Living in Australia, I am no stranger to high shipping costs (often paired with high US dollar conversions) that can make it much more expensive to buy tea than someone from, for example, the USA.
I can suggest a few things from my own experience that help mitigate these costs: They mainly come down to (1) using Australian tea vendors where possible, (2) taking advantage of regular sales from international tea vendors and (3) group buying.
(Disclaimer: All pricing and discounts I reference below are based on data from 2022 and is included just to give a general impression of their frequency and scale. They will, of course, vary year to year.)
Australian tea vendors
Aussie vendors often have much cheaper shipping costs and/or lower ‘free shipping’ thresholds than international vendors. They also have the advantage of selling in AUD, which can mitigate large USD currency fluctuations.
Below I will cover my personal “most-ordered-from” Australian online vendors as examples.
Kuura is a pu’er specialist vendor I love that directly source and press their own productions in Yunnan, China but sell and ship from Melbourne. They have their own distinct style but their overall approach has been inspired from white2tea (my favourite international vendor, mentioned in detail below). Even if young raw pu’er is not your thing, I still think it’s worth trying their ripe pu’er and Yunnan black + white tea productions.
They have a free shipping threshold in AU of $75 (and $90 AUD for New Zealand) at the time of writing, but sometimes have “sales” on where this threshold is much lower. These don’t happen often though, maybe a couple of times a year. The best way to be aware of their sales is to sign up to their newsletter using the form at the footer of their site. Otherwise they ship within Australia using Australia Post, which isn’t too expensive. If you live in Melbourne you can probably arrange free in-person pick-up from their North Melbourne HQ.
Tea Angle (Sydney)
Tea Angle started off as dancong oolong specialists but have broadened their range over the years. While their catalog is not deep, everything I’ve tried from them (greens, whites, oolongs, blacks, pu’er) has been great.
Their AU free shipping threshold is $49, otherwise they have a flat rate Australian shipping fee of $8.95. If you live in Sydney there’s also an option to visit their store in Marrickville for free pick-up. They almost never have sales (sometimes Black Friday).
Long’s Tea (Sydney)
Long’s Tea is Guangzhou-based but has had a physical presence in Australia since 2006. They have a broad catalog of teas and I particularly like their ripe pu’ers and roasted oolongs.
Their AU free shipping threshold is $60 with a flat rate of $10 below that. For those in Sydney they have a physical store in Hurstville where you can browse and buy. In terms of sales they will usually do:
- End of Financial Year (end of June – 20% off)
- Black Friday (end of November – 20% off)
Shipping discounts from international vendors
My favourite international vendors sell in USD (even if some have the option to display prices in AUD). However many of them will have free shipping sales at regular times of the year.
To reduce the impact of buying in USD I use a credit card designed for international use that has no currency conversion fees and good exchange rates to avoid extra costs. If I’m using PayPal with this card then I opt to avoid using PayPal’s currency conversion option because it’s much worse than my card’s exchange rate.
International vendors with free shipping sales
white2tea is my favourite tea vendor. They specialise in pu’er but have an increasingly large catalog of all types of Chinese teas. They ship from China and normally have a flat US$9.99 shipping cost (about AU$15 at the moment) and no free threshold for large orders.
They do brief free shipping sales (sometimes just over weekend) for orders above a certain amount (usually around US$20-50) pretty regularly, and I will usually wait for one of these to make my next purchase. Commonly these sales tend to be around:
- first weekend of the new year (January),
- the northern hemisphere spring (April),
- the end of northern hemisphere summer (August), and
- Black Friday (end of November).
You usually need to use a coupon code to take advantage of the sales. The best way to be aware of the sales and the relevant coupon codes is to subscribe to their newsletter.
Bitterleaf Teas are also pu’er specialists but have very strong dancong oolong and green tea offerings. They too ship from China with a US$12.95 flat rate, or free for orders over US$99.
Notable recurring sales include:
- anniversary sale (mid October): US$5 flat rate shipping, or free over $US70, plus other discounts and offers,
- Black Friday sale (end of November): free shipping over US$70, plus many other discounts and offers.
They will sometimes have smaller sales at other points in the year but they don’t usually include shipping discounts. Once again, the best way to stay across the details is via their mailing list.
Another strategy I have used to mitigate costs when buying tea is doing group orders with other local people. In my case I help run a ‘tea enthusiast’ social group at my work. When I’m planning to place an order I will let others in our group chat room know and invite them to join in. This way we can either share the shipping costs or the combined order will allow us to reach the free shipping threshold.
An additional benefit to group buying is that it helps me introduce new teas to those people just starting their tea journey. Often when I tell people about the order I’m placing, they will be curious and ask for recommendations. The group-buys also lower the psychological ‘barrier of entry’ for them to start building their own tea collection. This has flow-on effect of them wanting to participate in even more group-buys down the track!
Obviously this is not going to be an option for everyone. It relies on (1) the fact that we have enough trust amongst ourselves for the money transfers, and (2) we work from a shared location to cheaply and easily distribute the tea from the order to each order participant.
With a bit of research and timing, it’s possible to significantly reduce the overall cost of buying good tea for those of us in Australia. The best ways are to (1) use Australia-based tea vendors, (2) have a sense for when sales are likely to be on and (3) organise/participate in group-buys to share shipping costs.