Because we have been around now for a few years, do our share of Tweeting and Facebooking and other social media, and are extremely easy to find when you Google for loose-leaf tea in California, we are getting more and more requests from importers, distributors, and growers to try their teas.  Even customers sometimes give us leads to real gems.  One of the things I love about being in the specialty tea business is that ever-present carrot that hangs in front of us, the reward of finding that treasure, that needle in the haystack. Over the years, we have found that we just cannot get everything we are looking for from even the creme de la creme of companies.  Finding the diamonds requires diligent searching and may come from the most unlikely of sources.   We spend part of almost every week tasting tea and herbal samples that we either request or are sent to us.  To date, we bring in house only about 10% of everything we cup, on average.  Here are a few finds we have recently added:
“The Delicious Mutt” – This is a black tea with no particular pedigree, blended with essential orange oil, cinnamon, and orange rind.  Blended fresh for us every time we order, it has a natural sweetness that requires no additions and blows out of the huge glass jar right by our POS every single time we refill it.  In fact, customers have taken to hoarding it when they see the contents of the jar drop below the halfway mark. 
Milk Oolong #2 – Milk Oolong #1 was a find from about a year ago belonging to a very small importer we found.  We have cupped many milk oolongs, but this one exuded a buttery richness and the infusion delivered the creamiest mouthfeel we had experienced.  Because of circumstances within their company, they were not able to send tea to us for months, so we began a search for a substitute.  None was found.  Then, one happy day, we were cupping samples from an importer new to us and found a tea that was not called a milk oolong by them and … POW!  The lights came on and the music started.  I called and asked and, of course, it was a milk oolong.  It had to be – the same buttery aroma, the same creaminess, and not quite as heavy as the first.  It’s behind our counter now and selling quickly.
Vanilla Citrus Mint Rooibos – Same importer / blender as above.  The least earthy-tasting rooibos we’ve ever found, and such a well-balanced blend that you get hints of all the ingredients, but just enough to give it its name.  By the way, we name our teas and herbals exactly how they taste to us, rather than give them dramatic or cute names.
Plum Oolong – This exquisite tea is one a customer brought to us from her own adventures in the world of tea.  She had another tea find as well, but only the plum oolong caught our attention.  The aroma is intoxicating, but it is much more subtle when infused.  One of the few oolongs I believe can be iced with good results. 
On my back counter is a pile of teas we never even got to this week – some 2011 second-flush Darjeelings and Assams from the Lochans (thanks, Vivek!) and about four senchas from one of my favorite sources.  Hopefully, we will get to them sometime this week.   I did give tiny samples from three of them to customers who have amazing palates and asked them for their input.  We have a very active interface with our customers and can learn from them.  We want to sell what they enjoy.
Isn’t the tea business wonderful?  What gems are you looking for?  They’re out there.  We’re on a quest for the best.