It’s easy enough to discuss tea in the abstract: try this blend or that blend, brew teas like this in a certain way, and so on. Less discussed is where you should actually buy the tea from, which brands you should trust, and which teas you can rely on. In this article, we’re going to do just that.
The best tea companies include Taylors of Harrogate (the makers of Yorkshire Tea), Twinings, Jade Leaf Matcha, and more. There are also several independent tea companies that are well worth considering for your brew, such as Bird & Blend and Sea Tea.
Read on to find out more about the best tea companies and their signature blends as of 2023!
1. Taylors of Harrogate – Yorkshire Tea
When it comes to tea, there are few companies with as much pedigree as Taylors of Harrogate. Founded in 1883 by Charles Edward Taylor and his brother as CE Taylor & Co (imagine sidelining your own brother as ‘& Co!’), the company has been a true standard-bearer of the tea world for nearly 150 years, evolving from a handful of ‘Tea Kiosks’ in Harrogate and Ilkley, West Yorkshire, into a global brand endorsed by the likes of Gladiator’s Russell Crowe and Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart. Taylor’s was acquired by Betty’s Tea Rooms in 1962 and their signature Yorkshire Tea blend was given its own branding in 1977. It even went on to have a cameo in Friends!
Yorkshire Tea is predominantly an Assam, though it’s carefully blended with Kenyan and Sri Lankan teas for a more complex flavor profile. The result? A malty, well-rounded brew with a refreshing aftertaste. Advertised with the slogan “let’s have a proper brew,” it’s easy to see why the Yorkshire Tea range of teas is so popular: this is no wishy-washy, slightly nauseating brew. It’s strong, a little bitter, and goes down a treat – with or without milk and sugar.
Interestingly, Taylor’s originally produced several blends of tea that accounted for different types of water across Yorkshire. In various areas of the UK, water can have higher levels of calcium and magnesium (termed ‘hard’ water) or sodium (termed ‘soft’ water). While this does not always have an effect on the taste of the water, Yorkshire Tea to this day sells a ‘hard water’ blend (available in the UK) which they claim is more suitable for use with calcium and magnesium-rich water.
2. Bird & Blend – Brighton Rock
Bird & Blend (formerly known as the Bluebird Tea Company), has to be one of the most exciting independent tea companies out there. Not yet ten years old, this UK-based company already offers a staggering number of blends, has scooped several accolades, and its homegrown ‘communiTEA’ continues to flourish. In contrast to many of the more established brands in the UK, Bird & Blend is focused on bringing joy and accessibility to the tea-drinking experience – something which so often is hidden behind poshness and eye-popping price tags. They even have a monthly tea-tasting subscription box, so you can experience flavors like Candy Floss, Pear Cider and more.
Given the range of teas available from Bird & Blend it can be a little difficult to select a signature brew. However, the company does carry a blend of tea for each city in which it has a store as an homage to the area; since Bird & Blend began in Brighton, we’ve picked Brighton Rock. A minty, low-caffeine oolong spruced up with red peppercorns, blue pea flower and sprinkles (yes, sprinkles!), Brighton Rock is fresh and spicy all at once – and quite beautiful to look at. If you’ve ever been to Brighton, you’ll know that it makes a fitting cuppa for the multicultural coastal city.
3. Twinings – English Breakfast Tea
For a product derived predominantly from India and China, it’s a little strange that tea is seen as a quintessentially British drink. The missing link? Twinings. While Twinings was hardly the first purveyor of tea in the UK, it quickly became one of the most popular and remains one of the most widely consumed tea brands in the world. The company’s founder, Thomas Twining, originally worked for the odious East India Company before buying a coffee shop on the Strand, London, in 1706.
Coffee houses were hugely popular in the 18th century, where previous gathering places had almost singularly been limited to pubs – and pubs, for obvious reasons, weren’t exemplary forums for political and philosophical debate. However, when Twining began to sell tea he discovered that it was far more popular, and within a few years sold no coffee at all. That shop on the Strand still exists to this day and is now the oldest extant business in the city at 315 years old.
Choosing a signature blend for a company as varied as Twinings is a challenge. There’s a good argument to be made that its signature blend should be Earl Grey, as it was instrumental in popularising the use of bergamot oil in tea. However, bergamot was also used by several of the company’s competitors, so it cannot be considered a unique innovation. That’s why we’ve selected their classic English Breakfast blend. Light, refreshing and the color of honey, the Twining English Breakfast tea is the breakfast benchmark in the entire industry. We’re quite confident that you will have had it before, but there’s always room for a little touch of luxury in your life.
4. Jade Leaf Matcha – Organic Ceremonial Matcha
While matcha has existed in Japanese cuisine for centuries, there’s no doubt that the green tea powder is having its moment in the spotlight in the West. Matcha is now more widely available than ever, but its quality varies significantly, not least because of the grading system that delineates which matcha is best suited for which purpose; this can leave consumers confused. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered: we thoroughly recommend Jade Leaf Matcha, and particularly their organic ceremonial matcha for tea.
The Jade Leaf Matcha team has cultivated high-quality matcha since 1858, but only opened its first store in the United States in 2014. That wealth of experience is priceless. What you can put a price on is their matcha, which retails at an ever-so-slightly eye-watering $24.95 for a 30g tin (or $0.83/gram). It’s worth noting that buying in bulk reduces the cost significantly, with even a 100g tin (the next size up) selling at $0.50/gram, with the cheapest possible price being $0.33/gram for a 1lb pouch. While this is far more expensive than the matcha – or matcha substitutes – you’d find on store shelves, trust us when we say that the price is entirely justified.
How so? Well, this is first harvest matcha. When the tea plant is grown, it stores nutrients over the winter months, creating a rich and layered flavor. In the heat of springtime, these nutrients are used up by the plant, meaning that the tea becomes less flavorful as time passes. As a result, the first harvest after wintertime is highly prized. Furthermore, Jade Leaf Matcha’s signature line features a blend of matcha from several regions of Japan, with a richness from the Uji region matcha and lightness from the Kagoshima matcha. Once you’ve tried Jade Leaf Matcha, you’ll accept no substitutes.
5. Sea Tea – Sea Chai
Tea is often thought of as a British drink, and largely an English one. After all, it’s called ‘English Breakfast,’ and Earl Grey was English, and afternoon tea is a stereotypically English tradition. Rarely is it considered a Scottish drink – but after trying any of Sea Tea’s blends, you’ll throw all of your assumptions out of the window. With ingredients grown on the Isle of Kerrera in the Inner Hebrides, these teas will transport you to the stark beauty of Scotland in an instant. Kerrera, by the way, in 2016 had a population of 45. That’s it. Forty-five. After the teas are made, they’re shipped to the Scottish mainland in a tiny boat and then sent on to you.
While every blend is exciting (who could say no to ‘Cocorose’?), we’ve selected Sea Chai. This blend contains the usual base of chai spices – including cardamon, star anise and cinnamon – but also uses a host of intriguing ingredients for a sharp and distinctly Scottish flavor. These include spearmint, juniper and dulce seaweed. Not every herbal tea can boast that it tastes like waves crashing over a rocky island at sunset, but Sea Chai certainly can.
6. Bigelow Tea Company – Constant Comment
We covered Constant Comment in our article on great alternatives to Earl Grey and praised it for its fruity flavor, but we’d be remiss not to mention its incredible story. In fact, Constant Comment has always been the bedrock upon which the Bigelow Tea Company was built. The company has since diversified into a wide range of teas, including a range of cold water infusions, but it’s their spiced black tea that has stood the test of time. Company founder Ruth Campbell Bigelow created the first version of Constant Comment in 1945 in the kitchen of her Brooklyn brownstone, and it quickly became a tea sensation. In fact, it became the talk of the town, leading to its unique moniker. The Bigelow Tea Company was born, and it remains in the hands of the Bigelow family to this day, with Ruth’s granddaughter, Cindi Bigelow, acting as the CEO.
Constant Comment is flavored with a mix of spices that remains a closely guarded family secret (though we have to assume it’s not the same secret spices used in the production of KFC and Dr Pepper) and orange rind. This creates a hearty flavor profile with a citrus zing, perfect at any time of day. Plus, when you sip at a hot cup of Constant Comment, you know you’re drinking in a piece of American history.
7. Yogi Tea – Classic
There are few drinks as spiritual as tea. Whether or not you’re a believer, there’s no question that restorative, steaming tea has been a key ingredient in spiritual practices for centuries, and that’s something that Yogi Tea carries on to this day – at the very least, their brand, sincerely or otherwise, invokes that history. If you aren’t especially spiritual, the description of its tea range as variously “sensual,” “magical” and “Ayurvedic” might raise hackles, but there’s no arguing with the quality of the tea itself. (‘Ayurveda,’ incidentally, is an Indian form of holistic medicine that the Indian Medical Association has classified as quackery.)
Yogi Tea’s Classic blend exemplifies the best of Indian flavors for a truly warming brew. With a core spice trio of cardamon, cinnamon and ginger, Yogi Tea is billed as the ideal accompaniment to yoga but would taste just as good – if not better – out of a flask on a cold, wintry day or when snuggled up on the couch. Whether or not it’s good for what ails you, this aromatic tea is sure to put a smile on your face.
8. Whittard of Chelsea – English Rose Tea
What if we told you that Whittard of Chelsea wasn’t in Chelsea to begin with? While that fact alone might not cause you to drop your cuppa in shock, the story of how Whittard became Chelsea-based is actually quite intriguing. The chain was founded by Walter Whittard in 1886 on Mincing Lane, not far from the journalistically renowned Fleet Street, and began expanding into multiple stores in the early 20th century. It was after his death in 1935, and the acquisition of the company by his sons, that the Whittard luck began to take a turn for the worse.
In 1939 and 1940, as the Second World War devoured Europe, Africa and East Asia, tea supplies were requisitioned for British rations. Not only that, but the original Whittard warehouse was obliterated by bombing during the Blitz; the company lost its entire stock as well as all of its equipment. Whittard was forced to undergo a swift overhaul, but within twelve months was back in business at a property on Fulham Road, Chelsea. Surviving through such adversity, it’s no wonder that Whittard has gone on to become one of the most successful specialty stores in the UK, and even operates in Japan and the US.
A rose tea is by no means a unique blend – in fact, it’s one of the prettiest teas out there, and highly popular – but Whittard’s English Rose blend exudes sumptuous quality. Far from being a perfume-y nightmare, like some rose blends, English Rose has the richness of Turkish Delight without any of the heady aftertaste. This is likely because the tea draws direct influence from the Chinese Meigui Gongfu tea, a traditionally delicate rose tea that prioritizes the use of rosebuds over rose oil. England might have been bombed, but its roses still bloom.