Tea Culture / Tea Guides

Traveling Tea Boxes (TTBs): Ultimate Guide To Tea Swapping

The tea community is growing bigger and bigger and it’s brewing a culture with its own rituals. One of them is an activity called the ‘traveling tea box’ (TTB). In simple words, joining a TTB means that you are entering a tea swapping activity with a group of tea lovers who also joined.

Swapping things has always been around, especially before any currency existed. However, what makes traveling tea box activities so special that tea lovers aren’t swapping for economic purposes, but it’s a kind of a enjoyable social activity. After all, we all love to share enjoyable experiences with others.

To get an idea of what you can expect to receive, see for example the image below

traveling tea box

source: My Thoughts Are Like Butterflies

Common Rules For Traveling Tea Boxes

Some tea lovers do want to join a tea swapping activity, but are worried about breaking one of the established rules. Below we have listed common rules that will ease your mind. In addition, if you plan to organize a TTB yourself, then it will be a great checklist for you to go through!

Though each of them will have its unique rules, below are a few types of rules that you will commonly see for TTBs.

  • Tea in / tea out: One basic rule traveling tea boxes is that you put a similar amount of your own teas in the box to what you take out. There is usually no minimum or maximum as long as you stick to this rule (unless this is a stated rule for a particular TTB).
  • Tea type: As the diversity of tea offerings increase, so is the different kind of TTB groups with a different scope of tea. For instance, some tea swapping groups only limit the teas to loose tea and exclude tea bags and some only allow one tea type (e.g. green, black, oolong etc.). Besides this, it could go even more specific, such as a TTB for only unflavored teas or only tea blends.
  • How long to keep the box: This is a common rule that it’s part of every TTB and it normally ranges from a few days to a couple of weeks. Make sure you know this rule and send it out in time to the next person, so nobody who joined the TTB is waiting too long for the next box to arrive. It’s not a big deal if you for some reasons can’t send it in time, but do communicate this to the participants, so they are aware of it.
  • Geography: For practical reasons, for most TTBs it’s stated that participants of only certain geographical regions can join. Mostly often, swapping is limited to a certain country, province or even city, to avoid high shipping costs.
  • Shipping method: Sometimes it’s required to ship the box to the next person using a shipping method with tracking.
  • Sign-up spots: TTBs might be limited to a certain amount of participants. Groups that are too big are often hard to manage and keep over sight.
  • Tea & packaging labeling: Try using packaging for the tea that can be sealed well. Otherwise, the teas will over time start smelling and tasting the same. Take special care of teas that have a strong scent, as those have the biggest chance of affecting other teas in the box. Sometimes original packaging can be good enough already, but if not, try to buy some seal-able packaging. One last note: If you don’t use the original packaging, make sure to write down the tea company and tea name on the new packaging.

Best Tea Swapping Practices

Besides the general rules, there are some best practices that sometimes are part of TTBs and if they aren’t, you can still try to apply them to yourselves to make the activity more enjoyable.

  • Be nice, share teas you love: While you might share tea that you personally don’t like, do not share tea that is low quality or unfresh. A kind of an unwritten rule is that you don’t use the traveling tea box as a way to get rid old tea that you don’t like. While it’s true others might possibly like teas you don’t like,  try to balance it with teas that you really like and would love to share.
  • Write notes: Most tea lovers like to read tasting notes about the teas that others have tried. Some participants will enjoy reading your notes as much as drinking the tea itself. Don’t feel pressured to write a note on every tea, but whenever you do have the inspiration, try at least to write a few.
  • Maintain box condition: If the box is damaged and you feel it might affect the teas when they arrive at the next participant, then make sure to replace the box. Sometimes it’s stated in the rules, but if not, you should still take care of this.

Reasons To Join Tea Swaps

There are so many reasons why you should at least give traveling tea boxes a try.

  1. Try more teas with a lower budget. Do join a TTB in your own country though, because international TTB can be expensive due to shipping costs.
  2. Swap teas you don’t like. If you don’t like certain teas you bought, it’s such a waste to leave it in the kitchen, especially if it’s good quality tea that for sure some tea lovers out there are very happy to steep. As mentioned before, do keep it balanced by sharing tea that you do like and do not share tea that is  not fresh or low quality.
  3. Make friends. Sharing is caring and this rule definitely applies to tea. Share, drink, and make more tea friends.

How To Find TTBs To Join

By now you should probably have pretty good idea whether traveling boxes are something for you. If so, there are two places to find TTBs to join.

  1. Steepster is tea community website with a discussion section especially for tea swaps.
  2. Reddit is another good place. Checkout the subreddit r/teaexchange to start browsing!

If you know any other good place for tea swaps, let us know and we will add it to this list!

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