the Orlando-area stores: Florida Mall and the Mall at Millenia. (Yes, they spell millenia wrong. It’s Florida.) We visisted one of those stores (Millenia) on two different days, and got to experience two different employees. At both stores, we had similar experiences — clearly, the sales staff works on commission, because they have a slightly frantic delivery and try to get you to buy as many teas as possible, while also trying to get you interested in the more expensive teas.

On our very first visit, we explained that we were total tea novices, and wanted to try some samples. Teavana, however, does not have a sample program of any kind — the smallest amount of any tea that you can buy is two ounces, and their prices are based on a cost-per-two-ounces. Two ounces really isn’t all that much, unless you end up not liking the tea, in which case it’s an ounce and three quarters too much. Depending on how much tea you put in each eight-ounce cup of water, two ounces of leaves should get you 25-30 cups of tea.

On our first visit, we purchased three teas, two ounces of each. (We also got three teas on our most recent trip.) The staff will try to sell you their airtight metal tins, promising that without them, your tea will go stale and flavorless immediately. We managed to convince them that we had tins already, so we could just get the tea in bags. They’re the same paper fold-over bags you can get coffee in. We’re keeping our most recent teas wrapped up tightly in those bags, and then the bags are kept in the tins. Seems to be working fine.

Everything at Teavana appears to be about the concept of blending multiple teas together, to make the flavors of other things. We were asked if we like apple pie. Of course, the answer was yes. The fellow then started to pull THREE tins of tea down from the shelf, telling us that combining these three would give us a tea that tasted just like apple pie. One of the teas we already had, and one of them, when I smelled it by itself, was not pleasant (several of their teas have lemongrass in them, and I’m not a fan of lemongrass). So we passed on that blend. There were another two teas that, when combined, were supposed to taste like banana bread. We were already getting one of the teas, and they each smelled good on their own, so we went ahead and got both.

I was fascinated by the fact that the commissioned sales guy needed to be dealt with kind of forcefully. Our most recent visit, I went in with a list I’d made from perusing the website. He’d pull a tea down from the shelf, pop the lid, and wave it over the top so we could smell it. If I made a grimacing face and said anything that wasn’t an absolute no, such as, “Um, I’m not sure I like that one,” he would set it aside and say, “So that’s a maybe, then?” I learned quickly to respond to icky-smelling teas with an “Absolutely NO on that one.”

They measure out two ounces, but somehow (just like when you’re getting meat and cheese sliced at the deli counter), it always comes out a little above two. I think all of our teas came out at 2.3 ounces. Which was only a dollar more each, but still. One time the first scoop came out to 1.9 ounces, and I would have been fine with that, but NO. Two ounces minimum.

Teavana also has an app for both Android and iOS. It has a tea timer, list of locations, list of teas, and of course, a guide to blending your teas. Because why buy only one, when you can buy three, and get the flavor of apple pie?

All right, so, onward to the reviews of the teas we’ve tried so far.

Earl Grey White – Scott’s a fan of Earl Grey, but wanted a decaf version, thus the white tea base. It’s certainly the flavor of Earl Grey (the citrus fruit bergamot gives it that sharp tangy note), but it didn’t excite me. It really didn’t rock my socks any more than any other Earl Grey I’ve had, which means it probably wasn’t worth the price of $10.00 per two ounces. 6 out of 10.

Tulsi Dosha Chai Rooibos – I’m the big chai fan in the house. And on every single visit of our three to Teavana, they pull out this chai, and the White Ayurvedic Chai, and want to sell us both together. I liked the smell of this one (and didn’t like the smell of the other), but the flavor itself isn’t quite what I love in a chai. It’s all right, but it’s not my favorite of all of the chais I’ve tried. It’s like there’s some key ingredient missing, which leaves it a little flat. It’s decaf, thanks to the rooibos tea base. 6 out of 10.

Zingiber Ginger Coconut Rooibos – This one just smelled great; I wouldn’t have chosen it from the name. So I guess the sales person did her job, getting me to buy a tea I wouldn’t otherwise have bought. The flavor is sort of like a gingerbread cookie, and somehow it’s naturally sweet enough that I don’t need any sweetener added. The website says it’s a coconut flavor with a dash of ginger, but I found it to be the opposite — very gingery, and just a very slight hint of coconut. I believe this was one of the three teas that make the apple pie flavor. 7 out of 10.

Toasted Nut Brulee Oolong – Scott just liked the sound of this one, and the smell was heavenly. It’s the best of the Teavana teas so far, a nice dessert-style tea with flavors of cookies and spiced cider. This is also one of the two teas you can blend to make a tea that tastes like banana bread. 9 out of 10.

Strawberry Lemonade Herbal – Most of these herbal teas don’t actually contain any tea; they’re made up of aromatics and tasty flavors that are supposed to just make a yummy, decaf hot drink. This one smelled great, but in the brewing, a lot of the great flavors were lost. Despite making sure our teaspoons of leaves were heaping, the finished product was weak and lifeless, like the berries and lemons just cast a sideways glance at my cup. I’ll probably double up on the leaves next time, and try it over ice. 4 out of 10.

Caribbean Calypso Mate on the left, Toasted Nut Brulee on the right, for the banana bread tea recipe.

Caribbean Calypso Mate – the second part of the banana bread recipe, as well as our only mate tea (which apparently has just as much caffeine as coffee). The funny thing is, they don’t mention banana at all on the web page for this tea. It does smell strongly of banana, and if you smell it at the same time as you’re smelling the Toasted Nut Brulee, it does indeed smell like banana bread. But for some reason, just like with the Strawberry Lemonade, the fruit notes just don’t come through that strong. Scott had this one on its own, and found it weak. In the blend, the fruit flavors were totally overpowered by the Toasted Nut Brulee. (There was also that slight icky tang of lemongrass.) Alone: 5 out of 10. Blended with Toasted Nut: 6 out of 10.

So we at least got a couple of good teas out of the batch, but I do wish they’d sell smaller sample sizes. And it’s definitely the right move to go in with a list of things you want to smell, so you’re not steamrolled into buying whatever tea they want you to buy. Don’t be afraid to tell them no, and don’t be afraid to just peruse the huge wall of teas and pick out what YOU want to smell, not what they’re currently pushing. The staff there do know their stuff, but they’re tainted by the untrustworthiness of commission sales.

Overall the quality of their teas is good, but I think they might make their teas a bit more complicated than they need to be. If each tea had one or two flavors, they’d be easier to blend (in my opinion) than these teas with six, seven, eight flavors. (I’ll get more into this with my review of Adagio teas [an online shop].)

I’m already building a fresh wishlist of more Teavana teas to try out, but with the pricey two-ounce minimum, combined with the fact that we have a ton of their teas hanging around already, it’ll be a while before we go back.