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.