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The Socially Conscious Shopper’s Guide to Buying Coffee and Tea

Expand your collection with these online shops

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A cup of coffee or tea might seem like such a simple ritual. But our daily cup (or two, or three) owes everything to our colonial, slave-built economy that relied on European and American trade with Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. The legacy of exploitation in the coffee and tea industries still manifests today, depressing wages and earnings for workers and degrading natural ecosystems. One, though not the only, aspect of that legacy is trade. The fair trade movement that solidified in the late 1980s as a Fair Trade certification sought to tip the scales in favor of workers. More recently, the direct trade movement — which, as its name suggests, is built on direct exchanges between farmers and roasters — has emerged as an alternative to create still greater transparency and worker profit.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended our most trusted routines, down to how we’re buying and drinking our coffee. Maybe all of this has prompted you to rethink what goes into your daily cup, who made it possible, and who profits. Maybe you’re tired of parsing corporate statements like the one Starbucks produced earlier this month, after it initially prohibited employees from wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. Whether you’re in a rut with your morning brew and want to shake things up, you’re new to home-brewing and aren’t sure where to shop, or you want to support more BIPOC-owned and socially conscious businesses, let this list of 30 sources for buying coffee and tea online be a source of inspiration.

This list is just a taste of what’s on offer and is by no means meant to be exhaustive. These purveyors source their product from around the world, and many are direct trade or are working to reimagine who owns tea and coffee culture. All of them offer online shopping, and some may offer contactless pick-ups. If you like the convenience of subscriptions, many offer those, too.


Whole Bean Coffee

Many coffee roasters source their beans from at least two global regions. If a specific region or country is the focus, that’s noted below.

BLK & Bold: You may have seen BLK & Bold at Whole Foods, but the brand’s selection of blends and single-origin coffees, as well as its teas, is also available directly online. Founded by Rod Johnson and Pernell Cezar, BLK & Bold donates 5 percent of its profits to organizations that benefit young people in Black communities in major cities across America.

Black Baza Coffee (India): This coffee roaster and grassroots organization works with growers in India to create a socially and environmentally sustainable model that supports biodiversity — a variety of species essential to healthy and resilient ecosystems. Arabica and robusta coffee beans, as well as chicory, are available from a number of partner coffee producers and microlots.

Boon Boona Coffee (East Africa): Boon Boona offers green coffee beans as well as roasted. The company’s founder, Efrem Fesaha, grew up with home-pan-roasted coffee, traditional in East African coffee ceremonies, and saw a demand in Seattle for unroasted beans. Boon Boona partners with farmers in East African countries, including Burundi, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.

Coffee Project NY: Besides selling whole bean house blends and single-origin coffees from around the world, Coffee Project NY champions education and certification through the Specialty Coffee Association. What Kaleena Teoh and Chi Sum Ngai started as a small cafe in the East Village has expanded to two other brick-and-mortar locations, including a flagship in Queens.

Driftaway Coffee: Anu Menon and Suyog Mody founded Driftaway with social and environmental sustainability in mind. The company, which roasts and ships from Brooklyn, develops long-term relationships with farms in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, and Rwanda and provides price transparency for all offerings.

Kahawa 1893 (Kenya): This brand, which shines a spotlight on Kenyan coffee from the Kisii region, gets its name from the year missionaries first planted coffee in Kenya. Margaret Nyamumbo, a third-generation coffee farmer, founded the company to reimagine the coffee supply chain and bring more profit to women farmers in Kenya.

Maru Coffee: Los Angeles-based Maru, started by Jacob Park and Joonmo Kim, sells whole beans in seasonal limited editions. It began as a tiny coffee shop that expanded into a larger location in LA’s Arts District, where it began roasting its own coffees from small batches of beans.

Nguyen Coffee Supply (Vietnam): Founded by Sahra Nguyen and billing itself as the “first ever Vietnamese-American-owned” coffee importer, all Nguyen arabica and robusta bean coffees are organically grown in Vietnam’s Central Highlands by a fourth-generation farmer known as Mr. Ton and roasted in Brooklyn. The brand currently offers three blends, Loyalty, Courage, and the high-caffeine Grit.

Not So Urban Coffee & Roastery: This small-batch micro roaster outside Atlanta roasts a selection of single-origin coffees to order. Its beans are ethically and sustainably sourced from growers around the world, with a current focus on East African countries.

Portrait Coffee: Another Atlanta-area roaster, Portrait is based in Southwest Atlanta. It offers a tailored selection of blends and single-origin beans. The company is committed to growing coffee careers in the Historic West End community while changing the face of specialty coffee “to include the black and brown folks who have been cropped out.”

Red Bay Coffee: Founded by the Oakland-based artist Keba Konte, Red Bay has a mission of community connection and grower empowerment. It sells a range of coffees online, including Carver’s Dream, a “bright, fruit-forward” blend of Guatemalan and Burundi coffees, and Coltrane, a medium-roast single origin from Colombia Cauca Piendamo with notes of black grape and dark chocolate.

Sweet Unity Farms Coffee (Tanzania): Started by David Robinson, the son of baseball titan Jackie Robinson, this farm belongs to a community of third-generation coffee farmers in Tanzania. The brand, which champions community investment and direct trade between farmers and roasters, sells 100 percent Arabica beans grown by family-owned cooperatives in Tanzania and Ethiopia and partners with family-owned roasters in California and New Jersey.


Tea

Just like coffee, tea is a fresh product that loses complexity and aroma over time, so for specialty teas, always note harvest date. Because a number of tea sellers sell “tea” in the colloquial sense — infusions of botanical ingredients — we use tea here to mean Camellia sinensis as well as yerba mate and herbal infusions. Sellers that specialize exclusively in Camellia sinensis from one region or country of origin are noted below.

Adjourn Teahouse: Founded by LaTonia Cokely and based in Washington, D.C., Adjourn specializes in aromatic hand-blended black teas with a wellness focus, incorporating botanicals like blue butterfly pea flowers, lemongrass, carrot, and ginger.

Brooklyn Tea: From their store in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Ali Wright and Jamila McGill offer a wide variety of teas, including green and white teas and tea blends, aged pu’ehr and oolong, mate, Rooibos, and other herbal tisanes. Brooklyn Tea partners with Tahuti Ma’at to provide compost to a community garden in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Calabash Tea & Tonic: Owned by a naturopath and fifth-generation herbalist, this D.C.-based company has an express wellness focus and offers herbal tonics alongside its flavored botanical blends.

Chai Walli (India): This Australian company, founded by an Indian Australian, works with organic and fair trade farms in India’s Assam Valley to source its tea. The range of small-batch spiced tea blends incorporates Ayurvedic knowledge from the founder’s own family. Ships to the United States.

Cuples Tea House: A tea store in Baltimore that ships nationwide, this is a one-stop shop for black and green tea blends, milk oolong, South African mate, and flavored teas, as well as herbal blends like chamomile, South African Rooibos, and hibiscus.

Eli Tea: Founded by 2017 Eater Young Gun Elias Majid, this tea shop in Birmingham, Michigan, offers an array of black, green, oolong, and white loose leaf teas, as well as chai blends and herbal teas with transparent sourcing.

Just Add Honey Tea Company: This Atlanta-based tea company carries a large selection of caffeinated teas and tea blends, from matcha to a high-caffeine mix of green tea, mate, and dried papaya. It also offers non-caffeinated herbal options, like chicory and cinnamon.

INI Sips: A family- and veteran-owned company based in New Britain, Connecticut, this shop sells 16 teas, including one ceremonial-grade matcha, and a small selection of direct trade coffees.

Kettl (Japan): Through its unique relationships with tea growers in Japan, Kettl has become the go-to for restaurants and Japanese tea lovers for the freshness and quality of its teas, which, because of supply chains, would not otherwise be available in the U.S. It has a small brick-and-mortar storefront in Manhattan but ships its shincha, matcha, genmaicha, rare Japanese oolong and black tea, and sobacha nationwide.

Kolkata Chai Co. (India): Through their New York shop, Ayan and Ani Sanyal — motivated by the appropriation of masala chai that they observed — aim to reclaim chai’s cultural roots. The company currently offers two DIY chai kits, a masala chai with Assam, green cardamom, cinnamon, black cardamom, black pepper, and cloves, and rose masala chai.

Matero (South America): With a mission to celebrate yerba mate culture, this online shop sells a wide selection of ethically and sustainably sourced mate from around South America. Loose leaf and tea bags are both available, as are calabaza (porongo) and bombillas.

Puehr Brooklyn (China): This Brooklyn-based teashop specializes in aged cake pu’ehr, as you might imagine, but its online shop also offers a variety of oolong, green, and white tea.

Raven & Hummingbird Tea Co. (Squamish Nation): A mother and daughter team, T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss and Senaqwila Wyss, are behind this Coast Salish-owned tea company. Their small batch teas are sourced from plants in their Xwemeltchsn community garden in West Vancouver, through wild picking, and from local herbal distributors.

Red Lake Nation Foods (Red Lake Nation): A member of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Red Lake Nation Foods offers a selection of herbal teas and tea blends in addition to wild fruit jellies, jams and syrups, and Red Lake Nation–cultivated wild rice.

Serengeti Teas & Spices (Africa): This Harlem fixture isn’t just for herbal teas, although it carries a wide variety, including moringa, Moroccan mint teas, sorrel, South African Rooibos, and turmeric blends. It also specializes in premium and rare coffee, tea, and cocoa from countries around Africa.

Song Tea & Ceramics (China and Taiwan): With new selections of teas from China and Taiwan each year, Song Tea is an excellent source for fresh leaves, including green, white, oolong, red, and aged teas. It also offers botanical blends like sobacha, marshmallow, holy basil, and carrot. For those with the budget, Song also offers a small collection of rare aged teas.

Té Company (Taiwan): With a small tearoom in lower Manhattan and an impressive online shop, Té first got its start by partnering with fine dining restaurants. It specializes in high quality full leaf oolong tea from Taiwan that would otherwise not be available in the U.S. Besides oolong, it offers green, white, black, and herbal teas, including rare and vintage selections. Everything is sourced directly from tea producers.

Tea Drunk (China): Another tea oasis in lower Manhattan with a stocked online shop, Tea Drunk is unique in that it sources and imports directly from heritage tea growers in China. A (virtual) visit to Tea Drunk is an education in and celebration of terroir, season, and craft across green, yellow, white, Wu Long, red, and black teas, including pu’ehr.

Katie Okamoto is a Los Angeles–based writer and former editor at Metropolis, the New York–based design and architecture monthly. Find her work at katieokamoto.com and occasionally on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo credits: Hand: Prostock-Studio/GettyShelves: Arman Zhenikeyev/Getty

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