This subscription box is perfect for every tea lover
Spilling the tea on subscription box service Sips by
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College is a time rife with experimentation. So it’s fitting that it was during college that I tried my first sip of... tea. Yes—cue the eyerolls—tea: a Lipton tea bag steeped in what can only be described as sugary milk with a splash of hot water. Having never developed a taste for coffee, I loved finally holding a warm mug in my hands as I ate breakfast and got ready for class.
But in the decade or so since, I haven’t experimented much more aside from eliminating the milk and sugar and stocking up on some tea infusers so I could enjoy loose leaf varieties. Other than that, my go-to teas have been pretty basic: English breakfast in the morning and afternoon, and the occasional chamomile before bed.
So when my Instagram served up a piping hot ad for Sips by tea subscription box, I was intrigued. I already knew I could order subscriptions for everything from razors to plants—would one devoted to tea be high-quality enough to justify the recurring cost? Fueled by perhaps one too many cups, I signed up.
What is Sips by?
Sips by is a female-founded startup out of Austin that connects tea drinkers with more than 150 global tea brands based on preferences identified in an extensive questionnaire. Once a user establishes a profile with preferences, and opts into a standard membership of $15 a month, Sips by ships four teas per box along with detailed flavor descriptions and brewing instructions. You can make about 15 cups from each shipment, or more if you re-steep the bags. You can also prepay for six or 12 months at a time to receive up to one month free.
The boxes contain loose leaf and bagged tea that ranges on the spectrum of high-caffeine black to caffeine-free herbal. If your box includes loose leaf teas, Sips by also sends along empty biodegradable tea bags to fill. Boxes are either personalized to your specific tastes or pre-packaged for the season. Current seasonal offers include both Nice (a combo of caffeinated and herbal options) and NaughTEA (all caffeine-free) boxes for the holidays, as well as a women-owned tea brands box, a chai tea box, and more. Sips by’s website also sells mugs, electric kettles, loose teas, and a (now sold out) mug club subscription.
You can also give a Sips by gift certificate, allowing the recipient fill out their own taste preferences and profile to get the box best suited for them.
What was it like to order from Sips by?
While the pre-made tea boxes intrigued me, I wanted to craft my own personalized tea kits. I signed up and created a profile, opting for a three-month package for $45, minus a coupon code available on the website (my total: $43.50).
Next came the questionnaire, meant to zero in on what you want out of your subscription. As someone who wanted to keep an open mind to new varieties, I tried to only nix things that truly did not interest me.
It was only nine questions, but each was specific enough for me to question just how much I knew about tea at all. I realized there was so much out there I had never tried! And while it was more in-depth than I was expecting, the format was very user-friendly and quick to complete.
First, on a scale of 1 to 5, I chose my preferred caffeine level (5: mostly caffeinated), type of tea (3: a mix of loose and bagged), and flavor (1: mostly unflavored).
Then I was asked to peruse a list of 19 flavors to select either Yes, No, or Maybe. To keep my options open, I selected Maybe for most flavors, including turmeric, nutty, minty, savory, and berry. I opted to not receive anything with floral, coffee, or coconut flavors, and I was intrigued enough about earthy and smokey notes to select Yes to both.
Once that was complete, I moved on to selecting Yes, No, or Maybe to 15 types of teas, everything from the standard green and black, to the familiar white and oolong, to teas I hadn’t heard of before (pu-erh, yaupon, guayusa). I gave the green light to all but a couple.
The remaining questions asked me to identify my brew style (“Tea bag and sachet all day”), how often I drink tea (“My blood type is tea”), and if I had any dietary or allergy restrictions. At long last, it was time to ship my order.
How do teas from Sips by arrive?
Covered in tiny hearts and tea leaves, Sips by boxes are adorable at first sight. Upon opening each box, I was greeted with a card that said “Made for Meghan,” detailing that month’s contents. There is no superfluous packaging inside, which I appreciated—just the teas and an occasional coupon code from the tea brands themselves should I want a discount on one of their full-sized products. All three of my boxes contained loose leaf teas, and there were plenty of empty tea bags to match.
How do Sips by teas taste?
In addition to trying each tea myself, I recruited about a dozen colleagues for an afternoon tea party to help sample the remaining varieties.
Month 1: August
This box had perhaps the most familiar tastes to what I was already used to drinking.
- David’s Tea Organic Nepal Black (Black tea; high caffeine): I was already a fan of David’s Tea before Sips by, and this organic Nepal black tea didn’t disappoint. It was the closest of all the teas to what I typically drink, so I finished all the loose leaves before my colleagues even had a chance to try.
- Made of Tea Organic Shui Xian Oolong (Oolong tea; medium caffeine): The Made of Tea oolong was also tasty, but a bit too floral for me to consider purchasing more.
- The Republic of Tea Organic Mint Fields (Peppermint and spearmint tea; caffeine-free): It has a nice subtle flavor, perfect for an evening cup of tea before bed, though several testers remarked that the taste could be stronger.
- Jade Leaf Matcha Think (Matcha green tea; medium caffeine): We all agreed that the Jade Leaf Matcha powdered tea meant to be made into a matcha latte was a fail. Per the package’s instructions, we tried to make it with milk first, but the powder kept clumping in a very unappetizing way. We then scrapped the milk and tried to make it according to more traditional matcha methods. While the consistency improved, the taste didn’t. It was more ginger than matcha, with one tester commenting: “It was pretty poor quality. I feel like they added other things just to cover for the low-grade matcha.”
Month 2: September
This was perhaps the best of the three boxes I received, and as a whole it received the most positive feedback from my fellow testers.
- Rishi Golden Triangle Breakfast (Black tea; high caffeine): The Rishi breakfast tea was my favorite tea out of all I tested, and I plan to purchase it in the future. As one of the testers described: “It has an earthy, clean aftertaste, which is common in high end teas. It’s a bit sweet too. The color is decent, a ruby-reddish color, what you’d expect from a high grade tea. It smells like assam.”
- Smith Teamaker Bungalow (Darjeeling black tea; high caffeine): Having never tried Darjeeling tea, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed the taste of the Smith Teamaker brand, even if I did roll my eyes a bit at the instructions to “steep for 5 minutes while contemplating the Himalayas.”
- Bare Leaves Fujian Oolong (Oolong tea; medium caffeine): The same went for the Bare Leaves oolong—it was smooth, with a nice drinkable flavor. And I enjoyed that the medium caffeine meant I could have it later in the day without worrying about it keeping me awake too late.
- Storehouse Tea Bright Mint (Green tea with peppermint and spearmint; low caffeine): The Storehouse Tea was a pleasant mint that I could see purchasing for future evening sips.
Month 3: October
This box had some interesting choices, which I’m glad to have tried, but I’m not sure I would order any a second time.
- Traditional Medicinals Reishi Mushroom with Rooibos and Orange Peel (Reishi tea; caffeine-free): The Traditional Medicinals reishi mushroom tasted, well, medicinal. Though, I could see myself reaching for it if I had a cold, sort of the same way I would a cough drop. There’s certainly a time and place for it, and I could foresee it being welcome in that situation.
- Churchill’s Fine Teas Peppermint Black (Black tea with peppermint; high caffeine): I was a bit perplexed by the Churchill’s peppermint black. With a high caffeine level, logic dictates it’s best to drink it in the morning. But with the addition of peppermint (the strongest of all three mint teas included), it felt out of place early in the day. If it had a lower caffeine level, I would have welcomed it as a late-afternoon, or even after-dinner, treat.
- Ahmad Tea Darjeeling (Black tea; high caffeine): The Ahmad Darjeeling was enjoyable, and I’m glad this October box gave me another chance to try this new-to-me variety.
- Udyan Tea Himalayan Sencha Green Tea (Green tea; low caffeine): I also enjoyed the Udyan green tea, especially the fact that it was the only loose leaf tea to come in a resealable bag to keep it fresh in between cups.
Is the Sips by tea subscription box worth it?
I set out to find new teas that I could incorporate into my regular rotation. (My sentiment was shared by 12 of 13 of my fellow testers, who said they’d rather discover new flavors than receive a box full of tastes they already enjoyed.) To this end, Sips by absolutely did what it claimed. I haven’t tested as many different teas in my life as I have in the three months I tested Sips by, and if I did the same experiment at a coffee shop, $15 would only get me three to four cups total. Not only did I discover new varieties (for better or worse), but I was introduced to new brands that I can mix in with my more familiar brews.
In practice, however, I still gravitate to the familiar high-caffeine black teas. During testing on certain days, I struggled to find interest in a second variety of mint tea, or I found myself wishing that a medium caffeine option had a little more oomph. But I would never have known this without such a variety to choose from. And I’m not sure I could have put together such a variety for less than the cost of a Sips by subscription.
If I were to order Sips by again, I’d be more precise with my questionnaire so that I might be able to explore the greater depths of black teas and even more new brands than I already have. Chalking most of the taste or quality issues up to personal preferences and not Sips by, it was a positive enough experience for me to want a Round 2. And as most tea-lovers already have their fill of mugs and accessories, it makes the perfect gift that can warm their hands (and their hearts) month after month.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.