The Republic of Tea is a tea distributor enjoying success in many US supermarkets with an extensive selection of tea in bags, but The Republic has sorely disappointed me with its teabags. All teas come in attractive round metal canisters, and tea bags are round and unbleached, no string. Too bad pretty boxes don't necessarily mean good tea. You are better off buying Yogi tea if you are interested in immediate gratification from your local grocer. Another place you can find Republic tea is at Panera Bread, a US counter-service restaurant, and at some small coffee stands and shops. Normally you will find Ginger Peach, Blackberry Sage and other flavored, black teas, with maybe one of the Rooibos offerings and an herbal.

The Republic's loose tea, however, has never let me down. Trouble is, you can't just drive up to the shop, like you could with Teavana, Tealuxe, or Peet's Coffee in the Boston area. At one point, you could go into better kitchen shops and buy canisters of it, but since they got the bag deal at Whole Foods Market and elsewhere, loose tea is available exclusively by mail order.

The typical price(in 2006) for a canister of three ounces is around US$10-30 depending on rareness and quality. This much tea will make you around 40 cups of tea. By this reasoning, your tea will run you a quarter per cup, soundly walloping Starbucks in the coffee beans, so to speak. To be sure, the algorithm for determining number of cups dictates 1 teaspoon of tea per 8 ounces of water. This is really quite stingy, and I seldom use so little of the leaf, but the increased quality means that not only can get some flavor out of a second steeping, but the flavor actually becomes complex and subtle, steeping after steeping. This is especially true for the green and white teas, less so for herbal, red, or even black, and once you put milk on the bag, you've lost all potential future steepings.

The Republic names all its teas according to their contents, but usually also gives them a lighthearted nickname. For instance, their Lapsang Souchong is subtitled: Tea of Mystery (get it? smoke, mystery..). They produce many flavored teas, along with unmarred versions of old (some rare) standbys. The Republic is intended to seem a bit quirky, writing little poems on their canisters, and throughout the catalogue, meant to evoke "japan-esque" sentiments, and signed by the Minister of Leaves. Indeed, when I ordered my latest batch online, the confirmation emails and shipping information came from the Minister of Supply, so it is by speculation that I pretend there are many more of these "ministers" running around in robes, busily producing magic tea under the Minster of Leaves' watchful eye.

Teas I have enjoyed:

Big Green Hojicha (Chop Wood, Carry Water Tea)
As indicated by its title, this is a working-person's tea. Hojicha is a large, flat tea leaf, which is roasted over fire instead of fermented, giving it an altogether different flavor than any other green tea. It tastes like it's been roasted, though not smokey like a Lapsang Souchong. Hojicha has a lot of body, and the roasting process renders it very low caffeine. Despite the low caffeine level, it still invigorates, without the dull buzz of a heavily caffinated tea or coffee.

Spring Cherry Tea (Beginner's Mind Tea)
This tea is another sencha blend. Whereas the above two teas are fairly standard, stand alone varieties, the Spring Cherry is a secret blend of the Republic's. On inspection, it contains rose petals, sencha tea leaves, paklum buds(rare white tea), and cherry flavoring. This tea brutally disappointed me when I ran out of loose and bought it in bags, thinking it would be the same tea. It isn't. Don't buy the tea bags. Anyway, the loose tea is light, and floral. I hesitate to use the word sweet, because the water you use for this one will really affect the flavor. Sencha is light, and the paklum is even lighter, so please, filter your water or use a spring water that you enjoy drinking by itself. I would describe this tea as exquisite when done correctly. I really really like it. Another warning though, you will put this tea in the water, and taste it. Too weak. You must keep tasting it, and you must time it, because you have maybe a one minute window between where it goes from weak to exquisite and then down the slippery slope into bitter. If you miss this window, all is not lost, a little honey will take the edge off, and leave your tea quite sweet, still floral, and only slightly adulturated.

Good Hope Vanilla
Rooibos tea, or Redbush tea (sometimes called simply Red Tea), is naturally caffeine free, really a tisane since it doesn't actually contain any Camellia sinensis (the tea plant from which black, green and white tea all grow). Good Hope is flavored with a really luscious vanilla, "and a hint of cream" according to The Republic's description. Since there is no actual tea in it, it is less likely to embitter as most teas do. I usually just let this steep forever, nuking it(with the leaves removed) if it gets a little cold. It is robust, unlike some reds that can seem watery, the vanilla fills in the cracks. It is genuinely sweet, it tastes almost like there is some honey in it. It is best warm, but can handle chilling as well.

Tea of Inquiry (Green Tea with Toasted Rice)
This is a very mild, slightly sweet Genmaicha. Traditionally fermented sencha green tea is mixed with toasted rice kernels, some of which are popped up, which is why Genmaicha is often called "popcorn" tea. It's also one of the more popular teas at sushi restaurants, since it is so unobtrusive, and matches the japanese rice well.

wertperch says re Republic of Tea: We sell this tea at our local Food Co-op, not impressed. Gimme old fashioned English tea any day =)

litlebertha says: The reason I didn't review any black or black/flavored teas is that they don't normally drink them, but I do enjoy the green teas, and other tea that could never stand up to milk or sugar. The main reason I prefer Republic to other mail-away teahouses I've seen is that they have a great variety of greens and reds with minimal flavoring, for a comparably low cost. And sadly, it is difficult to appreciate English tea when I cannot handle that level of caffeine.

The Republic's own catalogue:
Me drinking lots of tasty tasty tea.

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