Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review #09 - Upton Tea Earl Grey Supreme (loose)

Since we've already reviewed a couple of Upton sourced Earl Grey's before, I'll skip any business intro and make the following announcement. I will not be reviewing any teas next week. It's a practical decision because I honestly don't know if I'll have the time. Christmas, as you know, is such a wonderful time to spend with family and friends and I plan on taking full advantage of it. With that said I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, a great Holiday season and a Happy New Year. I feel very lucky to have so many people reading my reviews and want to thank everyone for supporting me. Now on to the tea.


As before my tea sample came in a foil bag so when you first break it open you are greeted with a very pleasant aroma. The word gentle pops to mind because it's not overwhelming but not lacking either. It's as if the maker was going for a more controlled approach which sent me to the Upton site for more info. 

Sure enough, my initial thoughts were correct. 

Description:   Earl Grey tea, blended with TGFOP Assam and rare China teas. A balanced blend for those who prefer a lighter bergamot flavor. Drink with or without milk.
Ingredients:   black tea, natural flavor
Origin:   Germany
After reading the detailed information contained in the ingredients I immediately gave this tea high marks. Instead of just plain ol' black tea, we are given some very nice details about the Assam contained within the tea. The only thing that concerned me was the lighter aspect of this tea. In a way I was glad that I read description before trying it because it helped me know what to expect. 

Brewing Method

I will again reference the website because we are treated with some very specific instructions. 

Steeping Suggestions:
Leaf Quantity: 2¼ g/cupWater Temp: 212ยบ (boiling)Steep Time: 4 min.
As you can see, there are no time ranges, only 1 time given. That time is 4 minute and that is exactly what I tried the first time. I then broke their "steeping rules" to see what I'd get and went with a 3 and 5 minute steep time. I must admit I was surprised by the exact time when I first saw it on the package but after tasting the 4 minute version I knew why they had done that.  

The Results

I'll just cut to the chase and get right to it. What a wonderful Earl Grey. Yes the flavor is reserved but it's not thin and shallow. The flavor is still complex and changes as the tea's temperature cools. The fruit flavor was clean and free of perfume, or artificial sweetener after tastes. The tea finished smooth and had me wanting more. Seriously, I cannot say enough about how good this tea is. To prove my point I almost forgot to pour some into my white cup for pictures because it was just that good.  

Speaking about the picture, I was even more surprised to see the color matching some of the more pronounced Earl Grey's I've tried and reviewed. But then again, this tea had a good solid Assam foundation which to build upon so the results really should not have surprised me. 


The re-steep proved to be another pleasant surprise. Because the flavor wasn't strong to begin with the drop off wasn't that bad but you have to watch the time closely. I cranked up the re-steep time on one occasion to really push this tea and yes, you can burn it. So if you don't mind a lighter flavor I would go with a 3.5-4 minute steep time and make sure your water is right at a boil to help extract all the remaining flavor. Keep in mind there won't be much but what you will get will be very good. 

Final thoughts

I think it's obvious that makers of this tea put some thought and effort into the blend. They chose Assam and mixed it with other teas from China. Yes it would have been nice to have that listed but then again, tea is a business and giving away one's secrets may not help the bottom line. So I'm going to be happy to see some information given along with a natural flavoring being used. It should be noted that many businesses in other food areas have abused the word Natural. Let's hope Natural means the real thing in this case and not something else.

To end, I will be buying more of this tea when my current stash of Earl Grey starts to dwindle. Do yourself a favor and try it, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did.  


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review 08 - Twinings of London Classic Earl Grey Tea - Bagged

If ever there was a tea that I don't need to intro, this is it. Twinings of London was going full throttle and people from all around the world loved their Earl Grey recipe. So what did they do? Pulled a Coke-Cola (for the records, never drank coke, haven't had soda in maybe 5-10 years) and changed their recipe. This of course caused an uproar you can only imagine and for a while, people got their Earl Grey else where. I know I did because I was a fan of their bagged tea way back when. Then they changed it and I bailed like many others. But it's back so lets go back in time to review today's classic recipe of yesterday..or is that today... I think. Maybe.  


With a tip of my hat to the classic yellow pouch I can assure you when opening the packaging you will be met with a very nice bergmot aroma. For me it's more of a sweet smell then an earthy one but none the less it's there. I would like to point out that the days of finding staples on the bags and labels of Twinings Earl Grey are gone. You now have a tag, a piece of string and a bag. Everything is held together with knots which now makes everything completely viable for the compost pile. Which is where every bag I brew should go to retire. 

On the down side, while the tag does mimic the box in it's presentation, it does not contain any brewing info. Which I find very strange. Even stranger is the brewing instructions themselves. Which leads in perfectly to out next section. 

Brewing Method

On the side of the box you will find two sets of instructions. One for hot tea and one for cold. The hot instructions call for boiling water poured over the tea bag with a steeping time of 2-4 minutes. At this point I will admit to brewing my first glass without looking at their instructions. I just went with the typical 4 minutes and was rather shocked to see that 2 minute mark even being suggested. So being the thorough reviewer that I am trying to be, I tried a cup of tea after only 2 minutes. I also tried 3 minutes just to make sure I had covered all the bases. Then I followed my typical process for bagged tea and got the result I was expecting. 

The Results

To begin, there is no way I would ever drink this tea after just 2 minutes. It was thin, had very little color and tasted.....well like Earl Grey water. At the 3 minute mark I started to get some of the typical Earl Grey flavor but in the end I went with my life long Earl Grey process. Just leave the bag in and start drinking somewhere between 4 to 5 minutes. I know, I know that's not what Twining's suggested but that's what I like. I then tried taking the bag out at 5 minutes and found it nearly identical to just leaving the bag in. I'm guessing a bunch of you reading this are appalled that I'm not following Twining's directions and even more appalled that I just leave it in there. For me it works and I don't get a burnt tea taste. As you can see from the picture the color is quite good but it was strange not to see any form of expansion from the bag. Other then being wet you could hardly tell it was steeped. 


Now that you know what I do to extract the best flavor from bagged Earl Grey teas you can probably guess what I'm going to say with regards to re-steeping. The only thing left when I'm done drinking this tea is an item for my compost bin. Re-steeping is worthless because I pretty much steep all the flavor out of it. To put it bluntly, don't waste your time. 

Final thoughts

I've been avoiding the elephant in the room so I could focus on my elongated steeping. So lets point the finger and point out a big issue. I have no idea what is in this tea. Twining's info on the box and on their site are pretty much the same:
Fine black tea expertly blended with the citrus fruit flavour of bergamot, to deliver an uplifting tea with a unique floral aroma and refreshing taste.
Their ingredients are as follows: Black Tea, Bergamot Flavoring

...And there, once again, lies the problem with this tea as well as others. Yes, it tastes very good. One of the better bagged teas out there and even better them some of the loose (following my steeping process) I've tried. But given the world we live in, I like to know what's in my tea. When they say flavoring, do they mean real or artificial? When they say Black Tea what exactly am I getting? Trust me when I say this, I really like the flavor of this tea and would probably drink it on a regular basis, but not if I don't know what is in it. Truth be told I'm not only an Earl Grey addict but I'm also an Organic Gardener. I honestly believe nature produces the best food products and that's why my current favorite Earl Grey is totally organic. So to end this review I will leave the final decision up to you the reader.

Are you like me and like to know what you are eating and drinking? If so until Twinings provides more details I need to pass on this tea. If those food issues are not a concern of yours, then by all means, buy this tea and enjoy it with family and friends because it is an excellent Earl Grey.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review #07 - Upton Tea Extra Bergamot English Earl Grey - Loose

This week we return to the world of loose tea and conduct our second Upton Tea Earl Grey variety review. Since last week's tea ended up being very thin in the Bergamot area I thought we would grab something with a bit extra. In this case a bit extra Bergamot. That's right this week's tea is rather up front about where it's strengths lie.


It should come as absolutely no surprise when I say this tea is full of aroma. The minute you open the sealed sample foil pack you are greeted with an abundant supply of bergamot. But before I go on I will add, it's more of a perfume type smell then an actual real fruit aroma. When I reviewed Zhena's Gypsy and Arbor Tea's versions the aroma was fresh, clean and real. Like you had actual fruit in your hand and that is what you were enjoying. This tea is not like that. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of Bergamot aroma to last a life time. I just prefer a more organic/authentic aroma. 

As you can see from the picture I didn't include the Upton Foil bag since everything from Upton looks the same. Instead I tried to get the best close-up of the actual tea. I hope it helps.

Brewing Method

Just like many other Earl Greys, this one called for boiling water and a steep time of 4minutes.  During the 4 minute time my entire family told me they could smell the tea from across the room. So I guess it bares repeating, this tea has tons and tons of aroma.

I also tried 3 minutes, even though not recommended and 5minutes just to make sure I was giving this tea a thorough workout. 

The Results

 The best way to put my initial reaction to this tea would be, "Holy Bergamot flavor  Batman!" This is beyond a shadow of a doubt, THE most Earl Grey flavored tea I have had to date. And that includes every Earl Grey I have ever tasted and not just the ones I've reviewed here. But, and there is always a but, sometimes too much of anything doesn't work. Now I know what you are thinking. This guy has been giving negatives reviews to teas that are thin and weak and you would be right. I have been rather vocal about some teas lacking any real flavor. But this is different.

To begin, this tea is so over powering with it's bergamot flavoring that it leaves the black tea completely smothered. Making it worse, it's a perfume based flavor and not a natural one. This is a real shame because I had such high hopes for this tea. I was really hoping that someone/company was going to step up and really get the flavoring slanted towards the fruit. Instead we get bergamot perfume and little else. So after a bit more sipping I headed over to the Upton Tea site and did some research on what kind of black tea was used along with what kind of flavoring. Once again I was met with info that didn't leave me happy but it did explain the aroma and flavor a bit.

   Specially blended for those who prefer a richly scented Earl Grey. Our most popular Earl Grey. Rated "best overall" by the Wall Street Journal's Catalog Critic.
   black tea, artificial flavor
No mention of the actual tea used and even worse nothing about how it's flavored. As I have said before, I am not a fan of mystery ingredients so I would have to count the lack of real information as a negative. To end this section I guess it's fair to say I do not share the WSJ's positive review of this tea.  


This is probably going to catch you off guard so here goes.  This tea was made for re-steeping.  If you think about it, it makes sense. Given how much flavor is present in the first steep, there was bound to be plenty left over in the second. Before I continue I received a few email comments regarding my method for testing whether or not a tea is re-steep-able. (real word?? doubt it) So here is how I handle it.

After the 1st steep I place the leaves onto my now standard white plate, pour some tea into my glass cup, some into the small white ceramic cup to show color, and snap a bunch of pictures. When done, I put the leaves back into the tea pot, fire up the electric kettle and pour when the water is ready. At each minute interval I sample the tea. Typically minutes 1, 2 and 3 are pretty tasteless. Most Earl Greys will come alive starting around 3.5 to 4minutes. I continue taste testing until 6minutes or until I burn the tea. When done I typically have more then half the pot still filled with water so I'm pretty confident about my current process. Keeping all that mind, lets return to the review.

As stated before, you can re-steep this tea without issue. Use boiling water and pour at the 4 to 4.5 minute mark. You will be met with a more balanced flavored tea that I actually enjoyed more then the first steep. It had less perfume taste and more tea taste which for me was very good.

Final thoughts

 My final thoughts are mixed. On one hand we have unknown leaves with unknown artificial flavorings giving us an overwhelming perfume based flavor. On the other hand, not many Earl Greys can be re-steeped and still get the flavor this tea provides. Personally, and because of the above unknowns, I'm going to pass on ever buying this tea again. But I will say this, if anyone out there who creates/blends/mixes teas wants to take Earl Grey in a new direction, do an Organic double Earl Grey tea. I'm guessing you'd have this guy as an immediate fan.