Tea Companies: 52teas

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So I’m likely to be raked over the coals for this one, but I stand by it.

I don’t like 52teas.

Full disclosure, I only own five of their teas, two of which are for De and I knew I wouldn’t like when ordering them:

Root Beer (Iced Tea Series)

Watermelon Black (Iced Tea Series)

Autumn

Pina Colada Honeybush (De’s)

Frankie says RELAX (De’s)

I’m sorry. I know there are a great many 52teas fans out there, and I’m glad you’ve found a tea company you like and unlike some of the other companies I will review, I urge you to continue purchasing from them. Frank seems like a great guy, and I love how active he is on steepster. He seems to promote himself a lot, true, but so would I if I ran a tea company. He also builds a great rapport with his customers and genuinely loves his product. I also like how he reaches out into the tea community for idea and suggestions. He’s made several custom blends for frequent customers. He also includes free shipping to the US and Canada, which is huge for me, and there isn’t even a minimum purchase amount. If you buy one pouch or tea, it’s the same price to ship as ten pouches: free. I really do think it is a great company and encourage people to try them.

However. I’m not a huge fan of the “limited edition” teas. DavidsTea irritates me with that and so does 52teas. They produce a new tea every week. Some people enjoy the variety and that’s great! I’m just not one of them. To me, it helps create a tea buying frenzy, which is awesome for the tea company, but sucks for the consumer. You get into this mindset of “I love this tea, so I should buy as much as I can because it’s not going to be there next week, even though I don’t really have the money for it this week.” It’s dangerous, it really is. And for me, it takes 2-3 weeks for a package to arrive for the States, so for me to stock up on a tea, I’d have to buy a large quantity of tea without ever having tried it.

The girls at DavidsTea will tell you, that is not my way. They see me on the first of every month and every time a seasonal collection is released. I buy 10-15 grams of each new tea, take it home, and experiment in my own kitchen. I have been known to return the next day for 100g of something (Goji Pop, I’m looking at you), but very rarely do I buy a large quantity of tea without having tried it at home first.

I’ve been bored lately and reading the comments on the 52teas thread on steepster and a few things really bothered me. For one, only one of the five packages of tea I have from 52teas has steeping instructions on it. Now, I know how I personally like my teas, no more than 2 minutes for a black, a mere 30 seconds for a white, and a full five minutes for a green, because that’s how long it take De to make me a cup of tea and bring it to me (I screw up greens by looking at them. Seriously). Regardless, some teas are tricky and a starting point on how to steep them would be helpful. I don’t know about everyone out there, but I do not have a computer in my kitchen, so having to look up steep times and temperatures every time I reach for a cup of tea is a real pain. When 52teas released their Apricot Fusion, which has a base of oolong, green, and white teas, someone asked “How on earth do you steep it?”

Frank had the following to say: (found here)

In truth, I think you will have to do some experimenting. The fact is that we have a really unique set up at the shop. We have a machine that I am reluctant to name—I don’t want my competitors to get one. It’s a machine that was developed by a teahouse owner on the west coast. He modified an esspresso machine, changed the pressure and temperature settings, modified the portafilter so that the flow could be regulated, etc. Anyway, he started selling these machines to independent tea shops, but seems to have backed off of that and may be more interested now in selling to the chains (Starbucks, Java City, etc.), but I managed to get my hands on one, and essentially it does everything but matcha. This is going to sound anathema to everyone here, but it uses the same temperature (beyond boiling, under pressure) water for all of the teas. It gets away with this because the tea is not actually steeped in the water, it is leeched, so the tea is not in the water long enough to start breaking down (which is what happens when you oversteep—the water starts breaking down the woody tissue in the plant releasing tannins). Anyway, the machine allows me to make a tea in about 30 seconds (which is a good thing, since we sold about 200 teas in 4-5 hours last night), but it does not really yield much information when it comes to telling you how long you should steep the tea. Sorry.

Which…is all well and good for those customers who come in to his shop, but what about those at home? What about those who are new to tea and have no idea where to start? I know exactly how I like my teas, but I have no idea where to begin steeping a white/green/oolong blend, and am I wrong to think that it shouldn’t be on the head of the consumer to figure out how to steep it, possibly wasting a good amount of tea that they paid for? The only response to this, in my mind, should have been “You know, I’m working that out right now, I’ll let everyone know by the time packages start arriving.” Actually, the only response should have been “I’m working that out right now, the packages will go out as soon as I’ve figured it out.” But that’s just me. To me, it’s like handing someone one of those brownie-mix-in-a-jar thingies, but not telling them how to bake it. Sure, some people might be able to figure it out, but the majority would just be lost. Tea is supposed to make you calm, not frustrate you.

To be fair, the iced teas did arrive with a little slip of paper telling how to steep it for a full gallon of tea, but it was easily lost among the receipt and packaging, as mine was.

My other issue is this: Frank repeatedly encourages his customers to go over their budgets. Many people won’t see an issue with this, but to me, it’s just disrespectful. One customer bemoaned the fact that she was on a tea buying moratorium, so she shouldn’t buy the latest tea of the week, and his response was “Moratoriums are made to be broken.” Now, I know he is running a business and things need to sell for a business to be successful.

But.

People go on tea budgets and moratoriums for a reason. Nobody says “I’m going to stop buying tea” for no reason. Granted, sometimes it’s as simple as “I’m going to stop buying tea because I think I have enough” (there’s no such thing!), but other times it’s “I have to stop buying tea because if I don’t, my family will never get out of debt.” Encouraging someone who truly does not have the money to buy your product is just bad service. It’s rude, and you’re not helping them out at all, you’re just serving your own needs. (I’m on a budget, can you tell?)

Finally, what it really all boils down to for me: taste. I can overlook the rest for a tea I really love, but I have yet to try a 52teas tea that I enjoy. Autumn should be right up my alley, I love rooibos, cinnamon, and vanilla. I bought it thinking it would be the most amazing tea…and it simply fell flat. It tastes…fake. It tastes more like flavoring than the actual item in question. Cinnamon flavoring instead of cinnamon. Vanilla flavoring instead of vanilla bean. I know it’s standard practice to use actual pieces of something in a tea (ie cinnamon chips) and then boost that flavor with a touch of natural flavoring, but for me, the flavoring was overwhelming. It made me think of those big jugs of flavoring you see in candy factories, and not the flavor of fresh cinnamon cookies. It made me feel like I was drinking something filled with artificial ingredients, instead of a healthy tea. The same can be said for the watermelon tea and the root beer tea….which is truly unforgivable, in my book. How natural is “natural flavoring”, anyway?

Again, these are simply my opinions. Disagree, agree, whichever you like. I like Frank, and he seems like a mostly good guy. But that isn’t enough to keep me buying his teas, and for that, I am sorry, because I genuinely wanted to like them.

But, I don’t.

More for the rest of you, eh?

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4 thoughts on “Tea Companies: 52teas

  1. Guest

    Actually, I am really happy to see someone else voicing this opinion about 52teas. I entirely agree about all the points you made (though the tea I have tried by them are not the same ones), and have been thinking all these things for myself for a while. It’s funny how you expected mostly disagreement with your views. I myself wouldn’t even have bothered to make such a detailed post about why I don’t like them, for this very reason: I thought no one would agree. It seems like most people passionately support Frank. But I’m glad for them if they really enjoy his teas! As you said, more for the rest of them!

    • Yay! I love validation :D. As a person, I think Frank is great, but as for the teas….I recently bought the Cherry Vanilla Cola, hoping it would be different…and it wasn’t. Boo. I’m very glad to hear that someone else agrees with me, I’ve been kinda nervous about this post for a while :). Thanks for commenting and subscribing!

  2. Cattibrie

    I got 4 teas from 52teas awhile ago. It took a month to get to me (not Frank’s fault it is the postal service) but all that anticipation I really only enjoyed one of them. Some of the blends sound great but I don’t think I will order again. And the lack of steeping directions really threw me. Luckily the tea I like was a black and the one I ordered 2 bags of.

    Thanks for voicing your opinion and I personally think you are right on.

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