The tea garden is not at all about tea. It's about ambience. They have bubble teas (chillers), and that's what most people get: sweet, colorful, and cold. It's the college-bound teenager's grown-up ICEE. Sometimes, that's just what you want, and these guys have the widest range of flavors in the city. None of them really of tea in them, but again, that's not been the point. They do have some loose leaf tea, but none of it is worth writing home about. You come to the Tea Garden to hang out with your friends, read The Onion and listen to music. It's the under-21 crowd's version of bar hopping, only there's nowhere to hop to. Fun and awesome if you're under the age of 20. A place to see and be seen. A little bit awkward and uncomfortable if you've got a high-school diploma under your belt.
TeaSource has a large variety of tea, and their shop is warm and comfortable. Half is devoted to seating, and the other half to walls of accessories and books. As far as tea goes, it's easy to see that the owner's heart is in Indian teas. Their Chinese selection is definitely sub-par. Average pu'ers, 'dark' tea that tastes nothing like itself and more like an incredibly bland pu'er, and bitter greens. I also dislike their style of service. The staff is friendly, but generally knows little about tea. It is difficult to ask them questions, and they seem uninterested in tea. It's a job for them, which is totally fine, I guess. Just not what I'm looking for. They do have a wall full of pamphlets with generally good info, but I'd rather talk to a person than read a hand out. Also, whenever you order tea, they give you the timer yourself (an hourglass). You're responsible for making sure the tea is steeped well. If you lose track of time while chatting with your friend and the tea is bitter and foul, that's your fault. Also, all of their teas are steeped for the same amount of time...??? They advertise 'free sample Tuesdays,' when other tea houses in the Twin Cities have samples everyday. Maybe I have bad timing, but every time I've tried these samples, they are always very bitter and drying. Why do a bad sample? They once slipped a sample of Gyokuro into my bag (very nice!). When I went home and tried it, however, the stuff was so so bitter and drying. I tried steeping it in several different ways (big teapot as recomended, gongfu style, sitting in a cup, etc..) and they all resulted in bad tea. Again, why give out samples of subpar tea? It gives the impression that they don't know what their own tea tastes like. Either that, or they like tea that is bitter and drying. Finally, they don't offer all of their teas iced or hot. They have a limited selection in the summer. Normally, I wouldn't mind, but that selection is never very yummy (at least to my tastes). So, all in all, thier actual tea often leaves me confused. Come here if you're looking for a new Indian black, or if you already know exactly what you want. Do not come for tea here if you want good Chinese tea, if you want to learn from a person, or if you want a blended/flavored tea that is subtle and delicious. This is a great place to come to sit and relax. They also have the best selection of books on tea in the Twin Cities, and thier accessory wall is very impressive. This is especially true of thier non-traditional accesories (western tea pots, infusers, fun accessories). Thier yixing collection is small and a little bit tacky, but that's true of all the stuff that makes it to America.