While this blog enjoys a readership that spans the globe, this particular article is for tea customers in the U.S. I’ve written about small, specialized tea vendors and larger, more general tea vendors, but another key factor is where they’re based. There are plusses and minuses to buying from someone in the U.S. versus a company in another country.
Most tea consumed in the U.S. is imported. One source says the amount is about 70% and another says it’s closer to 80%. That imported tea, much of it brandname teas such as PG Tips and Barry’s, is sold to tea drinkers here either through a U.S. vendor or ordered directly from one overseas. I’ve personally dealt with both and see advantages and disadvantages. This isn’t one of those “buy local” things where sentiment dictates that we support those operating a local business. I am addressing this from a practical standpoint.
On the one hand, it seems that a vendor who has direct contacts, that is, is right there in the region, with tea growers and processors will carry the best and freshest products. My experience over the past few years with a local vendor in Darjeeling, India, certainly affirms that impression. Another vendor in China has similarly shown that they can source only the best, although at first I was quite skeptical (mainly because their site had no real info on who they were).
On the other hand, a vendor here in the U.S. can be easier to order from, and I have found that the products arrive more quickly — usually a matter of a day or two versus a week or more from an overseas vendor (the packages can get held up in U.S. Customs for days or even weeks). I’m still waiting for a package from a company in Europe that was sent off about 10 days ago. One time a package from India never arrived since it was bounced back to the sender due to some minor error on the customs form. (He resent it, and it arrived in about a week.) Returns can be simpler, too, especially since our retail culture adopted a “the customer is always right” attitude decades ago while other countries aren’t always as accommodating. (When I lived in Germany, store personnel took it as a personal affront when I would want to return something, as if I were accusing them of selling bad merchandise.)
Considerations like shipping costs and sales taxes also come in to play. If you buy from a U.S. vendor, the price you pay for the product includes the cost for it to be shipped to them, plus you pay shipping from the vendor to you. That’s typical for imported products. You’ll pay sales tax for anything bought at a brick-and-mortar store, of course, and from a U.S. online vendor if you live in the same state where they are located. The overseas vendor will charge you the cost of shipping, but you usually won’t be charged sales tax.
Knowing who the vendor is can also be pretty even. You’re just as likely to know who the people are who own and run the vendor when dealing with a company overseas as your are here in the U.S. However, I have found it to be generally easier finding out about U.S. vendors online than those operating in other countries.
Importing tea into the U.S. can be a tricky business. The vendor has to deal with the whole issue of USFDA requirements and import regulations, just for starters. Tea is one of those items that has some fairly strict guidelines since mold growth is possible and pesticide/herbicide usage is different in other countries, but there are no quotas. There are also certain labeling requirements (ingredients, nutritional value, and if you live in New York City you need Mike Bloomberg’s personal “nanny stamp” of approval). So, I tend to applaud the U.S. vendor who has gone through all this, bit the bullet, so to speak, to bring this wonderful beverage to us all. And the overseas vendor who has been able to figure out how to work with our import system is also to be applauded. After all, growing the tea and harvesting and processing and packaging don’t matter if you can’t get that tea to market and into the hands of us tea drinkers.
Whether you order from a U.S. vendor or an overseas one, give them a bit of leeway. They have jumped through a lot of hoops either way just to be able to make that tea available for your purchase and enjoyment.
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