Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review #15 - Upton Tea Original Whole Leaf Earl Grey (Loose)

After spending two weeks in a row with bagged teas, it's back to the world of loose leaf. This week we return to another selection from Upton Tea to see if we can find a hidden gem. If you've ever looked through their paper catalog or scanned their website you'd understand this is no simple task. As stated in previous reviews, if there is one thing Upton Tea is known for, it's their beyond huge selection. For this review I purchased a sample pack which comes in their standard foil packs so no pictures of the bag this week, only tea. Now off to the review.


Given the foil packaging there was no anticipation of any aroma until the bag was cut opened. So I pulled out the ol' scissors and let the aroma free. Once opened you'll get a slight hint of the blend but to really enjoy it requires a nice deep breath. The aroma is not overpowering but definitely a clean one. According to packaging the tea contains Black Tea and Natural Flavoring. Given the aroma this tea falls into the balanced part of Earl Grey. The aroma doesn't over power the black tea because you can still detect it. A quick visit to the Upton site has a full description and explains why:

Description:   China Black tea base with bergamot flavor. Produced for the British market, this tea has less bergamot than some American counterparts. Ingredients:   black tea, natural flavor Origin:   Germany 

So once again we are being told that the fine folks in Great Britain appear to enjoy their Earl Grey on the lite side. We are also seeing some of the same ambiguity we've seen before when it comes to ingredients. If you've read enough of my reviews you'll know I do not like being in the dark about what I consume. Natural flavor is not an acceptable ingredient listing. Sorry to say but when I see those words (natural flavor) I automatically give the tea some negatives.

Brewing Method

Both the packaging and the website have the following instructions:

Water Temp: 212ยบ (boiling)Steep Time: 4 min. 
I followed their instruction for my first attempt at a taste test. I also (insert broken record disclaimer) tried the tea at 3 and 5 minutes in my typical stress testing way. The results are as follows.

The Results

At the 4 minute mark the color was quite good as can be seen from the picture. The taste on the other hand left me wanting more. Now before you accuse me of trying to mold every form of Earl Grey into a singular ideal, hear me out. This tea was designed to be a bit more subtle and I can respect that. But it lacked depth of flavor. Having a less intense flavor is fine as long as what you produce is good. No one ever complained that a Blush/Rose wine doesn't taste like a Merlot but each can be very good at their own flavor. This version of Earl Grey set out to be subtle and it reaches that goal but it does so in a very plain way. The flavor is there but it's just there. There is no secondary flavors nor do you get any of the cooling flavors I speak of allot. Yes it tastes like Earl Grey but that's all it does. I guess another way of putting it would be, "It's just OK"

So how did the other steeping times go? Well not much better. At the 3 minute mark the flavor was very thin but given the instructions I will not hold that against this tea. At the 5 minute mark I was expecting more then the 4 minute mark but surprisingly it didn't really change all that much. It was blah tea at 4, and it was blah tea at 5.

On my second attempt at a taste testing I obtained almost the same result. Ironically I had some left in one of the glasses from the 1st tasting so I got to try it cold. Strangely it had turned sweeter and wasn't bad even though I'm not a fan of Iced Earl Grey. But in the end the result was the same; a very bland run of the mill tea.


Given the results that I got from my first steeping I wasn't expecting nor was I looking forward to tasting this tea after a second steep. Sadly I was right. What little flavor was in the original steep had long since been steeped away leaving only a black tea matching something from a bagged tea. To end, don't waste your time or effort going for a re-steep, it's not worth it.

Final Thoughts

I feel like I've been here before  so here goes. This particular Earl Grey tea was blended to fit a certain need. While I understand that need I still don't feel like this tea is worth suggesting. Between the thin taste and the lack of knowledge with the ingredients it just doesn't add up. Sorry but I cannot suggest this tea to anyone.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review #14 - Choice Organic Teas Earl Grey

In past reviews I mentioned how some tea bags and boxes present a rather impressive aura given all the time an effort that appears to go into them. Sadly many of these "flashy" brands don't come through where it matters. They continue to use staples to hold their bags and tags together and then provide little to no return in the flavor department. Today's review will thankfully change all that. Enter Choice Organic Teas.What am I talking about? Let me answer those questions by getting to the review.


Before I ever broke the wrapping seal on the box, I knew this company was putting their time and effort in the areas that matter. On the front of the box two symbols are clearly shown: USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified. Right off the bat, I'm happy to know what is not in my tea but they take it many steps further. When you turn the box to another side you will also find the NON-GMO Project Verified, Wind Power and Kosher symbols. The NON GMO symbol is a very nice thing to see. If you've been following the news as of late, California recently tried to get their food labeled with regards to GMOs. It didn't pass but that didn't stop Choice from taking the extra step to get their consumers that information. Adding to that, and I'll quote from their box:

We buy wind power to offset all of our electricity use.  

That's right, Choice tries not to pollute. There are many facets to this debate which are clearly outside the boundaries of this blog but isn't it nice to see a company take these steps? That leaves the Kosher sign. With respect to the Jewish people in my audience, I am not Jewish but any time any company wants to provide info on the ingredients, process, or results of their food product, I'm happy to have it. In this case Kosher is not my biggest concern but to those who do use it, there you have it.  Did I ever get the wrap off? Yes.

Yes after reading the box on all four sides I ripped off the wrapper and was met with an abundance of wonderfully fresh aroma. No perfume here, just a nice natural aroma that dissipated as I opened the box and fetched my first bag. 

Speaking about the box and the bag, have no fear Choice has once again made the right decision. I was going to quote their box but I think their site put it better: 

  • 100% Biodegradable
  • Unbleached, natural fiber, staple-free tea bag
  • Individually labeled paper envelope
  • 100% recycled, 65% post-consumer content box

So no staples, all biodegradable, and a nice perfume free aroma which means we are off to a good start.

Brewing Method

The box calls for a 4-5 minute steep time so that is what I did. I also tried it at 3mins and of course I did my typical tea torture test by just leaving the bag in the water past it's suggested time. To be fair here is what the box says:

Boil Fresh Water, steep tea bag in 8oz of water for 4-5 minutes and enjoy.

The paper envelope that the bag comes in had the same, just a shorter version of the steeping instructions on it. Always nice to see. 

The Results

The results were very good with one small caveat, let the tea cool a bit. Seriously, to really enjoy this tea don't drink it right after removing the tea bag. Let it sit. I've mentioned this before how teas tend to change as the temperature drops and this tea is the perfect example of that. When I had my first cup right at the 4minute mark I was kinda middle of the road about it. It had a nice color to it and was good but nothing to write home about. So I let it sit a while. That's when the real flavor of the tea came through. The tea balanced out allowing the Bergamot to enter the equation and really add to the flavor. According to both their site and box, the tea is a "blend of Ceylon and Indian blacks....... with essential oil of Italian Bergamot from Calabria". Not knowing anything about Italian city locations I did a search and found out it's located South of Naples on the "toe" of Italy's boot.

I then performed another test at the 5minute mark. Again the tea was just ok immediately after steeping but came alive once it cooled a bit. At the 3minute mark there wasn't as much to discuss so I wouldn't go with my stress testing and stick with their suggestions. As for stress testing, the tea held up pretty well. By pushing it way beyond the 5minute mark I got a touch more flavor but at the expense of "overdone" tea. So like I said, stick with their 4-5 minute steeping time to get the most from this tea.


Kinda, sorta, maybe, would be my best answer. If you stop steeping right at the 4 minute mark, you will get a weak second steep but still better then some of my not so good reviews. If you like your tea a bit more flavorful, I'd say forget it. Enjoy that 5 minute steep and if you want another cup, don't settle, you're gonna add fresh water anyway so you might as well drop a new bag in there. 

Final Thoughts

This tea is not perfect but at the price I picked it up for, ($4.99us a box) you can't go wrong. Just keep in mind not to start drinking right after steeping and you will be pleasantly surprised how much this tea improves as it cools. So I guess my last words are, Choice teas makes a good Earl Grey for those with patience. Enjoy.

Note: After spending more time at their site I found they have 2 other versions of Earl Grey. A Pyramid bag and loose. Will have to keep those in mind for future reviews.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review #13 - Ridgways of London - Earl Grey Tea Bagged

Have you ever been in a store that sells one thing and you end up finding something you never thought the store sold? Well that's exactly what happen to me. While walking through a discount store I found a bunch of brand name bagged teas. Many by a certain company that I haven't reviewed yet that happens to rhyme with ton, and that's where I found today's Ridgways tea. So, did I find some unique and wonderful buried tea treasure? Or was there a reason this tea was being sold by a store not normally associated with tea? Lets find out.


Before we begin, Ridgway must have used the same box maker as Ahmad because just like them, the box is filled with many, many languages. It's so crowded on the box, the brewing instructions never appear in English words, only pictures. Which is kind of strange when you consider the source of the tea is London, a properly spoken English nation. Go figure.

So I grabbed a bag, and did an aroma test to see if anything was getting through the wrapper. Nothing was apparent so I opened the bag and took a deep breath. And then I took another. That's when I checked the box again and found this:
A full bodied Fairtrade black tea with a light bergamot citrus note
Ok, we've been here before. Not all teas present themselves strongly in the aroma department so I took the bag out and immediately noticed the biggest thorn in my tea bagged side; staples. Yes I was happy to see the tea was sourced in a way that all parties are paid fairly. No, I am never happy to see metal on my tea bags and as a result give negatives marks to the packaging. I then got back to testing the aroma. This time with nothing blocking the scent I gave a good inhale and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I understand that the makers of this tea have used the word light but there is light, and then there is really light. This tea falls into the really, really light aroma area. To be honest this might just be the lightest scented tea I've reviewed so far.

Brewing Method

As mentioned before, the box and the bag have a three circle pictorial on how to properly brew this tea. Simply put: boiling water, brew for 3 minutes, enjoy. And I quote:

Best enjoyed without milk and with a slice of lemon 

I will add that I performed my typical stress test on this tea by also steeping for 4, 5 and beyond minutes to see and taste the result. 

The Results

When I started this blog I was so looking forward to tasting all these wonderfully mixed and blended teas. I thought it would be a unique experience and everything would be great. Boy was I wrong. Remember the whole part about me "finding" this tea and a bunch of others? Well part of that find was the price, only $2.00 a box. That should have been my first sign that something was wrong. Because to be perfectly blunt, I did not enjoy this tea at all. Let me explain.

I started by following all their directions and steeped my first cup at 3 minutes. It was thin, shallow and lacked any form of Earl Grey taste. Making it worse, it wasn't even good black tea. So I began the stress test. 4 minutes provided no relief. 5 minutes and things started, very slowly, to improve. It wasn't until 10minutes that I finally, and quite forcefully, extracted any semblance of Earl Grey out of this tea. But at that time I had burnt it and it now presented a really bad after taste. 

So I grabbed the box to see if I had indeed purchased an out of date box. I thought I had checked it at the store and but I wanted to be sure; 2015 was the date listed. So I tried again, this time trying the tea at each of the above intervals only to get the same poor flavor. Then I let the 3 minute tea cool a bit in hopes of finding something redeemable about this tea. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be, I still disliked this tea, maybe even more so then the first time. I'm sorry if I sound really negative about this tea but this is by far the worse Earl Grey I've reviewed to date. Trust me, I'm hoping and praying this will be the bottom of the barrel because to be honest if there is another tea out there worse then this one, I hope I never taste it. 


I didn't like this tea with its first steep so it came as no surprise to me when the re-steep provided nothing. I guess what I'm saying is this: don't do it. 

Final Thought

Given all the versions of Earl Grey that I have reviewed so far both in bags and in loose form, there should be no reason to ever drink this tea. Period.