Monday, December 9, 2013

Review #34 - Tea Studio Earl Grey (loose)

To begin I would like to express a big thank you to @WTE_Kyle of Whittington's Tea Emporium. (http://wtea-emporium.co.uk/) for sending me his Earl Grey sampler pack. When I am done with all the samples contained within, I plan to review the sample pack as a whole. There is alot of documentation inside and the container itself is completely re-usable and believe it deserves it own entry. As you can see from the title I selected the sample from Tea Studio for my first review so lets jump in.

Aroma


The sample came in a resealable (zip-lock type closure) with the same Earl Grey photo on the front as it appears on their site. On the back all the expected information about history, ingredients, steeping, etc, etc.  Upon opening the bag you are greeted with tons and tons of enjoyable scents and smells. With some teas you have to either take a deep breath or have to really get in close to pick up everything. That is not the case with this tea. This tea is full of aroma with only a slight/mild hint of perfume at the end. If you linger long enough you can just about pick it up so I would describe this tea as mostly natural. Curious as to why I picked up that slight difference I flipped the bag over and read the ingredients which were a bit different on their site:

Bag-> Ingredients: Loose-leaf black tea, natural bergamot flavouring 
   
Site-> A premium loose-leaf tea, it combines the wiry, regular leaf of spicy Ceylon with the elegance of Yunnan and natural bergamot from France. - 

As we have discussed before the words "natural" mean pretty much nothing in the US. Hopefully they hold some value in the UK and France and it doesn't mean chemicals have been added. Given the hint of perfume that may or may not be the case. I'm hoping it's not.

Steeping Method

We return to both the bag and the site to get our steeping instructions.

Site-> Temperature100 degrees celcius
Steep Time3 to 5 minutes
Bag-> Preparation: Use fresh water heated to 100C. Pour the water onto the leaves and allow to steep for 3-5 minutes. Use 1-2 teaspoons per cup.
 Keep and eye on that last sentence because I will be talking about it a bit later. But as you can see I tried 3, 4 and 5 minute steep times.

The Results

Let's start at the 3 minute mark. The color was on the light side and the taste was about the same. At this
steeping time this is a very, very light Earl Grey. The flavor has no perfume flavors at all so that was a welcome experience. But for someone like me who likes a bit more balance this time definitely had me wanting more bergamot influence. I let it sit for a while and in this case the bergamot did not come forward at all. In fact I think it faded a bit.

Moving onto the 4 minute mark things improved a bit but still the result was kinda the same; a very light tea. The color did darkened up a bit and the bergamot part of the tea increased but still not balanced where I like it. By allowing the tea to cool a bit the bergamot did increase flavor wise, but only a little.

I thought the 5 minute mark would be my final testing point but I tried something else and obtained some unexpected results. But first, what happen at the 5 minute mark. The flavor improved a bit more and the color got darker but overall this tea remained in the light arena. That's when I got the idea to go for two teaspoons. Why? Because if you recall the preparation instructions on the bag, it said, "Use 1-2 teaspoons per cup".

So with nothing to loose I went for my fourth sample using 2 tsp of tea and I steeped it for 4 minutes. And you know what? I really liked it. The color of the tea got darker, the bergamot played a much bigger role in the flavor giving me a much more balanced cup of Earl Grey. I was pretty surprised to taste the difference. It was as if I was reviewing a different tea. But how did this effect the re-steep?

Re-Steeping

Before I begin this section I guess it only fair to Tea Studio to present their opinion on re-steeping.
Number of infusions  one
Seriously, I am not making it up and to be perfectly honest, I have never seen this before. I've seen re-steeping and I've seen no instructions but never a statement from the creator to say you'll only get one steep. So the following re-steep info is not inline with the Tea Studio's instructions. Re-steep at your own risk.

If you wish to live on the wild side, here is what I suggest. Go with the 2 tsp version at a 4 minute steep time followed by a second steep at 4 minutes as well. The second steep will mimic the 3 and/or 4 minute single steep and it will be light. But you can get 2 steeps out of this tea if you don't mind a thin second steep.

Final Thoughts.

Lets start with the negative, the ingredients. Or should I say the unknowns contained in the ingredients. If the bergamot used in this tea is actually the real oils and such from the fruit, I say good. If not, then it comes down to a personal preference on what you choose or don't choose to have in your diet. As for the flavor, this tea can be many things to many people. Want a light tea where the black tea is the main flavor point, this tea can pull it off in three different "colors". Want a more balanced tea where the bergamot is more involved, this tea can do it but at a price. Because you'll be going through the tea twice as fast in essence doubling the price of this tea. To end, this is a tea I would definitely have people try to see if it matches their personal tastes.   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review #33 - Harney & Sons Viennese Earl Grey (loose)

It has been a while since my last post so 2 quick updates are in order. The first being things got a bit crazy around here and I needed to take care of things. Thankfully everyone is back to being happy so I can get back to reviewing Earl Grey tea. The second little update is this, today's review will see me review my last sample from Harney & Sons. If you are a big fan of their teas, and I know you are out there, you should now be able to see reviews on all of their "pure" Earl Grey teas. Unless of course they added one since I purchased my current samples... then it's all just a moot point. So lets get right to it.

Aroma


The packaging for this sample came in the same "bag" as all the others. I won't bore you with the details but suggest you read my past H & S reviews if you are curious. When I opened up the bag I was met with a wonderfully full yet balanced tea. I could pick up both the tea and the bergamot which is always a great sign of things to come. While enjoying the aroma I thought there was something different about it. So I decided to check their site early into this review and found this:

his blend is perhaps the most famous tea in the world, it was inspired by the British Prime Minister, Earl Grey. There are as many different versions of this as there are tea companies. Viennese Earl Grey inspired by our friend's tea shop in Vienna. It has a Darjeeling tea base, so it is lighter than others.
As someone who very much enjoys a good afternoon Darjeeling I was very surprised and happy to see this blend contain it. Having reviewed some Darjeeling Earl Grey's before I wondered where this variety would go. So far, it was headed in the balanced direction.

 Steeping Method

Directly from the H & S site:

Brewing Time
4 to 5 minutes
Brewing Temperature
212° F
 Which means I also tried 3 minutes just to see how it would turn out.

The Results

I started with the 3 minutes just as a point of reference knowing it was not part of the suggested range. As expected it was on the lite side but still quite balanced. The color was also a bit lighter then I'm use to seeing but H & S cannot be held responsible for this test. Like I said, I tried this steeping time just because.

This tea really woke up at the 4 minute mark and provided much to enjoy. The color was much darker and the flavors became more pronounced. Again all the tea and the bergamot were balanced allowing me to enjoy both aspects of this blend. For me this is critical to a good Earl Grey. I then allowed the tea to cool a bit and only gained a bit of extra flavor. Then it was off to try the 5 minute steeping time.

At 5 minutes I was expecting a more intense flavor but will admit, there really wasn't much difference compared to the 4 minute steep time. Yes there was more flavor but it was clearly not linear in its increase. As to the color, again very little difference. I actually had to employ my wife to help pick out and difference in shade which she informed me, "Not much". To be honest I would just stick with the 4 minutes because as we'll see in the Re-Steep section, it matters what your choice in steeping time is.

Re-Steeping

"So you wanna re-steep? Well it's gonna cost ya."

So here is the deal, if you want to re-steep, go with the 4 minute steep time and then go 4 minutes again. The second steep will be even lighter but, it will be a good lite. If you go 5 minutes on the first steep there won't be much left for the second steep. So if you want a slightly bolder flavor, go 5 and forget the re-steep. If you want the re-steep, go 4 twice. Got it? Good.

Final thoughts

To put it in simple terms, out of all the Harney & Sons Earl Grey I tried, this is by far my favorite. It may not be the most intense flavor of the lot, but it has the best balance and scope of flavor. The Darjeeling really adds a nice touch to this variety without taking over. Conversely, the bergamot is used just enough to allow the subtle differences in the Darjeeling to be enjoyed. Like I said before, this tea is nicely balanced. Is it perfect? No, personally I like a bit more flavor but for a Darjeeling based Earl Grey this is my new current favorite. With that said I strongly suggest you give this variety of Earl Grey tea a try.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review #32 - Monkey Char Earl Grey Royal Blue (loose)

Ah the internet and all it's cool tea people. So I'm talking about teas and Earl Grey's and such on Twitter, when the good folks at Monkey Char jump into the open discussion with an offer of tea. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to try/sample/review another Earl Grey. A few more messages were exchanged and before I knew it there was tea, coming from the UK, addressed to me. Like I said, the internet and it's tea people are pretty darn cool.

Aroma

Here is what arrived at my house. A padded jiffy bag with all the mailing information showing how the Royal Mail was used. Contained within was a card with Daniel Craig drinking tea on it and a nice note inside with all their contact info. There was two plastic bags each holding 10g of tea. Except for the official Monkey Char sticker, everything was hand written. The ingredients listed on the sticker:
Keemun, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Assam, Bergamot Oil, Blue Cornflower Petals. 
The plastic bags were used to allow me a sample, so no testing was done. Needless to say any company that is willing to put together a special order just for me automatically gets a pass.

I did perform an aroma test on the actual tea after opening one of the plastic baggies and got a very lite response but one that really had a nice black tea smell. Very little bergamot but nice with black tea.


Steeping Method

Referring back to the plastic baggies, this is what was written on them:

Boiling water (100deg c) Brew for 3-5 mins or according to taste.

...And that is exactly what I tried, 3, 4, and 5 minute brewing times.

The Results


At three minutes the Earl Grey was very lite and the cornflower seem to overwhelm it. The tea came through nicely but this was still a lite brew. The color was on the lighter side but that's to be expected at this steeping time. At the four minute mark the cornflower came to the fore front but now it had the bergamot to mix with it. I'm normally a 4 minute Earl Grey guy and this tea seemed to favor that, at least for my tastes. I then let the cup cool a bit and it did allow more of the bergamot to present itself but the cornflower was still there, adding it's unique flavor.

I then moved onto the 5 minute mark and found the cornflower started to fade but I also think I may have burnt the tea a bit. It was a touch bitter so I tried again and this time stopped short of the 5 minute mark and that seemed to eliminate the bitterness. The color was obviously the darkest out of the three and when allowed to cool in the cup the tea really came through.

Re-Steeping

Once again Earl Grey with cornflower petals was for me, more enjoyable once the flower influence was removed. After a bit of testing and trying, I found that 4 minutes on the first steep followed by the exact same 4 minutes on the second steep gave me what I was looking for. Try some different combos to see where your tastes land you.

Final thoughts

To be perfectly honest I feel really bad because I feel like I have let Monkey Char down. But at the same time, I need to clear the air and be completely honest and upfront. This is the third Earl Grey with cornflower I have reviewed and I think it's safe to say, I'm not a fan of cornflower in my Earl Grey. Meaning Lady Grey is not for me. In all three cases I like the re-steep better then the first because the cornflower taste has "burned off" leaving only the black tea and bergamot. Since I'm not a fan of Lady Grey it will be better for all parties involved that I no longer review this version. I understand people are trying to create new and better formula's but I think I'm just going to stick with the original when it comes to my reviews.

To end a big Thank You to Monkey Char and the huge effort they put into getting me the tea to try. If you are a fan of Lady Grey, by all means please give them a try.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review #31 - Paisley Tea Co. Organic Double Earl Grey (bagged)

With 2 birthday parties, a Baptism, the start of school and my yearly bike century, things have been quite busy. Thankfully things have calmed a bit and we have a review this week. This weeks tea was found in an out of state shopping mart with an interesting name more associated with a clothing pattern then tea. But enough of this chatter, on to the review.

Aroma

Before opening anything you are greeted with a box filled with information except for one very important piece. I'll hold off on that one piece and focus on the given info. To begin, this tea is Organic and it's Fair Trade. They dedicate an entire side to how they support the farmers who produce their tea and consider it their social responsibility to do so.  They then encourage you to visit their website to learn more which I did which turned out to be (as of Sat Sept 21, 2013) nothing but a welcome page. What made it strange was not the welcome page but rather the "coming soon" part. Upon further investigation you'll see that Paisley Tea is actually a sort of off shoot from Two Leafs Tea Co. Or as they put it...
"Meet two leaves’ “slightly hipper, younger sister.” Paisley Brand Tea is hotter than the average teabag!"
To help understand where and how this new brand fits in I did a quick price comparison. Two Leaves Earl Grey: 15 Tea Sachets @ $7.95.... Paisley Earl Grey 20 Tea bags @ $5.95. Make of that what you will but it appears that Paisley was created to "appeal" to a broader market??

With that out of the way I opened the box and found a white bag inside that contained all the tea bags. My initial reaction was to ask a question....how do you keep the bags fresh once you open the white bag? I guess you could tape it shut or twist tie it but it didn't seem the best way to handle that. Which brings us to the actual aroma and there wasn't any. Even with 20 tea bags filling the white plastic bag I still couldn't pick up any bergamot aroma. And when I mean there was nothing I mean nothing. I twisted the bag to make a small opening and pushed all the air out toward my face and still, there was no bergamot aroma. That made me wonder about the ingredients:
High-quality, organic black tea gets the royal treatment with citrusy bergamot oil in this classic tea.  
It's not like I've never experienced a low aroma tea bag before just not so many at one time providing no aroma. Which brings us to our last and final piece and in this case the missing piece. I could not find any steeping instructions. Seriously, there were no instructions on the box nor could I find any on the Two Leaves site. The only thing I could find was to use boiling water but no mention as to steeping times. Needless to say that makes my next section rather empty.

Steeping Method

Since none were given I did 4, 5 and 6 minutes.


The Results

Starting with my typical default steeping time of 4 minutes, I was met with a very thin tasting tea. Yes it tasted like Earl Grey and yes it has some citrus flavor to it but, it was very thin. By comparison, this tea was as strong at this steep time as other teas are for their second steep. If you let the tea cool a bit you really don't gain much in the flavor department. The color was quite good and alot more aroma came out once the brewing process began but like I said, flavor wise this is a very light tea.

At the 5 minute mark the color got a touch darker and the tea did gain some flavor. Instead of this being a
very light tea it took a step up the flavor chart. Not a big step but one that could be tasted. The aroma stayed pretty much the same and letting this tea cool at after 5 minutes of steeping allowed the flavors to blend a bit more but nothing that really grabbed my attention.

At the 6 minute mark I was honestly expecting this tea to taste totally burnt but it didn't. To be honest I think the tea starts to burn at this point because the tea flavor came forward flavor wise while the bergamot faded into the background almost to the point of this just being a black tea.

To conclude this section, all three steeping times produced a very light Earl Grey, some were just lighter then others.

Re-Steep

When a tea starts out as light as this one did, guessing this tea would be even thinner the second time around was not exactly sticking my neck out. Unfortunately, I was correct. I tried re-steeping after each of the above times and was treated to Earl Grey water each time. To end, I don't suggest re-steeping this tea at all.

 Final Thoughts

If you picked up on the overall tone of this review then you can probably guess this is not my kind of Earl Grey tea. I like a more balanced, and yes bolder tea in the flavor category. If you like a lighter tea then by all means give this one a try but as for me, this one is not for me.





Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review #30 - Teapigs Darjeeling Earl Grey (bagged)

We returned from our family vacation and are ready to jump back into reviewing more tea. This weeks tea was found at an out of state Mom & Pop mini mart. This place was definitely going for the "we only carry items that no one else does" because once again I had never heard of this Earl Grey blend. So lets just right in.

Aroma

LtoR Box, then plastic bag
The Teapigs packaging is an interesting mix of materials. The outer box appears to be recycled hard paper (thin cardboard??) and the tea bags themselves, referred to "Tea Temples", are biodegradable. But the temples themselves come in a sealed plastic bag which needs to be opened to get to all the bags. Like I said, interesting mix. This means when you open the plastic bag all the aroma is ready and waiting for you. Strangely, and much to my surprise, there wasn't much. In fact this tea smelled like a completely different tea altogether. So I checked their ingredients.

Black Tea, Flavoring, Cornflower Petals.
A quick trip to their website provided plenty of additional details:

Most of the Earl Greys you find use a poor quality tea black base from China, which is like palming yourself off as landed gentry when all you own is a Barbour jacket. In this blend we use a Darjeeling tea – the best of the best from the foothills of the Himalayas.  These whole Darjeeling leaves are blended with the finest bergamot citrus from the south of Italy and pretty little cornflowers to create something altogether more gentrified. 

Before we go any further I'd like to remind our audience Lady Grey is a Twinnings blend that contains black tea, oranges, lemon, bergamot and cornflower. That's when I noticed their tagline: "The new grey" and wondered if this was a whole new blend I had never tried before. I would soon find out.

Steeping Method

According to their box:
One tea temple per person, infused in boiling water for least 3 minutes.
This means I was going to do 3,4,5 minutes and on, for steeping times.


The Results


Before I present my opinion let me first state a few things.

1. I really enjoy Darjeeling. Currently drinking Makaibari Estate 2nd Flush Darjeeling so I'm not someone who's never had it.

2. I'm starting to see that my journey to taste every Earl Grey may have exposed me as a "traditionalist" when it comes to Earl Grey. Meaning, Black tea, Bergamot and nothing else.

Now that I've fessed up, the results in the most honest way I can do this. I kinda liked the flavor of this tea.... but it's not Earl Grey as I envision/look for/like.

At 3min there is barely any bergamot flavor coming through. I got black tea and the cornflower.
I let it cool but no additional flavors came forward.

At 4mins things improved but again, the bergamot got lost in the mix. When I let the tea cool a bit the bergamot came through a bit more but just like 3 minutes, all the other flavors just ran over it.

At 5 mins the tea gained a bit of citrus which gave me hope that maybe the 6 minute mark would really bring out the bergamot. Instead I started to pick up on the tea being burnt. As before, cooling helped alittle but not enough.

Because the flavor was so different I brewed up some Earl Grey from another vendor to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Sure enough the second blend let the citrus flavors come through while letting you enjoy the black tea. With the tea I'm reviewing the flavor is just so different from any Earl Grey I've ever had (good and bad) I find myself questioning if this is really an Earl Grey or another variant like Lady Grey.

Re-Steeping

As you might has expected, when you start with a tea that has such a different flavor from your "typical" Earl Grey, your re-steeping efforts will be impacted. So for me, I wouldn't re-steep this tea because the initial flavor is not what I'm looking for. But if you like it, then I would go just under 4 minutes on your 1st steep and 5+ minutes on your second to extract the most from it. 

Final Thoughts

On one hand I love when people are constantly looking to improve things. That mentality really speaks to my Engineering side. But then my traditional side kicks in and wants to enjoy an Earl Grey as most people understand it. So I'm going to say for me personally, I enjoyed this tea as it's own thing but I didn't enjoy it as an Earl Grey. If you are looking to try something different then by all means go for it but understand, "this may not be the tea you are looking for." 




Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review #29 - Harney & Sons Organic Earl Grey (loose)

Our last two reviews have covered bagged tea so it's time to return to loose and that means we are giving Harney & Sons another go. I will say up front that during this review I will be leaving out as much of the redundant information as possible. We know about their bags, labels and steeping times so I will briefly mentioned them but will not dwell on them since they have been covered in previous reviews. With that bit of info out of the way lets begin.

Aroma



The Organic sample came in the same bag as the previous two. As for the aroma once you open the bag it came across as rather subdued. If you stick with it, you end up saying the tea comes through more then the bergamot. But as we have seen before initial aroma testing sometimes doesn't tell the whole story.

The ingredients from their site:

A traditional blend of hand-picked black teas from India and natural Oil of Bergamot. The Assam is mellowed a bit with a smooth south Indian Tea. 




Steeping Method

Just like before, and again from their site:

4 to 5 minutes 

The Results

Starting with 4 minutes the color was good but not as dark as others. The aroma definitely improved releasing a lot more citrus which is what I look for in a good Earl Grey.  On the flavor side the tea came across as light. We've touched on this topic many times so I won't bore you with a repeat explanation. As the tea cooled it improved a little but still very light.

I then moved onto the 5 minutes steep time and things improved a bit. The color got a touch darker and the flavor improved because the tea became better balanced. At the 4 minute mark the tea was still overpowering the bergamot while at 5 things were a bit more even. Again I would still call this tea light and it appears that Harney and & Sons intended that.

Since these are organic teas, the aroma is light and subtle. This allows the lemony Bergamot to come through loud and clear.
(snip)
This is a medium bodied black tea. It is not as full bodied as other Earl Greys. 
So I'm kinda at a loss as to why the reason for the teas lightness was attributed to it being organic.  I
understand my formal education in tea and tea blending is not to the level of the folks running Harney & Sons but I've had organic Earl Greys that are not this light. If someone from H&S would be so kind to either leave a comment or contact me via twitter I'd love to learn.

Re-Steeping

I will be honest here, teas that start out light typically are not your best re-steepers. But surprise, surprise I was wrong with this tea. If you brew the first steep at 4 minutes and the second at 5mins you will actually get a decent cup of Earl Grey. Will it over power you? No, because you started light to begin with. But this tea holds a lot of it's flavor which comes out when it cools after the second steep.


Final Thoughts

If you are like me and are concerned about what's being put into your food, having an organic option solves this problem. Thankfully H&S has an entire organic section so they should be commended. As for their blend of Earl Grey, it's good just not the type I like the best. I was hoping for a bit more body. To end, do yourself a favor and try it for yourself especially if you are a fan of lighter Earl Grey.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review #28 - The Republic of Tea Earl Greyer Black Tea Bags

While walking around with my family in the wonderful town of North Conway, NH I tried a small sandwich shop that also served tea. Most of it was generic stuff but I did happened to notice their selection of the not so generic -Republic of Tea-. After a quick look around I found their Earl Grey offering and just like that, another tea ready to be reviewed.

Aroma

It was bound to happen but The Republic of Tea (TRT) has managed to change my review process when it comes to bags, and how they are sealed. Up to this point everything pretty much came in a bag and almost every tea bag was individually wrapped. This tea does not come in a box, but rather a cylinder that is the sealed container. Once you break off the seal and open the container, you will have full visibility to their round tea bags. Yes I said round and I will also say they don't use any staples to connect their bag to the label. In fact, there are no labels or strings. It's just a circular bag. So for me to perform my test I merely had to close the container. TRT has done their homework and I could not smell anything coming from the container. A quick read from their label explained why:
Save this recyclable, airtight container store refills. 
As to the actual aroma I would say very subdued given how you are basically taking in all 50 bags at once. As for the bags themselves, they are "Natural, unbleached tea bags". Which is always good to see used given the unwanted alternatives. So how do they get their aroma ingredients wise? According to their container:
Fine black tea and natural bergamot oil
But their site adds a bit more detail:
Our exceptional Earl Greyer blend combines the lush flavor and exquisite fragrance of the Bergamot Orange, native to Southern Italy, with a lovely Ceylon black tea leaf from Sri Lanka.  
So we have a reusable container, no staples and bags made from unbleached material. Definitely a good start.

Steeping Method

The container had a bit more detail regarding water quality but I think TRT's site lists the instructions perfectly.

Steeping black tea is easy. Simply heat fresh, filtered water to a rolling boil. Then pour water over tea and steep for 3-5 minutes if using a tea bag or full-leaf.

If you head over to their site you can even watch a video that explains the same thing but adds that everyone should find their own personal steeping time. This means I will be testing the tea at 3, 4, 5 minutes and of course my torture test.

The Results

I actually started in reverse this time and went straight for the 5 minute time. The color was darker then most and the flavor started almost immediately. Even with a still very warm cup, alot of the flavor could be enjoyed. After about 30secs this tea really started to shine and it only got better from there. A nice strong, natural citrus flavor was perfectly balanced with the black tea. You could taste both parts on each sip. For me this is what Earl Grey should be. A black tea that is enhanced with the addition of bergamot not overwhelmed.

At the 4 minute mark I really couldn't tell any difference in the color or the aroma from the 5 min. The flavor
was a tiny bit thinner but still balanced. I also noticed it took some additional time for the flavors to overcome the just boiled cup. But still a very good cup of Earl Grey.

At the 3 minute mark, the tea slid into the lighter category. The tea was a bit more pronounced and the bergamot was obviously a bit more subdued. The color and aroma followed suit and were both reduced. Meaning, less color and less aroma. Still good but like I said, more on the lighter side.

Now for the fun, the 6 minute torture test. Would I uncover some extra flavor? Would I unearth some extra aroma? No on all ideas. Sadly the only thing I accomplished with my test was to burn the tea. You could taste it around the 6minute mark and it only got worse from there. So no hidden treasures but with the flavor that you get at 5, I'm not complaining at all except for one small little thing.

I'm sorry but the tea bags need a string or something. During my first taste test I attempted to fish out the bag with my fork and of course got food on it. If you are daring and have clean hands you can get it out but most of us will have to have some form of utensil around to avoid any messes.

Re-Steeping

Given what I've written you can probably tell that I really enjoyed this tea and you would be right. Well there is a cost for that enjoyment. No re-steeping. In my opinion, don't do it. If you want another wonderful cup of Earl Grey, fish out the old bag, and just replace it.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this tea; period. This tea is what I look for in an Earl Grey. The flavors are balanced, there are no metal objects, and the company has taken steps to insure a quality cup of tea right up until the last bag is used. To prove how much I enjoy this tea, I will be ordering some loose to both review and hopefully enjoy. To put it simply, try this tea. No seriously, you really should try this tea. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review #27 - Clipper Organic Earl Grey Tea (bagged)

I guess the best way to start this entry would be to say, this tea was found and not looked for. No disrespect to Clipper but I hadn't heard of their company until I was walking through an Organic section at a local supermarket that was being phased out. As I walked around scanning for sale items I found the box and immediately grabbed it. If nothing else, this whole taste every Earl Grey on this planet thing has uncovered many unknown companies which is great.  So onto the review we go.

Aroma

Before I broke open the wrapped box I read some of their printed statements. To begin this tea is USDA organic, Certified to International Fairtrade standards, holds a GB Organic Certification 5 and the box is biodegradable.That last certification is a new one for me so here is but one linked for an explanation: Organic certifications - United_Kingdom  As for the actual ingredients there is one discrepancy that hopefully is a none issue. On the box this is how the ingredients are listed:
*organically gown tea, natural bergamot flavor with other natural flavors 
Their website has this:
Organically grown fairtrade tea, natural bergamot flavour. 
The expiration date on the box is Dec 23, 2013 so I'm hoping the box is out of date and the website is the real thing. Why? Because that one extra "natural flavors" essentially adds an unknown mystery ingredient. Judging from the effort this company has put into labeling everything, I probably wouldn't worry. With that out of the way, I broke open the box and grabbed my first, of many, sealed bag and tested for aroma. To my surprise, I got nothing. Seriously, when I went to take in the aroma, there was nothing there. I immediately blamed myself and let the bag sit for a moment before trying again. The result was the same, no aroma what so ever.

So I grabbed the tea bag out of the sealed bag and found staples which was a huge shock to me. With all the  organic and natural steps this tea has taken to, I'll admit to being very confused why they choose to go with staples. If someone from Clipper reads this I'd be curious of their reasons why. Also if Clipper has moved away from the staples I would be happy to update this review because we all know how I feel about boiling metal in my tea. Not good.

Steeping Method

Both their site and their box have identical instructions so I just grabbed it from the site:
Always use fresh water, pour it over the tea bag while it's still boiling and allow it to brew for 2-4 minutes. The rest is up to you.

This means I'll be testing 2, 3, 4 and of course stress testing beyond what they suggest.

The Results

Starting at the 2 minute mark I can say this is a very thin tea. The color is very light and the flavors is very subtle. If you like a very lightly flavored tea I'd stay here because even though it's very light, it still presents a balanced flavor. The cooling effect doesn't really improve it at all and there is no complexity.

At the 3 minute mark things get better but you start to sense there is alot more to this tea then what 3 minutes
will give you. It's good, just not good enough to get excited about. At the suggested high end, the 4 minute mark, things improved again and the color got darker. The cooling effect didn't bring out any extra flavors but the tea was nicely balanced. Not too strong on the bergamot thus allowing the tea to come through flavor wise.

That's when I stressed this tea to the 5 minute mark and found what I was looking for. This must sound pretty strange coming from me, the 4 minute default steeper. But the steeping facts don't lie. At 5 minutes I enjoyed this tea. It was well balanced and had a slight cooling effect. Nothing award winning but it was there and added to the enjoyment.

Re-Steeping

As with most bagged teas, once you extract the most you can from the bag, there isn't much left for the re-steep. But as always I played around a bit and found a method that you might approve of. I've said this before but I'll repeat it. I wound't re-steep this tea but just grab a fresh bag. But if you really want too, here is what I consider acceptable. 1st steep should stop at 4 minutes then for your second steep just leave the bag in the cup/glass until you detect bitterness, then take it out.

Final Thoughts

I guess the obvious issue I have with this tea is their use of staples. Why did a company take all that time and effort to create a perfectly natural (in the real sense of the word) tea only to add metal to it is confusing. But as I have said before, if this is not a concern you share then I would definitely try it yourself. For me I would be happy to give this tea to guests who don't share my concern because it really is a good Earl Grey. But there are other bagged teas that either match or beat the flavor of this one and don't use staples. To end it's up to you, enjoy.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review #26 - Harney & Sons Earl Grey Supreme (loose)


This review sees me return to a tea by Harney & Sons. As mentioned before, I bought a number of samples from them so this will be the second to be reviewed. In an effort to make sure I was not influenced in any way by the name or packaging I was going to come up with some completely random way to select from the remaining H&S samples. While contemplating this new and completely random method my youngest walked up and asked what I was doing. I informed him of how I was coming up with a brand new way to pick which tea I was going to review next. Given how curious little ones can be, I provided many details and made sure he understood all the permutations. He paused, looked at me, looked at the tea samples on the counter, looked at me again and then handed me one. "Here, do this one!" And with that my random selection from the remaining teas was completed. Onto the review. 
Aroma
As we saw in the first H&S review, their sample bags all look the same both front and back and the only difference is the naming label applied to them. Like before the bag gives off zero aroma so you will loose little to nothing during the shipping and handling of your tea. With that out of the way I ripped off the top of the bag, opened it and took in my first breath which gave me a strong perfume smell. As you know I prefer the more natural citrus based aromas but do not hold it against most teas. Brewing changes many things so I always refrain from prejudging.  I tried again after letting the tea bag breath a little and the perfume smell was still present just not as strong. Because of this I could detect a bit of tea but mostly this Earl Grey was about the overwhelming aroma. 

So I headed over to their site to find out the ingredients of this blend: 
A nice mixture of large black leaves, the brown leaves of the oolong, and silver needles of the white tea. 

As for the actual begamot, I found this:

Lovely citrus aromas predominate, we put a higher amount of bergamot in this special tea.



So after reading this I placed my typical serving size amount onto the white plate and let it sit there to really air out. Unfortunately I still got an artificial aroma rather then a nice clean natural one. I wondered if it was me so I went back to some of my previously reviewed teas and re-tested the aroma on some of the stronger blends. There indeed was alot more citrus in a few others then in this tea so it wasn't me. This tea, and it's ingredients tend towards the purfume side.

Steeping Method 
A few reviews back I needed to cover quite the range of steeping times starting at 1 minute and going all the way up to 5 minutes. Thankfully this tea is going easy on me. All I have to concern myself with is 4 to 5 minutes. 
The Results
At the 4 minute steep time the color was good but the perfume was still very strong and rather over powering. If the aroma was one of fresh citrus, as if being in an orchard, I wouldn't mind. But it's not. So I decided to let it sit for while. Thankfully things improved. The perfume made way to a more natural aroma and the taste became more balanced. Initially this was all flavoring and no tea. But as it cooled the differences started to even out.  
At 5 minutes I got more of the same but faster and with a better result. (Yes I know that made no sense). When the water was poured I got the same nose full of perfume. But this time, and because of
the extra minute, I think the perfume dissipated quicker. I could pick up on the tea a bit more and of course sooner. It was very slight but it was there. The flavor was similar to the 4 minute time but this time I didn't need quite so much cooling time. I'm not a tea master but from a logical point of view this is what I think is happening. Because the tea spent more time steeping it burned off the perfume flavoring and allowed the actual tea to come through. Was this by design? Only the blender can answer that. At this point I enjoyed the tea very much. It had some of those wonderful cooling artifacts that good teas exhibit. Stealing from the world of wine, I would say this tea had complexity. I still don't technically know what I'm drinking by way of ingredients so that puts a damper on my overall enjoyment. But it should be stated, this is a good Earl Grey.  

Re-Steeping 
Now that you know I like the 5 minute steeping time, I can tell you quite frankly, there is nothing left to re-steep. At 4 minutes on the re-steep the water barely changes color and there is only a hint of anything. At 5 minutes the water gains a tiny amount of color but the flavor remains mostly heated water. Simple put, don't even bother with this tea. Enjoy the first cup/pot, compost the leaves, and start with fresh tea if you want a second helping. 

Final Thoughts. 
If you can get past the perfume filled aroma, and don't mind waiting for the flavors to blend, you should enjoy this tea as much as I did. Would I suggest this tea? That gets back to personal preferences. If you are like me and like knowing what's in your food, then you may want to hold off on this blend because they really don't tell you. If that doesn't matter to you, then by all means try it for yourself. I will add that H&S does have an Organic Earl Grey that I plan to review in the near future. I did sneak a peak at their description page and found something that has me looking forward to my next Harney & Sons review: 

Since these are organic teas, the aroma is light and subtle. This allows the lemony Bergamot to come through loud and clear.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review #25 - Ashbys of London Earl Grey (bagged)

A few reviews back I hit the wrong key while typing in a company name. It was my fault and I admitted it. But this time, if not for me being extra careful I could have easily messed this one up bad. I'll explain. The tea being reviewed this week comes from Ashbys of London. When I did a web search to get their site I found, and I am not making this up, AshbyTea who sells Ashbys of London, among other things. Then I noticed the bags they show on the "No S" site are different from the ones I bought. So I went back to Ashbys of London's site (has an "S") and found the actual tea I am reviewing and thankfully it shows the same bag I have in my possession. So if I haven't totally confused you, lets get on with the review. 

Aroma

Some of the companies I review set a tone with their box because more and more companies are trying to use recycled or partially recycled material. Needless to say I applaud their efforts for all the million obvious reasons. With regards to Ashbys, the first thing you see is plastic.  As you might have guessed, this is the first tea I've reviewed where the "box" was made entirely from clear plastic. Yes it's cool to see inside but as for the use of plastics, I have to admit to cringing a bit. With that out of the way I broke the seal and tried to pick up any aroma from the sealed bag. Ashbys has done a good job with their sealing process because I couldn't pick anything up by way of tea. So I ripped open the bag and took a nice deep inhale and got a nose full of perfume. Never wanting to go on first impressions, I let the opened bag breath a bit and tried again. The perfume aroma had dissipated some, and if you stayed with it, you could in fact smell the black tea. But as mentioned many times before, I look for a nice natural citrus aroma and personally get turned off by alot of artificial perfume.

Enough fooling around it was time to pull the bag out. That's when I saw the staples. I'll admit I cringed again. So I looked at the bottom of the plastic box and read the ingredients.
Ingredients: Black tea, Oil of bergamot

I flipped the box around and obviously found no additional info. So I went back and read everything on the bottom card. There I found some additional info. To be completely fair, I'll post what their site has....typos and all:

Named after the Prime Minister to China in 1830, Earl Grey derivesw its famoun flavor from oil of bergamot (an oil form the rind of the fruit of Citrus Bergamia). Ashbys flavor their own Earl Grey using a China Black FOP tea that has just the right body and flavor to enhance the oil of bergamot.

 So we have a tea that smells of perfume, uses staples and has a plastic box. As always I'm going to be completely honest here, my expectations at this point were not very high. Sadly the steeping section had another let down ready for us.

Steeping Method

With a tea bag ready to go I grabbed the wrapper to see what the steeping instructions were, and there weren't any.  The only instructions I could find were right under the ingredients.

Directions: Use one tea bag per cup. Pour on boiling water, leave to stand for 2-3 minutes, and serve.

I went back to their site and couldn't find any instructions on the Earl Grey page. So I had a look around and found on their product page a rather detailed set of instructions that seemed to be for straight black tea because it suggested boiling water for 5 minutes using loose tea. At this point in my review my little voice was telling me something was a bit off. That's when I noticed this:

In order to reduce your cost of shipping and handling charges.
Griffith Enterprises decided to reimburse handling charges for any orders over $80.00 (US) dollars.  
Who? So I thought maybe Ashbys (with an S) had been sold to this Griffith Co and Ashby (no S) was now selling it? Making this worse, and again returning to the underneath of the plastic box, it stated it was imported and distributed by Coffee Master Inc. in Spring Grove, IL. US. At this point I decided to move on and just finish this review.

The Results

Seeing how this tea did not call for a 4 minute steep time, that became my stress test along with 5
minutes just to make sure. At the 2 minute mark this tea kept it's perfume smelling attributes and didn't really taste very much of tea or Earl Grey. At 3 minutes, things improved to the point where during the cooling period I could pick out more of the bergamot but it was still a very artificial flavor. Strangely enough at 4 minutes things improved but again this was not a wonderfully tasting citrus filled tea.  No this was a tea that had plenty of artificial flavorings to it. At 5 minutes the tea started to turn suggesting I had burnt it.  The color at the suggested 3 min time can be seen in the picture and it was more then acceptable.

Re-Steep

I think the re-steeping helped to "burn off" the perfume smell and taste because if you went 4 minutes on your second steep after stopping at 2 minutes for your first steep, it wasn't a total waste. It wasn't great but I actually preferred the second steep to the first.

Final Words

Plastic container, staples in bag and on label, no idea about the ingredients with regards to health, confusing instructions if you read their site, and a site that had a few things that you just don't see anymore with regards to web design. I won't go into them here but in a past life I did my fair share of PHP, ColdFusion, etc, etc and maybe that's why this site seems a bit off to me. Sticking with the tea only, this wasn't my favorite tea for most of the reasons listed above. If you like a tea where the bergamot is heavy on the perfume side, then try it. But for me, this is not something I would drink.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review #24 - Suki Tea Earl Grey Blue Flower

So one day I'm checking my twitter feed and I see this.

@EarlGrey1 Challenge on. Where do we send our hand blended Earl Grey tea for tasting?

I know I'm not the worlds most storied tea reviewer in the world but I have been contacted by both tea makers and tea magazines before. In each and every case things just haven't worked out. So when I first saw this message I was kind of expecting the whole thing to just fizzle out. But I was wrong because Oscar, the person who had sent the post was totally serious about sending me some tea to review. Even after informing him that I lived in the States he had this to say via twitter direct msg.

@EarlGrey1 Hi, don't forget to send me the address.

So I sent him my address and waited. To be honest, I'd given my address to other people promising tea and it never came so yes, I still wasn't sure. Then on Saturday night when I checked our mail, a rather large package from Belfast was staring me in the face. Oscar was true to his word and did in fact mail me some Earl Grey. Adding to my surprise, it was a 100g bag. I was beyond shocked because I was completely expecting a small, sample size package which would have been totally acceptable. So it appears I will be reviewing my first Earl Grey that I didn't need to purchase. Needless to say, a huge Thank You to Oscar at Suki Tea. Now on with the review.

Aroma 

 As you can see from the picture, the tea came in what looks like an ordinary paper bag. But under closer inspection you'll see the bag is a bit "waxed" and when you open it, will find a plastic coating on the inside. This bag is for shipping only and Suki's packaging is very clear:

Once opened, store in a sealed airtight container and consume within 3 months.
I did my typical cheating aroma test before opening and Suki passed with flying colors. I couldn't pick up any form of aromas which means you should loose little to no flavor in transit. Upon opening it I was greeted with a subdued aroma. It really didn't smell like any Earl Grey I've tasted before. It almost smelled flowery. That's when I remembered what the ingredients were:

Ingredients: Organic Rainforest Alliance Certified Tanzanian Black Tea (97.8%), Organic Centaurea Ceranus cyanus flower petals (1.5%), Organic Bergamot flavouring (0.7%) 
Trust me, when I saw the Centaurea word I was clueless so I did some checking on their website and via my favorite search engine. Come to find out, it's cornflower. As the expression goes, learn something every day. Since I had Oscar's ear via twitter I asked him where the idea to add cornflower came from. He had this to say:

I was a designer before I started this company. Visual impact is a big part of any food and drink experience. This is part of the theater.  
So we know the tea is all organic and Fairtrade. We know exactly how much of everything is in it, which is so nice given all the issues we are currently facing with labeling. And we know the person in charge is not just going for a certain flavor but for a total experience. I'll admit, Oscar had peaked my interest.

Note: For those of you who know your Earl Grey variations, Lady Grey (Ie.Twinnings) includes cornflower as well and it purposely keeps the begamot to a minimum.

Steeping Method

I've said it many times before but I tend to default to a 4 minute steep time when it comes to Earl Grey. I'm probably wrong for doing so but there it is. So when I read the steeping instructions on the bag I honestly didn't see them and just went 4 minutes. I remember seeing the 5 but what I didn't see was the 1 before it. Somehow my brain had blocked that part out and had me thinking 4-5 minute steeping time.
So while waiting for the timer to go off for my first attempt, I grabbed the bag and re-read everything. That's when I saw the 4 was not a 4 but a 1. Khaaaaannnnn!!!! I cringed because that meant I had some serious work ahead of me. Here is what the bag has to say:
1 teaspoon per person. Infuse for 1-5 min in fresh boiled water
So I'm going to warn you now, this review will be very data driven. Why? Because for each 1 minute time period I also had to test the re-steep. It's a dirty job but someone has gotta taste all this Earl Grey Tea.

The Results

So here goes.

At 1 minute
Barely there, very thin, cooling really doesn't bring any additional sweetness. Color is very lite.  Re-steeping is almost equivalent to a first steep. To be honest I don't see the point. If this were an Oolong and this was part of the "washing" step then maybe I would agree but I wouldn't do it.

At 2 minutes
A bit more flavor but still very thin. Noticed color got darker but again, not a very full flavor. Cooling doesn't allow any additional flavors to get noticed. Re-Steep is on par with the 1 minute 1st steep. You get a bit more flavor but why make your first cup so thin just to get a second.

At 3 minutes
Flavor jumps up a bit and the color continues to darken. Cooling helps but now I'm starting to notice less of the bergamot and more flowery tastes. At this point I would describe this tea as a very lite flavored Earl Grey. Re-steep will get you two of pretty much the same cups of tea. If you like a very lite Earl Grey then you will enjoy the re-steep as well. Go to 3 minutes for both the first and second steeps.

At 4 minutes
This is where I started to really enjoy this tea. Color is on par with most other Earl Greys. When you taste it right after steeping the flowery tastes come through more then the bergamot. As I've done before I'm going to suggest waiting. Once this tea began to cool the bergamot rose to the top of the flavor chart and I got to enjoy a good Earl Grey. Now here is the interesting part. The re-steep produced a pretty big surprise. If you go 4 minutes for the re-steep you will get a cup of Earl Grey almost equal to the first. I'll repeat, I was really surprised. There is no flowery tastes left and all you get is tea and bergamot. I repeated this time frame and got the same results.

At 5 minutes
And then we fell off the cliff. Sadly at the 5 minute mark I thought the flowery taste overwhelmed the bergamot and no amount of cooling allowed it to come through. Re-steeping produced more of the same.

Now before we move on, I need to bring up the wine comparison again. With wine you have different varieties. You have Merlot, Cab Sav, Chianti, Shiraz, the Pinot's, Chardonnay and Riesling. Each are good in their own right but people have favorites. Keeping that in mind, Suki Earl Grey is a lite variety.

One final strange note. As you saw written, Oscar added the cornflower to improve the overall aesthetics of the tea.  The cornflower is this wonderfully bright and vibrant blue color that really stands out. Ironically enough the same cornflower that was added, has the opposite effect when re-steeping.
When setting up the tea for my post steeping picture my wife asked me what the clear stuff was.  I had my own opinion on the matter so I let her give hers. She said it looks like someone added cooked white onions. Sadly I totally agree.

Re-Steep?

See above for all the details.

Final Thoughts

This tea can probably be many things to many types of Earl Grey people. It can be very, very lite or it can be a bit stronger. At the 4 minute mark this tea gets the closest to what I personally like in an Earl Grey. But just to repeat, this is a Chardonnay and I'm more of a Cab Sav kind of guy. I can definitely appreciate what Oscar has done and once I found my steeping time I enjoyed this tea. I also love the fact there is nothing unknown, it's all organic and fair-trade ingredients. As far as I'm concerned this tea puts Belfast on the tea map. To end, I'd try it for yourself and see where your steeping takes you.  I'm sure there is steep time for everyone.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review #23 - Harney & Son's Earl Grey (loose)


In the past few reviews I hinted that I did my second bulk purchase from another well known “Tea House”. The reason this “Tea House” was selected comes from the feedback I’ve received from countless people suggesting them. So when fellow tea drinkers, and more specifically those tea drinkers who also enjoy Earl Grey, said I should check out this “Tea House” I listened. So as the title reveals, the tea house in question is Harney & Son’s. I ended up purchasing samples which covered their entire “just” Earl Grey varieties. With that news revealed, let’s get onto the review.

Aroma

The sample comes in what looks like a generic pouch because of the four samples I received, the only difference between them appeared to be a sticker with the actual tea variety name. The steeping instruction, which we’ll go into more detail later, covers all kinds of tea. My initial reaction to this set up was a bit off until I considered how this could help keep packaging prices down. But then again when you receive packaging that has instructions specific to that tea, it does give a sense of focus. As the expression goes, I’m obviously splitting hairs on the matter but why not mention it, so if you feel one way or the other you can join the conversation and leave a comment. One of the things I like about the pouch was its zip-lock like closure. My reviews include multiple steeps so keeping my samples fresh is very important to obtain a fair review.

As to the aroma itself I would have to characterize it as subdued The aroma will not blow you away with overwhelming citrus or a lot of perfume. Actually it’s one of the few teas I’ve reviewed that allow you to pick up both the bergamot and the tea. But as we've seen, some tea crafters mix a tea that brings a lot of flavor even with a lesser aroma so this will always be just one metric to my reviews.

At this point I was rather curious as to what the ingredients were and here is what their site said:


Our blend uses teas from India and China, blended with natural Oil of Bergamot.
One can only hope the bergamot oil used was derived from the fruit found in this website's favorite Italian area.


Steeping

I touched on this before but let’s get into the details now. Their sample bags, which may or may not be different from their full size bags, have instructions for brewing all kinds of tea. Given my focus on Earl Grey I went with their Black Tea instructions which were listed as follows:

Black Teas, Black Flavored Teas and Herbals
To enjoy a delicious pot of tea, please preheat your pot for a minute with boiling water then discard this water. Place a teaspoon of tea per desired cup into the pot and pour boiling water over the tea. Brew 4-5 minutes. Strain and remove the tea leaves.

The Result

For my first attempt I went with the four minute steep time. As I have stated many times, 4 minutes of
steeping appears to be synonymous, minus a few exceptions, with Earl Grey. At this steeping time the color was good and maybe even a bit darker than the average color I’m used to seeing. The flavor on the other hand was on the thin side to begin. It had some fruity bergamot flavors but allowed the tea to be enjoyed as well. As the tea cooled the bergamot flavor became more pronounced and I enjoyed it a bit more. It was still on the lighter tasting side but still had a good flavor. From there, I moved on to 5 minutes.

At the 5 minute mark things changed in two different directions. In the bad, letting the tea go that extra minute meant the tea was (obviously) hotter which took away from the initial tasting. It was almost as if the heat of the tea made it impossible to enjoy. So I let the tea sit for a bit and tried again and that’s where the good occurred. After about a minute of cooling the extra steeping time started to pay off. The tea was definitely fruitier leaving me to believe in this blend the bergamot needed more time to fill the tea with its flavors. As I continued to drink this tea, and it continued to cool, I enjoyed it more and more. But keep in mind; this is still a lightly flavored Earl Grey. Along with the 5minute steep time came a slight after taste which had me wondering if I burnt the tea or our old friend "natural" was a bit more?

Re-Steep

It’s broken record time, so here goes. If you want to re-steep, go with the 4 minute steep time and you’ll get an even lighter Earl Grey for your second. Personally, I’d stop the steeping just before 5 minutes, enjoy what this tea has to offer and forget the re-steep.

Final Thoughts

If you like a lighter flavored Earl Grey I’d definitely try it for yourself. I like a bit more cooling flavor (fruity) so I'm looking forward to trying the other samples from Harvey in hopes of finding something a bit stronger.

Update: My Apologize to Harney & Sons for my initial typo with their name. I wrote it once then copied and pasted using that incorrect spelling more times then I care to admit. Hopefully I fixed them all. If you find one here or online on Twitter, let me know so I can make it right. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review #22 - Bigelow Earl Grey (bagged)

There is a famous idiom/expression that goes something like this:

Familiarity breeds contempt 

To some that means the more you know something/someone the more you see their faults and on and on it goes. I personally don't buy into that line of negative thinking but rather go with "the more you know something the more you can appreciate." I'm going to give a bit a way for this review and say that I know Bigelow Earl Grey very, very well. After watching one of the first Star Trek Next Generation episodes I had my first ever cup of Earl Grey and it was Bigelow that I first tried. I'm guessing it was not the same "brand" that Picard was drinking but it got me started on my tea loving journey. So with all that out of the way, lets get on with the review.....Number 1, make it so.

Aroma 

Bigelow does a good job of sealing their bags because I couldn't pick up any aroma from either the box or the wrapper. Once you open the wrapper I will admit the aroma is rather faint. It's neither filled with perfume nor is it ripe with fruity freshness. To put it bluntly you really have to get your nose into the wrapper to get a full inhale. And once you do it's rather timid. According to the box there are only two ingredients:

black tea, natural oil of bergamot
There is some marketing speak about hand picked and tender leaves but in reality Bigelow doesn't really give you any real info when it comes to what kind of black tea is present. Also, and I know I've beaten this subject to death, this is not an organic tea so we have to take a leap of faith on how "natural" the natural oil in this tea really is. But the one thing Bigelow shows up huge on is... No Staples. That's right please give them a polite British clap while saying thank you. It's nice to see a large company like Bigelow move away from putting metal in tea and going with the wrap and knot.

Steeping Method

This is where Bigelow tea zigs where everyone else zags. Even I'm guilty of falling into the 4 minute trap when it comes to Earl Grey. But then again so many varieties use that time and come out perfect, so I just default to it. Well think again...and so you'll believe me ... here it is, right from their box... word for word:

Pour Boiling water over tea bag in a cup and steep for 1 to 2 minutes.

Heresy. She's a Witch! Burn her..... where's the duck to make sure. No more Newts!!!! It's like reading crazy talk. No one steeps their Earl Grey for just 2 minutes! Well think again, because as the label says, 1 to 2 is all they are calling for. So what does this insane steeping time produce?

The Results

I'm going to give this tea an award and then explain why I did such a weird thing.

Bigelow Earl Grey is awarded the Bear Grylls Survival award.

At this point in the review you've probably thought I've lost it but hold on and let me explain.

The color of this tea at the 1-2 minute mark is on the light side but I'm telling you to ignore that and keep steeping. Seriously, just leave the bag in there and start drinking when ever you are ready. Why? Because this is the tea that created the reason I stress test all my teas. At 1 to 2 minutes this is a very thin tasting tea and doesn't have much to talk about. But let it go and you will be rewarded with a pretty decent tea...for the price... and for it's availability. On three different occasions, I have needed, wanted, craved Earl Grey and didn't have any. So I head to what ever place is closest and go with the idea that my choices with be slim to none. But every time I go looking, I find Bigelow Earl Grey (and other flavors). It's amazing.

I was camping once and I found this tea at their tiny little variety store. While vacationing in New Hampshire
we had some water spill and all the tea I brought was ruined. A mile and a half down the road I find Bigelow Earl Grey in some tiny supermarket at 9pm on a Sunday night. While on vacation in Portugal a few years back I was offered tea only to see them pull out Bigelow. Seriously, the reason this tea gets the Bear Grylls award is because I call it survival tea. No matter where I go I can find it, at a good price, and it's always the same. And that's the reason I will always have a spot in my Tea Tasting heart for this tea.

Now to be honest, this tea isn't going to win any awards for it's complexity, or it's unique flavor. This is plain Jane Earl Grey. No bells, No whistles, No flashing neon lights, just good old fashion bagged Earl Grey that you can find anywhere on the cheap. So don't expect any flavor change as it cools, because you won't get any and don't expect people to debate the merits of their results. But for less then 3 dollars a box (20 bags) how can you go wrong?

Re-Steep

Given how strongly I suggest you just leave the bag in, this tea cannot be re-steeped because there will be nothing left. Sorry but that's the breaks.

Final Thoughts

So, just to be clear. Don't buy this tea because you are looking for the most exquisite tea known to mankind. Don't buy this tea because it's organic because it's not. But if you are ever on vacation, on travel, or find yourself jumping out of a plane into some remote part of the world, fear not because I'm sure within 5-10 miles of where you land, there will be a store that carries Bigelow Earl Grey. And when you bring that box back to your campsite, hotel room or newly made evergreen survival hut, you will be happy you did. Seriously, you need to boil the water before you drink it so you might as well have some tea.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review #21 - Upton Tea Ceylon FBOP Select Earl Grey (loose)

Well ladies and gents, we have reached the last Earl Grey from Upton tea. That's right, a ways back, I ordered every pure Earl Grey (no other flavorings beside Bergamot) from Upton tea. Then I started to review them when ever possible, but not so often as to appear biased in any way. Well this review marks the end of that order. So unless Upton adds any new Earl Grey's to their selection, we will be done with them until further notice. I will share that I did the same thing with another vendor but you'll just have to wait and see who that well known tea "house" is. So while you ponder the options, lets review what might possibly be the longest name for an Earl Grey yet.

Aroma

 As typical with Upton their sealed foil bags do not allow any aroma to escape, which is a good thing for freshness retention. That also means no cheating on the aroma test. Instead I peeled open their sample pack bag and was met with a very mellow but clean aroma. I continued to enjoy it and only picked up something slightly, and I mean very slightly "off" with the aroma. When you take in a good Earl Grey with real bergamot the fruity aromas linger and remain fresh and clean. With this tea you get that initially but then at the end you also pick up something else.  So as not to influence my review I didn't go to the website but just continued on with the review.

Steeping Method

Because I was purposely avoiding their site, I went with the instructions printed on the sample label. To be honest, nothing earth shattering, just good ol' fashion true blue typical methods.

1tsp / 3-5 min / 212 deg F 
This means I tasted this tea at the 3, 4 , and 5 minute marks. Since this is not bagged tea there is no need to stress test.

The Results

This tea was a pleasant surprise due to it's rather mellow aroma. If I had to sum up my tasting experience it
would be something like, "Not bad, Not bad at all with a secondary taste." To some this isn't a great review result and to be honest I won't be ranking this tea among the best ever. But I did like it minus the after taste. The flavor is very well balanced and only misses the cooling effect by a little  There is some flavor change, which I'll talk about as it relates to the steeping time, but overall a good flavor. So why the reservations? Let me explain.

To begin, let me explain how the flavor changed with steeping time. At the three minute mark this tea was very thin but still balanced. At the 4 minute mark the sweetness and aroma greatly improved to the point where I was quite happy with it. But if you are looking for that sweet cooling effect, 5 minutes is the way to go. By going to the 5 minute mark, you got a well balanced tea, and some nice cooling effect flavors. At this point I think it would be wise to point out what the letters in the name of this tea stand for. FBOP.

F BOP—Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe: Coarser and broken with some tips. From Assam, Ceylon, Indonesia, China, and Bangladesh. In South America coarser, black broken.
 source: Wikipedia

I know what you are thinking? You trust the Wiki? In this case after searching through countless sites, Wiki had the same exact thing everyone else had in a nice neat, and easily copied format.

So now for the bad part of this tea. After finishing the tasting part of this review I headed over to the Upton site and had a look at the ingredients hoping to find a reason for the secondary taste. Sadly I found something I was hoping not to see.

Ingredients:   black tea, natural & artificial flavor Origin:   Germany 

 Yup, those dreaded words, "Artificial flavor"; at least for me they are. But I will be fair and say this, I obviously don't know exact amounts of the artificial flavorings but if I were a betting man I would say less then 50% because there isn't a perfume based smell or taste. Just something not perfectly citrus about it. Granted they could be using something that doesn't give off any form of the typical perfume give away's making me totally wrong. But like I said, it's my guess and I'm sticking with it until further notice.

To end, the color of this tea was on the light side and the leaf expansion was on par with most other loose varieties.

Re-Steeping

This may come as a surprise but you can re-steep this tea, but at a cost. A cost which we've run into before with other teas. If you want to re-steep this tea keep your steeping times under 4 minutes. It won't be the best 2nd cup of Earl Grey you've ever had but it will be ok. If it were me I'd go for the best taste and forget the re-steep. But that's just me.

Final Thoughts

I could go on and on about taking something so pure as tea and adding artificial ingredients but you didn't come here to read a rant. You want a review so here are my final thoughts. If you are into the natural/organic side of things, I would skip this tea not because of the flavor but due to what "might" be in this tea. If you are on the other side of things, this Earl Grey isn't all that bad. It lacks some of the cooling effects other teas have but this is still a good tea and I would try it for yourself.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In loving tribute to Boston...

I remember it like it was yesterday, my parents were taking me to see this running race thing I kept hearing about. When we arrived my parents complained about how far they needed to park to find an actual parking space. Then we walked for what seemed like forever all at a pace that seemed a bit excessive, at the time, to make sure we got to see "Him". When we arrive it wasn't at some huge fancy arena but just another street. I thought my parents were tapped. Why did they drag me all this way to stand at some random street corner to watch a parade. Then it happened.

A Boston motorcycle policemen went by lights flashing, sirens blaring up a storm, the place became electric. Then a few more and then I got to see Him that everyone was talking about. Him being Bill Rogers. The man who owned the sport of marathons for a period of 5 years. He won both the Boston and NY City marathons 4 times. 2 of those Bostons he finished so quickly he broke the American record. I was in awe. As a child, Bill Rogers was my first real Sports Hero. As he ran by me that day he appeared to barely touch the ground.

For the next few hours I spent my time screaming in support of all the runners who past by. From that point forward both the Boston Marathon and running became an integral part of my life. Every Patriots Day I would turn on the tv and watch the marathon start to finish. To some it was just a bunch of guys running but to me it became a way of life. I dreamed of one day crossing the line no matter what it took. Sadly that dream was taken away when I developed a knee injury during my years running high school track. I was told that yes I could train and probably finish Boston but that I would probably ruin my knee and need surgery following the race. My love for Boston never waned and I continued to run only with a different goal in life. A few years later I got into multi-sports and joined a local team and back to Boston I went.

Come to find out one of the team's sponsors was going to be at the Boston Marathon Expo and needed volunteers to man their booth. I jumped at the chance to be there, and wasn't disappointed. I got free parking, a free pass into the expo, and of course got to see it all during a break. That's when I saw Bill Rogers, a bit more frail but no less a hero of mine. My chance to rub elbows with another Boston great would happen some years later.

At my first teaching job I kept hearing and seeing a familiar Boston Marathon name. I thought it was someone else but no, I was working with Geoff Smith winner of both the 84' and 85' Boston Marathons. In 1986 Boston began handing out prize money which sadly was the year after Geoff won his last Boston.
 I remember talking with him about running and both of our injuries. He spoke with me as an equal and shared that he was over joyed to be able to run following one of his surgeries. My love for running was cemented when I heard him describe what it felt like to run a 10min mile for the first time in too long.

Boston will forever be a part of my life. For some that shared love of Boston put them in a spot where some lunatic felt it best to destroy instead of support this great event and those running it. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected by this horrible act. To all the Bill's and Geoff's and everyone who has ever crossed the line at Boston, I salute you, I support you and I pray that someday needless violence will someday be a thing of the past.

God Bless