TJ Maxx’s Tea Selection

 - by Alex Zorach

I sometimes find good tea in unusual places.  One of these is TJ Maxx, a chain of discount stores that primarily sells clothing.  TJ Maxx is not the sort of place I normally think of buying any sort of food products, let alone tea, but the store sells a small but rather variable and diverse array of teas back in the food and kitchen section of the store.

It was actually through this chain of stores that I discovered several brands of tea, including Hampstead Tea.  I also picked up about 100 grams of loose-leaf, single-estate Darjeeling tea from my favorite garden, Makaibari estate, at one of these stores, under the Hampstead Tea brand.  In other years I’ve seen a variety of loose-leaf teas there, not quite as high-end, but solid brands of British-style black teas like The London Cuppa.

This year the selection wasn’t anywhere near as good.  While the photo below looks impressive, all those tins are actually tins of tea bags, not loose-leaf:

TJ Maxx's tea selection in December of 2013.

TJ Maxx’s tea selection in December of 2013.

The selection is highly variable from year to year, but tends to be pretty similar from store to store.  The photo above is from a store in Abington, PA; I had checked a store in Maine about a week before, when up there for Thanksgiving, and their selection was nearly identical.

What is in this year’s selection?

The theme of this year seems to be pyramid sachets.  The shelf above has boxes of pyramid sachets of numerous different brands, often as low as $4 or lower for 15 sachets.  This price is half or even less than half that of what pyramid sachets of tea typically retail for, but to me, it doesn’t seem like much of a deal because I am comparing it with loose-leaf, which is a much better deal.  A lot of these boxes though come in reusable metal tins, so you get a little bit more value for your money.

If you’re going to buy pyramid sachets, it might be better to buy them here and get a metal tin, rather than at full price (and in a cardboard box) at a typical store.

What does the selection above say about the tea marketplace in the US?

I find it interesting to think about why the products we see here are available.  TJ Maxx functions a lot like a “mixed brand” outlet store…stores like this sell rejected or overstock lots of products at marked down prices, things that didn’t sell at their full retail price in fancier stores.  As such, it plays the role of recouping losses for wholesalers (and thus producers and suppliers in the long-run), while filling a lower-end retail niche.

How I read the products here is that it seems like this year, a lot of new brands experimented with pyramid sachets, and didn’t do so well with them.  Pyramid sachets seem to be the “hot new thing” these days.  Over the past few years there has been a growth of brands selling them, and some of them, like Two Leaves Tea (formerly Two Leaves and a Bud), seem to be doing quite well.  But just because other companies have been successful with something doesn’t mean it’s good for every business…and it makes sense that a lot of companies trying out this new approach might either fail or over-produce or over-stock their products.  I suspect that this may be what happened here.

I’m curious to see what next year’s selection looks like.  This year, I didn’t buy anything.  I was really looking for loose-leaf!

What do you think?

  • Have you ever visited TJ Maxx and checked out their tea selection?
  • Does my speculative explanation about new brands experimenting unsuccessfully with pyramid sachets seem to explain the prevalence of these at this store this year?  Or do you think there’s another explanation?

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