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Today I was doing some research on food and drinks and realised that tea is not a very big thing in The U.S. and that all the "good" brands of tea are extremely overpriced or quite "unattractive".

So I thought I'd take a box (or two) with me to The U.S, but unfortunately the TSA might confiscate my tea and I may have to throw it away before I'm allowed to enter the country.

Would I be allowed to get on a plane from the UK and fly to The U.S. with tea?
If not are there rules and regulations on shipping tea to The U.S. and would I be allowed to do it?

NOTE: when I say tea I mean Tea bags and Loose Leaf Tea.

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    Tea is a much bigger thing in America than it used to be. You may not be able to get the brands you are used to, and you will probably have better luck at specialty tea shops than in supermarkets. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 26 '16 at 23:35
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    @MichaelHampton I'm sort of like the OP in that I carry a supply of tea bags and spares for the pilot if there is one. I must have flown between here and NYC somewhere in the 3 digits range, and have never given tea bags a second thought until now. So I'm very keen to lurk on this page and see what the answers are. – Gayot Fow Apr 27 '16 at 5:20
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    related (duplicate?): Can I import teabags into the United States? Granted, this one already has a more conclusive answer (from Mr. Lipton, no less.) – reirab Apr 27 '16 at 7:47
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    I finally understood the dire tea situation in the US on one occasion when I split the water they gave me over myself, and it didn't even hurt. That being the case it really doesn't matter how good or bad the tea leaves are. – Steve Jessop Apr 27 '16 at 10:06
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    Sure you can bring some tea, but don't be surprised if you "lose your baggage", in the harbor or something. – Registered User Apr 28 '16 at 0:13
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You'll certainly be allowed to get on a plane in the UK with the tea, but you'll have to declare it to Customs and may have it examined by an agricultural specialist, who will decide whether it is allowed in.

Here's US Customs and Border Protection on importing tea:

There are no restrictions on the importation of coffee, tea or spices for personal use, although they may be subject to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections if a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer suspects contamination or insect infestation of the product. For more information from FDA call 1-888-723-3366. Contact FDA.

Please note that tea or spices containing fruit or vegetable leaves or seeds, including citrus leaves or seeds, are typically prohibited.

On the plane, you'll be given a Customs declaration form to fill out. On that form, it will ask if you are bringing in any plants, seeds, food, etc... Always declare any food or agricultural items you are bringing into the country. You can be fined for failure to declare. Someone from CBP may ask to see the tea, and there's a chance you won't be allowed to bring it in, but you shouldn't be otherwise penalized as long as you've declared it.

You'll likely have more success with commercially packaged tea rather than a random unmarked bag of loose leaf.

  • 99
    A tea answer from Zach Lipton? – Andrew Lazarus Apr 27 '16 at 3:59
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    Source: my last name – Nean Der Thal Apr 27 '16 at 6:35
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    "You'll likely have more success with commercially packaged tea rather than a random unmarked bag of loose leaf." There is no doubt about it. You will have much more success with sealed, commercially packaged tea. If there are large quantities involved (greater quantities than personal use), import taxes could be involved, but according to the post I don't foresee this being a difficulty. – Tom Anderson Apr 27 '16 at 10:43
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    I'll just point out that, in this question, Mango is interested in importing fruity teas here. – Zach Lipton Apr 28 '16 at 0:21
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I have brought commercially packaged tea into the USA on numerous occasions without any incident. Didn't want to leave a half-empty box to be thrown out by the hotel maids.

On the other hand, I can not imagine why the OP thinks that tea is not a big deal in the United States. There are at least three high-end tea shops in Berkeley, California alone. (Site, Site, no relationship other than infrequent customer.) Most brands of tea I have seen marketed in the UK are available here; if the OP has a particular preference I can look.

A distinctive brand of tea will be useful if you are kidnapped by Fascist agents, though.

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    While you can get brands of tea that claim to be the same, at specialist places like World Market and such, odds are that you won't find a reliable source of tea that tastes as you are accustomed until you've been here a whole (few years maybe). So bring a good stash of comfort drinks. – Dewi Morgan Apr 27 '16 at 18:36
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    @DewiMorgan I might have to bring a ton of boxes. – user42025 Apr 27 '16 at 22:13
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    What Dewi says. I found that when I lived in the US, close to Harvard Square, whilst I could get all sorts of specialist teas (oolong, darjeeling, assam, etc.) of excellent quality very easily, I couldn't find a convincing "cuppa" anywhere, a problem that remained until my local supermarket starting importing PG Tips tea bags. What the American tea market refers to as "English breakfast blend" would not, in my experience, suffice. – MadHatter Apr 28 '16 at 5:39
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    PG Tips is available in the USA from that small specialist retailer, Costco. – Andrew Lazarus Apr 28 '16 at 22:47
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    Berkeley is... not typical of the USA. Now, it's probably pretty easy to get hold of decent quality tea in most decent-sized cities in the US, but attempting to extrapolate from Berkeley is likely to lead to misleading results. – David Richerby Apr 30 '16 at 4:40
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I always tell my relatives to bring their own teabags when they visit. There have been no issues whatever about this; customs officials think this perfectly normal for visitors from the UK, and may even look askance at those who do not.

Tea is HUGE here. You can get Earl Grey with lavender accents and snobby French teas that even the French can't pronounce and things done with "'erbs" and fruit that don't even have any connection with the tea plant and white tea and green tea and it's all served iced, with or without ice, or hot in a glass, probably with lemon on the side. Ask for milk in it, and people will look at you like you just drop-kicked a kitten, but if you're lucky they might be able to find a sachet of powdered non-dairy creamer that's normally used for coffee.

"A mug, white, with one" has no meaning here in the US, because the incredible range of things they call tea precludes any such simplicity. Even being able to find plain black tea (which is what most Brits expect when we say "tea") will be a challenge, as most places don't even stock the stuff.

While you can get brands of tea that claim to be the same, at specialist places like World Market and such, odds are that you won't find a reliable source of tea that tastes as you are accustomed until you've been here a while (few years maybe).

Mostly, they're as much the "same" as cola canned in the UK, US, and middle east are the "same", which is to say, they have the same logo on the box but there it ends.

So bring a good stash of your own comfort drinks.

Also, bring a travel kettle that can work on 120v. Not only do most hotels not have a kettle in each room, but it's hard to find an electric kettle that actually works for any reasonable amount of money.

And don't use tap water to make the tea. I know, "don't drink the water" is so hackneyed travel advice, it's become a trope. But either buy bottled water, or get a very good water filter (which, thankfully, they DO sell here). Mains water is typically laced with chlorine and fluoride by law, to the point that you step out of the shower smelling olike you just stepped out of a swimming pool. So you will meet many Americans with thyroid issues (I never even knew thyroids existed, beyond a vague "heard the name", before I came to the US), and none of them have any clue why. Most assume it's genetic.

TL;DR: Don't drink the water. Bring tea bags. Bring a 120v kettle. And be prepared for the fact that the toilet paper is both a different shape, and not up to BSI Kitemark standards. Frankly, you might as well wipe your arse on a teabag. But that's another rant, for another time.

And don't get me started on the plumbing.

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    What's an "erb"? – phoog Apr 27 '16 at 22:01
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    The h on herb and herbal is not typically pronounced in most US regions. Though any generalisation about the US is doomed to fail; as each state is like a nation unto itself, with its own dialect and customs. – Dewi Morgan Apr 28 '16 at 1:23
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    Wherever I travel I take my own teabags and a little immersion heater. When entering the US I declare my tea and get a tired smile from the Customs bods. – RedSonja Apr 28 '16 at 9:57
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    Indeed, the 'h' is silent in correct American English. Incidentally, it was also the original pronunciation. Brits beginning to pronounce the 'h' is a relatively recent development. – reirab Apr 28 '16 at 16:46
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    @reirab it's also, apparently in at least one instance, a soccer maneuver. But how do you define "original"? The H was of course pronounced in very early (prehistoric?) Latin, after all. – phoog Apr 28 '16 at 18:23
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This answer was too long for a comment but it just a combination of Zach's and Andrew's answer.

You shouldn't have a problem bringing in "packages" of tea. Try to stick with a sealed, store bought, container. An unopened box, with that plastic film around it for example. It will come down to the discretion of customs people rather your tea looks suspect or not. Tea bags in a sealed box, wrapped in plastic. Probably not going to be an issue. Loose leaves in a ziplock baggie, rolling around in your carry on..... might be a problem. Technically your only real concern is going to be some over-zealous customs personal or maybe a TSA agent that is really just clueless. In all honestly, no one will probably even look at it.

Different states have different rules. Usually though this is only going to be an issue if you bring an entire suit-case full of tea. Some states require that anyone carrying any kind of fruit or agricultural product stop and declare it. Again I have never seen this used to stop a person from carrying a "normal" amount of tea. I have however seen this used to stop a person from carrying single units of fruit. So you may want to be aware of that too.

Let me stop and be clear at this point. In both cases listed above, I don't really see how you could get in trouble for carrying tea. I don't even get how someone would even know, under normal circumstances. That said, weird things can happen and an agent who is on a power trip (happens a lot more then it should) may just give you hard time over it. Avoid metal containers though. Your problem, if you have one will probably come from; "Hey that guy has a bomb in his luggage, no wait it's just tea, well find some way to hassle him over it."

Next point however is that you should consider just getting your tea here. If you're going to a rural area you may need to stop in town on your way, but most cities will have what ever kind of tea you want at normally sane prices. If you know someone where you are going ask them to look around for you ahead of time. Big box stores may not have what you want, but there are usually tea shops around that certainly would.

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    "Different states have different rules." Source? Border checks are performed by USDA and CBP, which are federal agencies abiding by federal law and regulation. AFAIK, their rules don't differ from one state to another (exception: transfer between Hawaii and the mainland is controlled by USDA to prevent migration of agricultural pests/diseases.) Enforcement might differ from one agent to another, but the rules should be the same across the entire U.S. – reirab Apr 27 '16 at 7:34
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    Just a small note, the federal government is responsible for customs and immigration - so no matter what the state policy is, its the federal regulations that come into play with respect to import of goods into the US. – Burhan Khalid Apr 27 '16 at 7:34
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    Different states have different rules for foods and CBP acts accordingly. cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/… "Bringing fruits and vegetables depends on a number of factors.... Whether or not CBP will allow the [example item] into the United States depends on where you got it and where you are going after you arrive in the United States". On the other hand, "As a general rule, condiments, vinegars, oils, packaged spices, honey, coffee and tea are admissible." Thus, the CBP inspects based on rules of a destination state, but not for tea. – Tom Anderson Apr 27 '16 at 11:04
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    @coteyr Boston might :-D – Burhan Khalid Apr 27 '16 at 15:09
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    California still has some agricultural checkpoints at the state borders. – mkennedy Apr 27 '16 at 18:20
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I've never had any problems bringing back packaged loose leaf tea from Sweden or Austria. I've made the trip three times, and not once has customs asked to examine my tea. (They confiscated a single orange once though.) As one poster said, you will need to fill out a form on the plane declaring your items, but as long as you aren't bringing a boatload of tea, you should be fine. (My most recent trip had me bringing home approx. 2.5 pounds of Swedish tea.)

As an aside that doesn't answer the question... Yes, most readily available, loose leaf, American tea is horribly, horribly overpriced. I don't know about tea from the UK, but tea from Sweden is amazingly good compared to the two major tea stores I know here in Boston.

  • I was about to write an answer pretty much identical to this one (just without the two words "or Austria"); so far I haven't been able to find any place in the us that sells Söderte. – IQAndreas Apr 28 '16 at 2:15
  • @IQAndreas Try searching for Soderblandning instead. You may get lucky. But be prepared to pay through the nose! – Michael Hampton Apr 30 '16 at 0:47
  • @IQAndreas theteacentre.se They ship to the U.S., and, up until recently, their prices were MUCH more reasonable than what I could find here. If you buy a lot of tea, or split an order with friends/family/coworkers (or are obsessed with good tea) the shipping fees start to become reasonable. At one point, even with overseas shipping fees, it was still cheaper to buy through them than through Tealuxe or Teavana. They were starting to raise their prices the last time I ordered, so it may not be the same now, but it can't hurt to look! They're where I buy my söderblandning from. :) – A. Torline Apr 30 '16 at 7:43
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As a concrete datapoint, I have flown at least three times into the US where a full suitcase contained (branded, packaged) Argentinean yerba mate, say some 25kg. I declared it, the bag was opened but not the packages, and nothing happened.

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    Were you a US resident at the time? The value of the customs exemption is dramatically different depending on this fact. – phoog Apr 27 '16 at 22:00
  • Nope. Canadian, on transit. The value in the whole suitcase was around $100, so I doubt it would trigger any fees. In any case, the TSA opened the suitcase (they leave a note about it) both when transiting directly to Canada, and when flying a domestic leg. – Martin Argerami Apr 27 '16 at 22:05
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    Your bags weren't inspected by customs officials; the TSA doesn't do customs inspections. They were just looking for bombs and the like. The customs inspection happens after you claim your luggage, when you hand your blue customs form to the customs officer, and only if the customs officer decides to inspect you. They usually don't. – phoog Apr 27 '16 at 22:13
  • I can confirm this. We regularly bring in erva mate from Brazil with no trouble, just declaring it at customs as "tea". – Alan Munn Apr 28 '16 at 15:48
  • @phoog You're right about the difference between TSA and customs inspections, but you go through both TSA and customs (and immigration) when transiting U.S. airports from international flights. – reirab Apr 28 '16 at 16:29
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My wife has brought tea from China many times. The inspector doesn't care one bit when she declares "tea". We have frequently gotten a suitcase inspection (common for travelers from China, even more common for ethnic Chinese travelers from China) and they have never cared about the tea, either.

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