Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review #06 - Culinary Circle Earl Grey bagged

This week we return to the world of bagged tea and with that news comes hope. Hope that we can uncover a bagged tea good enough for tea lovers to support. In case you are wondering, I picked this variety up at my local supermarket and knew nothing about the company. As with every review I do, I always check the companies site for information. Here is what I found.

With chef inspired cuisine that mirrors today’s most popular restaurants, Culinary Circle is transforming creative casual dining at home.
Tempting, unique recipes. Incredible handcrafted quality. Remarkable flavor combinations.
Culinary Circle is beyond compare for your most discerning guests and perfect for everyday.
Go ahead…Set the table and enjoy!

 With that info given lets proceed with my now standardized testing process. Lets begin where we always do, with aroma.


Sad to see the use of staples.
Upon opening the foil pouch containing the tea bag I was met with a pretty strong bergamot aroma. This tea was scoring very high marks until I took the bag out. Not only does this company use metal staples to connect the tag to the string, but also from the string to the tea bag itself. That means you are steeping both tea and metal in your cup which is not what I want to see when having tea. Returning to the tea itself, the aroma is/was so strong that even after steeping, taking pictures and all that, the foil bag still retains a hint of Earl Grey. So great job on the tea, bad job on the packaging.

As is customary with all my reviews I always like to read what the makers of the tea have to say about their tea. Meaning, what types of black teas are being used, where and what kind of flavoring is added, and as we've seen before, aging info. Sadly, we are greeted more with marketing speak then any real info.

A full bodied blend of black tea with spicy floral oil of bergamot citrus 

  After reading the above on both the box and individual bags I immediately did some additional research on the fruit itself. Why? Because I had never heard anyone, anywhere describe bergamot as spicy. I've seen sweet, sour and bitter but never spicy. So to be perfectly honest I have no idea what they were talking about. That also means I still don't know what kind of black tea is used to produce this tea. If someone from Culinary Circle happens to find this review and wouldn't mind sharing, I'd really like to know what black tea was used in this Earl Grey.

Brewing Method

Like almost every bagged tea on the market the brewing instructions are on the foil pouch which is always nice. They are as follows:

1. Bring Fresh cold water to a rolling boil
2. Pour water over tea bag and steep for 3-5 minutes
3. Removed tea bag.
4. If desired, serve with sweetener
Seeing the 3-5 minute steep times meant I had some work to do. So being the diligent reviewer I tried 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, and 5.  Here is what I got.

The Results

Normally there is something to talk about with each tea. Sometimes the steeping time will reveal different results that help us to pin point the tea's highs and lows. Sadly that's not the case with this tea. The results are a plain and very thinly flavored tea. As I have said before, yes it tastes like Earl Grey but almost in the same way out of season, overseas grown tomatoes tastes when compared to a fresh vine ripened version. Yes it tastes like a tomato, but it has no character and no real deep flavor to enjoy. This tea screams bland. As for the supposed spicy parts to this tea, I got none of it. I'm sorry but there is no other way to say it. This is one bland tea. As to the color, I would say middle of the road.

To give this tea a last change I even went with the infinite steep time method. Meaning I just left the bag in the cup and began drinking at the 5minute mark. Thankfully it wasn't burnt but the flavor didn't improve at all even when I had finished half of the cup about 1-1.5min later.


With the initial flavor being so shallow and thin I really didn't expect much and was proven true. After leaving the bag in for another 4minutes all I got was Earl Grey water. So to address a re-steep, don't even bother.

Final thoughts

I have to be honest, when you open this tea you think maybe, just maybe we have a good tea here but expectations are quickly dashed. This is a bland, supermarket tea for the masses. Even though the marketing hype on the box says otherwise, this is not a good Earl Grey at all. If someone gave me the choice between this Earl Grey or a glass of water, I'd take the water. I'm sorry but I really don't like this tea.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review #5 - Upton Tea Finest Earl Grey Tea - Loose

For those of you who have never visited Upton Tea's website, do it immediately. Yes the site could use a massive upgrade but it works. Not to mention Upton Tea must have the biggest selection on any Tea site. Seriously, you could spends hours just reading all the descriptions. So when I say this will be the first of many reviews about Earl Grey teas from Upton, I'm not kidding.


With Upton Tea you can purchase your tea in one of two ways. You can purchase it in a metal tin or via the sealed foil bag. I ordered the sample size so resealing the foil bag is impossible. If you purchase their regular sizes the foil bags come with a typical sandwich bag "zip lock". Upon opening, I got more sweet then sour in the aroma test. But there was plenty of it there so that's always a good start. After taking some out of the package the aroma really didn't change all that much so I'm sticking with my initial sweet notes. While doing some research for this tea I found the following on their site:

   Similar to our Original Earl Grey, but with Ceylon black tea as the base tea. The bergamot scenting is light enough for the quality of the base tea to be noticed.
   black tea, natural & artificial flavor
One of my biggest pet peeves is knowing what is in my food. Seeing a few mystery items listed by way of natural and artificial flavorings automatically turns me off to this tea. Personally I believe that's the reason I get sweeter smell from this tea then any other so far.

Brewing Method

The label on the package clearly reads, "1tsp./4min/212degrees" so that's what I did. As stated many times it's nice for the supplier to give you a starting point with regards to all the ingredients of brewing; time, temp and amount. Even if you don't agree it's still nice to have a starting point provided.

The Results

With already one strike against this tea for it's choice of flavoring methods the actual flavor must be given a strike as well. For a loose tea the flavor is very simple and thin. Yes it's Earl Grey but for a tea that's suppose to allow the black tea flavor to shine, it falls very short. If you are looking for a wonderfully blended tea with a complex character, this is not it. For me this is a tea a restaurant would serve to avoid any issues with their typically none tea drinking people. No one can deny it's Earl Grey but to leave anyone thinking this is what Earl Grey is capable of being would be a sad state of affairs.

So to be fair I upped the times to both 4.5 and 5 mins and got the exact same results. I'm kind of amazed the tea could stay the same even with additional brewing time but getting back to my restaurant comment, it fits. Produce an Earl Grey that's nearly impossible to ruin making it easier for wait staff by giving them a built in tolerance. I'm guessing again but I wonder if the artificial ingredients maintain their flavor under a wider range of steep times because they are chemical based instead of the actual fruit? If you have any info on this subject I'd be happy to know and understand.

To end this section, the color was very good but ( I know I know broken record) do you get the color from the just the tea or does the extras help?


Amazingly this tea re-steeps very well. Granted it's thin in the flavor area to start with so it doesn't have far to fall but it does keep a lot of its initial flavor. The flavor remains sweet just less of it, while the color stays almost the same. I tried 2-3-4 min re-steep times with 2 working the best.   

Final thoughts

To put this bluntly unless I learn what's in this tea, I won't ever buy it again. There are too many good real ingredient Earl Greys out there with no hidden extras to ever need this tea. I know this sounds harsh but I drink tea because I enjoy it but also because of it's health benefits. The last thing I need is artificial extras ruining that. 

 Note: I have done away with having my glass in the picture. I don't think it transfers well especially since the tea color can be seen in my white cup. From now on, tea in white cup and steeped leaves on the plate. Hope you agree.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review #4 - Numi Organic Tea Aged Earl Grey Bagged

When I first started this "review" blog I made a point to say how all teas, loose, bagged, etc will be treated equally. I went on to say that treating bagged any different from loose serves no one. It also would confuse things. If I gave a bagged tea a good review would you really know how it stacked up against loose. The answer would be no. Thankfully today's review proves my opinion was/is correct in the best way possible.


Numi tea comes in a "Naturally Biodegradable filter-paper tea bag, no GMO corn or plastic "silky" bags". The box is "made of 85% post-consumer waste, printed with soy-based inks and without, unneeded shrink- wrap" so their commitment to sustainability is very much a part of their business. No lip service here, just proven actions. When I first opened the wrapper, I did as I always do with bagged teas, leave the bag in and attempt an aroma test. Like other bagged varieties, the aroma was nothing overwhelming but it was there. I guess you could call it faint. After taking it out I got up close and gave it a good test. Again faint but very good. You could pick up some of the sweetness but no tartness. Overall slightly below average in the aroma department.

Brewing Method

The brewing instructions are right on the wrapper making things pretty straight forward. Steep for 4-5 minutes. For this review I tried, 4, 4.5 and 5 minutes. The following statement is on the wrapper: "this tea is strong enough to handle milk, yet mild enough to be served alone." Since we are talking about the wrapper it should be noted it too is made from 72% recycled content. I guess it's time to start showing my hand regarding this review. At 4 minutes I was pleasantly surprised at how much flavor this tea had. At 4.5 I started to notice a bit more sweetness to go along with an ever so slight tartness. At 5minutes I was hooked. 

The Results

Independent of how this tea is packaged, this is a good Earl Grey. Dare I say it may be better then a few loose versions I've had which is/was such a pleasant surprise. Why? Because the bags are not some fancy satchel or triangle or cube, but just an ordinary tea bag. I will fess up and admit I was very let down when I first opened the wrapper. When I first saw them I wondered how a tea with little room to expand was ever going to be any good. Boy was I wrong. This tea produced a good cup of Earl Grey at all three steep times with improvements at the longer times. Seriously if you're the impatient type, 4 minutes will give you a good cup of tea but please do yourself a favor and give it the extra minute. You'll get a deeper taste and enjoy the flavor more. As you can see from the picture the color is good even at 4mins so that's a bonus as well.

So what is Numi's secret sauce in getting bagged tea to rival loose? Aging. Yes aging. Again I'll fess up and admit I thought it was just marketing jargon. Sadly every day of our lives we are bombarded with a bazillion types of advertising slogans, and jingles and catch phrases that when someone actually uses one of these methods I personal just blow it off as marketing speak.But don't take it from me, here is the quote right from their site. 

We age organic Assam black tea with real Italian Bergamot for several weeks so the tea absorbs the orange scent.

Given the amount of flavor in all of my test cups I will accept their explanation and wonder why other bagged Tea makers are not doing the same. Making it even harder to understand, I got this tea on sale and it wasn't the most expensive by a long shot. With respect to Mighty Leaf, I got Numi tea for almost 2 dollars less a box. Granted there may be some outside influence on price setting, making one tea higher then the other but still, at this price, it's a great deal.


Given what's inside most bagged teas going for a re-steep is always going to be a stretch. So to be fair I put all three bags (4min, 4.5min, 5min) back into the cup and poured just boiled water on them.The results were kind of expected. The 5min bagged barely gave anything. Very thin, very little sweetness. But the 4min actually gave me some flavor after leaving it in for another 4mins. The 4.5min was in the middle. Since your reading this blog you must want my opinion so here goes. Go for the best taste you can get and forget about re-steeping. Steep the first time at 5mins and enjoy a very good cup of Earl Grey and if you want another after it, grab a fresh bag and start over.

Final Thoughts

Unless I find something better before my next away-from-home vacation, this will be my go-to travel tea. The idea of getting a good cup of Earl Grey without bringing my pot, strainer, spoon, etc etc, is a no brain-er. Is it better then my current favorite(s) loose Earl Grey? No, but for the price, ease of travel, ease of brewing, and overall flavor, you can't go wrong with this Tea. To end, while researching this tea I noticed it can also be bought as loose tea. Obviously I will be picking some up and reviewing it sometime in the future.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Review #03 - Zhena's Gypsy Tea Earl Greater Grey Loose Leaf

This is gonna be one of those just off center reviews so please hang with me while I explain all the pieces and parts. In my area, there is a very well known coffee shop called Coast Roasters. While getting my espresso fix I noticed they carried loose teas. I didn't get any tea that day but I did try some of their teas at a later date. Specifically the one I will be reviewing called Earl Greater Grey. It was only then, at my 2nd visit that I found where the tea was sourced from. Sadly I forgot to investigate Zhena's (where it's sources) and nothing ever came from it because at the time I hadn't started this review blog.

The next piece of the puzzle comes in how I drink all of my tea. Absolutely plain. No milk, no sugar, nothing is ever added to my hot/warm tea. I declared a temperature range because with Iced Green tea, I still brew the tea plain but will sometimes add extras when I pour. Lemon and cranberry juice are two of my favorite options with local honey being a third. So with those two pieces of info lets begin with the actual review.


When you purchase this tea from the above mentioned tea house you get it packed in your standard resealable "foil" bag with how ever many ounces you ask for. The aroma is fresh and almost a bit on the sweet side. It definitely smells real and not chemical or artificial based. There is also plenty to enjoy, meaning the minute you open the bag you get your first hints of it without having to place your nose very close to the bag. For me this tea has something to say in the aroma part of this review because it really stands alone when compared to a lot of the other Earl Grey's I've tried.

Brewing Method

I'm going to show my hand a bit and talk about what I went through to get the most out of this tea. Most Earl Grey's I've tried call for a 4min brewing time. So that is where I started. Now keep in mind what I talked about earlier. I tried this tea before I was doing these reviews so I approached this tea without doing much research. My first result forced me to attempt longer steeping times. In fact, I worked all the way up to 5 1/2 mins to get the flavor I was looking for and expecting. I guess that means it's time for the meat of this review.

The Results    

I'm not going to lie, when I first tried this tea I was very disappointing with the flavor, or should I say, lack of it.  The 4min brewing time basically gave me the same amount of flavor that I would get with other loose tea with a 2nd steep. That's why I tried going with a longer brew time. I also went with a teaspoon and a half. As mentioned I eventually got to the 5 1/2 min mark, which coupled with the extra tea finally got me closer to what I was both looking for and expecting from quality loose tea. Now to let this tea off the hook a bit.

Remember how I said I did no research when I first tried it, well this time, since I'd be blogging about it I headed over to the Zhena's Gypsy Tea site and did some reading. That's when I found this:

Our Earl Grey is specifically blended for those who enjoy their tea with milk – its addition will compliment rather than overwhelm this tea.
Needless to say this causes a problem with my review since I don't put milk in my tea. At this point you are probably expecting to see me redo my review using milk. To be perfectly blunt, the reason I don't put milk in my tea is for a very simple reason, I don't like it. It's funny because my earliest tea drinking memories involved being told that I should put milk in my tea. Drinking plain tea was just not done. Why would anyone want to drink tea solo? For many years I avoided tea for that very reason. Until I was able to sample some green tea at a college friends house. They served Japanese green tea without milk which reversed any negative opinions regarding tea I had up to that point. I was hooked and began my tea drinking journey.

So where does that leave us with respect to this review? Kind of in a weird spot. On one hand, by adding more tea and upping the steeping time I can coax a decent cup of tea from this brand to the point where I wouldn't mind buying it again. The color is a bit lighter then some other loose versions but the flavor is ok. But on the other hand, I feel I'm not treating this tea fairly. By Zhena's own words, this tea was designed, if I may use that term for tea, to be fully enjoyed with milk. By not adding milk I feel like I'm not following the proper steeping time and then complaining about burnt tea. Like I said at the start, this is a very off center review. Lets hit our final section and wrap this review up.


Given how the tea has a thin taste without milk to begin with re-steeping is just not worth the effort. I tried but the flavor was nearly gone and going any longer then 5 minutes just burnt the tea.

Final Thoughts

So, would I buy this tea again? Yes, if I had run out of all other loose Earl Grey's and had to have tea for the next day. Plus I'd be supporting a local business so like I said, yes. Should you buy it? Do you like milk in your tea? If yes, then by all means try it and let me know so others can learn from your experience.

Friday, November 2, 2012

I see much tasting in my future

Spoiler Alert. ;-)

Wanna know what is going to be tasted, enjoyed, and reviewed in the near future? Feast your eyes on these.

I ordered every Earl Grey (nothing flavored beyond the Earl and the Grey) from Upton Teas (sample size for most), to go along with Numi, and Choice. Both on sale.

It's a tough job but someone has to review all this tea.