Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review #19 - Upton Tea Natural Bergamot Earl Grey (Loose)

A while back I bought nearly every Earl Grey sample Upton sold. I reviewed some but after a few I decided to put that company aside for a while so as not to appear biased in any way. Then again I paid for the samples so maybe I'm just being paranoid. So lets return to the Tea House that's technically located in my backyard (State of MA in the US) and review another Earl Grey. 


Upon tearing open their foil sample bag I was met not with fresh Bergamot but by something else.  So I
stepped back and asked my wife to take a whiff. She gave me a strange look which made me feel better. So I attempted a second aroma test. Yes there is a Bergamot type smell but it was off. It wasn't a clean citrus smell at all. It was bordering on artificial and to be honest with you, that's the theme for this entire review.

Why does my Natural Earl Grey tea smell ...artificial?

So off to the Upton site I went and got this info:
   A whole leaf Chinese OP leaf flavored with natural bergamot oil to create a flavorful Earl Grey tea.
   black tea, natural flavor
Without sounding like a broken record ( I know I know, too late) the word natural just doesn't carry the same weight it once did. At one point when you labelled something natural it had a certain "cache" to it. It meant something. For me it meant real food. But as we learn every day the word natural has more of a "at one point we started with something natural as our base but then our chemists got a hold of it and ..." and I think you can guess the rest. So to end this section, not a good start.

Brewing Method

From a reviewers perspective you gotta love teas that know what they want when it comes to steeping. This tea is a perfect example. Again from the Upton site:

Steeping Suggestions: -
Leaf Quantity: 2¼ g/cup
Water Temp: 212° (boiling)
Steep Time: 4 min.
  It just makes my job that much easier and this section much shorter. Moving on.

The Results

Having dutifully followed their steeping instructions I took my first sip. My reaction was mixed but some Earl Grey teas need to cool a bit before their full flavor can be enjoyed. Instead I got to taste that slightly "Off" aroma in addition to smelling it again. Which made me ask another question related to the review's theme:

Why does my natural Earl Grey Tea smell and taste artificial?

Immediately I thought I had done something wrong so I emptied the pot and glass and proceeded to
clean everything. I let everything dry and later in the day attempted a second tasting. Nothing changed, that "Just Off" flavor and aroma were there and I will admit, it was bugging me. On one hand you had a decent tea with a nice Earl Grey flavor but on the other hand, you had this thing, this artificial flavor thing in the way. So I let the tea cool to give it the fairest review possible.

The results weren't good because the "Thing" was even more pronounced as the tea cooled. The remote flavor of good Earl Grey was quickly being pushed aside by this after taste. In the end, I didn't even finish the pot.


In all honesty I was not looking forward to this phase of my review. Thankfully the "flavor thing" actually subsided a bit so it wasn't as bad as I feared but the Earl Grey flavor was very, very thin so I wouldn't recommend re-steeping at all.

Final Thoughts

Maybe I got a bad batch. Maybe it got exposed to air during the shipping to my house. Or maybe, just maybe the natural flavoring used in this tea is what I'm both smelling and tasting. If so I cannot suggest this tea to anyone. I wish I could say or do more to investigate but unless I can replace my current sample bag with another my current review stands.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review #18 - Tea Forte' - Earl Grey (Bagged)

It was two reviews back when I finalized my first rule, ok ok, theory. Allow me to quote myself for those of you who missed it:

EGA's First Theory of Tea Bags : The flavor of bagged tea is inversely proportional to the quality of artwork on the tea bags.

With this weeks review returning to bagged teas I would have my first real test of my Theory.  For those of you who follow such things, you can't just jump to creating laws. No, you need to create a theory and allow it to stand the test of intense scrutiny over long periods of time. We here at EGA are all the about the scientific method so lets get right to the review.


The box came sealed in plastic wrap so any attempts on my part to pick up a stray whiff were not going to happen. There would be no cheating with this tea. The box was plastic wrapped and each tea bag had it's own foil bag. It should be noted, the tea bags used by Tea Forte' are biodegradable which makes clean up a breeze; just drop into your nearest compost bin or pile. Also of note, no staples. But then again most organic teas, which this one is, tend to avoid the dreaded staple but I like to point it out just to make sure. Back to the aroma. Like I said, there was no cheating until I actually opened one of the foil bags. That's when I got my first real whiff of ...oranges?? Yes it caught me off guard as well. So I grabbed the box and did some reading. Sure enough, listed below the Organic Black tea and bergamot was orange flavor.  So I went back an attempted a second test. This time expecting the orange to first overwhelm but hoping to pick up other things. To be honest, the aroma wasn't the strongest in the tea world but we've been here before. Not all teas present themselves properly in the aroma test. As for the bag, things were not looking good at all. The bags looked great because they mimicked the photo from the box. 

Before we move on, the box does give away a bit more info about this tea. First they come right out and say the tea is hand picked and from the Northeastern part of India's Assam region. Then if you read their little story it hints about an area of Italy for the bergamot. I think by now we can all guess where that is.

Brewing Method

To put it bluntly, this tea was going to make me work for my review.
Infuse tea in boiling water for 3-5 minutes.
 That meant I was going to taste this tea at the 3, 4, and 5 minute mark in addition to my torture test. That being when I just leave the bag in the cup.

The Results

I started with 3 minutes and found very little tea flavor. It was there but very lite. I also noticed the orange aroma had been replaced by the bergamot. Neat trick. I moved on to the 4 minute mark and found the tea tasting a bit better but still not where I have come to expect Earl Grey. To be fair I let the tea cool and sure enough the bergamot really started to come to the forefront but it had no depth. Yes it tasted like Earl Grey but that was all. There was no complexity at all. With high hopes I forged onto the 5 minute mark. Sadly the tea really didn't present any additional flavor even with the extra minute of steeping. Determined to uncover something I missed I started my torture test. At 6 minutes the tea was burnt and any hopes of extracting more flavor out of this bag ended there.

The box states this tea is fulled bodied and when you see the color you would probably agree but when you actually taste it, the flavor falls short. It was starting to look like my First Theory of Tea Bags was going to pass its first test. No one can deny this was Earl Grey tea but as we have seen before, just because you have Earl Grey flavor on the surface doesn't mean it can't be better. All teas should be at least somewhat complex and provide different flavors at different cooling temps. This tea tasted the best about 1min after removing the bag but that was it. No complexity, no cooling sweetness, just ordinary tea.


Don't do it. The first steep is very thin to begin with so any chance of a full bodied second is asking alot. In this case, too much. Like I said, don't do it.

Final Thoughts

I kinda feel bad because Tea Forte' appears to have the right idea about tea and packaging. There are no staples, the tea is organic, the bags are biodegradable and the outside box is made from 100% recycled paper. Unfortunately this is just an average tea at best. Yes it tastes like Earl Grey but the overall flavor is very thin and has no complexity at all. I wouldn't say avoid it, but I'd probably suggest something else.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review #17 - Rishi Tea Earl Grey (Loose)

I honestly have no idea where to begin this review. Seriously there are so many things I want to touch on, and wish not to forget any of them, that I find myself not being able to start this review. So lets list all the things that are going to be covered:
1. Aroma
2. Color
3. Flavor
4. The Tea
5. The Tea bag
6. It's location
7. Who picked it
8. The steeping time
9. The re-steeping time
10. Tea Description
11. Flame Wars

But wait a minute.... don't you always cover those topics? Yes but I've never seen so much information, really usable information listed on a tea box that each of it must be touched upon. So lets begin.


As you can see from the picture the box is nicely decorated and at first glance doesn't appear to be any different from most other boxes. But once you open it you'll quickly realize both the box and the bag holding the tea is not some after thought. On the contrary both the box and bag inside serve a purpose. Since this section covers the aroma of the tea lets start with the bag. Once you get the box open, you will be hard pressed to pick up any form of aroma. The reason for this is quickly apparent when you see the foil bag. But this bag has a simple but effective secret. When I turned the bag around it had a piece of tape on it. As you can see in the picture, the tape is used to reseal the bag so the tea doesn't go "stale" on you. For people trying loose tea this is excellent information and a simple but effective aid in keeping their tea tasting fresh. After opening up the bag I tried out the piece of tape to see if it actually worked and I'm happy to report it does quite well. How many time you can re-apply it before the adhesive wears out is unknown but so far, this is the only company providing this simple feature.

As for the aroma I would say controlled and subtle. The aroma is definitely not overpowering but you do get a very nice clean fruit smell. This is not an artificial aroma at all which is great. As with other, this tea is firmly entrenched in the balanced category. You can pick out the tea and you can enjoy the Bergamot without having to really take a deep breath. Which brings me to what is actually in this tea and some of the great info on the box. Not only does the box tell you where the tea originated from but also the elevation it grows at, who the cultivator is and if that wasn't enough, the box even lists the harvest season. What an incredible resource. 

Tea Origin - Yunnan, China
Elevation - 1,500-1,600m
Cultivar - Mengku & Menghai Yunnan Broad Leaf
Harvest Season - May - September

Then I went to the Rishi Website and found even more information:

Our bestselling Organic Earl Grey blends bold-flavored Yunnan Dian Hong harvested from antique tea trees with natural Bergamot citrus from Southern Italy.
If I was a betting man I would place a handsome wager the southern area they are talking about would be none other then EGA's new favorite region in Italy: Calabria. (If someone from Rishi happens to read this review and knows if my wager is right please let me know and I will update this review) So, we have a nice fresh aroma, we know almost everything there is to know about this tea, and a way to preserve the tea itself. Talk about getting high marks before any tea is ever sampled.

Brewing Method

Again Rishi nails it with it's perfectly spelled out "Brewing Guide":

1tbsp / 8oz                    H2O 212F/100C
For the time being I'm going to refrain from quoting directly from the box because it will give away one of the secrets to this tea. I'll just add that they suggest a 4min steep time. As with all of my reviews I always try a little high and a little low. In this case 3 and 5 minutes.

The Results

What a wonderful tea. At 4 mins this tea is almost ready to drink after steeping and only needs about 1min to allow all the flavors to mix in your glass, while it cools to reach it's peak. The person who mixed this tea was definitely going for a subdued flavor but in a good way. Some teas are thin and have very little flavor beyond the surface. This tea is lighter but still complex. When it cools some of the sweetness rises to the top of the flavor spectrum and that's when the bergamot really comes through. But as stated before it still doesn't over power the tea itself. To use my wine comparison, this tea is a white wine while others are Red. Red being Merlot and full of flavor while White tends to be lighter but good in its own right.

The Rishi website describes it in this way:
Tasting Notes: Bold and sweetly smooth with an enlivening aroma of bergamot citrus
I think smooth is the perfect way to describe this tea. It's there but more controlled and blended quite well. So where or when does the Holy War kick in? I'm happy to report this is one of those teas people will state is their favorite and for good reason. Others will point to other Earl Greys and say that's the best. Just like the age old war between Ford and Chevy owners, or Iphone and Android users, and of course Designated Hitters or not, people will argue and defend this as their tea. And that's a very good thing because this is a very good tea.

I also tried this tea at both 3 and 5 minutes and found the 3mins rather lacking. 5 was very good in a weird kind of way because I didn't gain much more flavor beyond the 4minute mark. It's almost as if the tea has a built in timer that only runs for 4minutes then shuts off any additional steeping. Which brings us to our next section.


I've been drinking Earl Grey for many years and I have never seen the following statement on any box or loose brand ever.

1st infusion 4min / 2nd 5 min
Yes I've seen things like, "ok to re-steep" or "can be re-steeped" but never such a bold statement of "Yes, not only can you re-steep this tea but to obtain another good cup of tea steep for 5minutes." Serious, this is one bold statement and I'm happy to report, it can be re-steeped. Will it equal the 1st? No, but it still gives you a good cup of Earl Grey. I'd say you get about 70% flavor return on the second steep which makes this tea an excellent value. The box lists 27 infusions but if you can double that what a deal this tea becomes. To prove my point, this time I took the picture after the 2nd steep to show just how dark this tea still was.

Final Thoughts

This tea is USDA organic, Fair Trade Certified, Kosher, has the ability to handle 2 steeps, has a nice color with a natural/real aroma that is worth taking a few extra moments to enjoy. Some will say this is the best Earl Grey ever. Others will declare their variety as number one. In the end it won't matter because just being part of that conversation tells you how good this tea really is. Do yourself a favor and try it for yourself.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review #16 - Stash Earl Grey (Bagged)

This weeks review occurred because I needed some food before a class I was taking. The class occurred after work and was located about 30mins from my place of employment. That meant I needed something to eat which lead me to a supermarket not found in my area. My little voice said I should check out their tea section just in case and that's when I found they carried Stash Tea. I've had Stash tea a few times while visiting others, but it was always Organic Green never Earl Grey. So I grabbed a box, on sale no less, and placed it into my reviewing cue. Well the class is over, and it's Stash's turn to be reviewed. How did it fair? Time to find out. 


I tried to get a cheating whiff from the box but it's wrappings were very well done and I couldn't detect any tea aroma. After removing the plastic wrap I was expecting to be greeted with my first bergamot flavors. Instead I got nothing. That's when I looked inside and realized each tea bag was contained within it's own  sealed wrapper. (As aside, I may have created my first Law of Tea Bags with respect to boxes and wrapper adornment but I'll cover that in the Final Thoughts section.)  So I ripped one open and was met with Oranges. Seriously, if you have ever visited an orange orchard that's exactly what this tea smells like. It was full of fresh citrus aroma that didn't stop. You could also pick up some tea notes but you really had to pay attention to pick them up. From memory this has to be the most citrus filled, orange filled aroma I've ever come across. Wondering how they got that wonderful aroma into the tea I flipped the box around and found my previous geography lesson would not be wasted. 

For out version, we blend premium quality Ceylon, Assam and Yunnan black teas with 100% bergamot oil from Calabria, Italy for a lively, distinctive flavor and lavender-like bouquet. Smooth and aromatic with a hit of light citrus, excellent as afternoon or after dinner tea. 

That's right our new favorite region in Italy Calabria was again mentioned.  Since we're on the subject I'll let Wikipedia add the next part:

The Bergamot orange is intensively cultivated, since 18th century,[30] exclusively in coastal area nearby to Reggio, where it found its optimal geological and weather conditions: essence oil from Calabrian Bergamot reach the best quality in the world.
Whether you believe everything on Wiki or not is up to you, but results don't lie. This tea has an excellent and citrus aroma, period. It should also be noted that Stash didn't use staples anywhere so bravo to that.

Brewing Method

We jump back from the internet and look back to the box to see what Stash suggests for it's steeping time(s).
To savor the full flavor of our teas, bring fresh water to a rolling boil. Pour hot water directly over the tea bag in a pre-heated pot or cup. Brew 3-5 minutes or to desired taste.  

As typical for all of my bagged tea reviews we closely follow their instructions AND do a bit of stress testing. This review had me sample the tea at 3, 4 and 5 minutes. I also went beyond, hitting the 6 and 7 minute marks. So how did this tea fair? Keep reading.

The Results

When I first started this blog I made a point not to differentiate between bagged and loose. I stated my reasons for doing so and have stuck by my guns since then. Well today I was repaid. This tea (bagged) is better then last week's tea (loose). The flavor is more complex, has better citrus flavors, and even has some cooling artifacts. Like I said, it's a better tea, without handicaps. The tasting went as follows.

My first attempt was 3 minutes and quite frankly was not impressed. It was very thin and had me wondering if this tea would improve the amount needed to really be good in only 1 minute. But it did, at 4 minute this tea is ready to drink and full of flavor. As mentioned, the citrus and floral flavors and aromas come together to make a wonderful tea. At 5 minutes I detected an ever so slight amount of bitterness but it was there. For me, 4 1/2 minutes was the sweat spot for the first bag. The second bag was closer to the 4 minute mark. So if you have a timer set it to 4 minutes and be ready to enjoy a very good Earl Grey. The color will be a nice dark color, an have plenty of flavor without any bitterness.

As for my stress testing, you can probably guess what happen. Yeah I burnt this tea good. With the tea starting to give hints of bitterness at slightly beyond 5 minutes, 6 minutes had plenty. At the 7 minute mark it was pretty obvious this tea was not made for steeping beyond 5. Which is fine, because the box made it clear where I should have stopped.


Catch-22. If you like to re-steep your bagged tea then stop promptly at the 3 minute mark for the first steep then do the same for the second and you'll get two cups of very thin tea. Personally, don't do it. Set the timer for 4 minutes and enjoy a good cup of tea for the first and only steep and if you want another cup, grab a fresh bag.

Final Thoughts

Overall this is a very good tea. It has good color, can be purchased at a good price, the aroma will surprise you and the flavor will have you grabbing for a second bag. The only gripe about is, it's listed as 100% natural tea and not organic. Sadly the word "natural" has been destroyed, overused and down right lied about so I can't give it a perfect rating even if Stash actually used all natural tea and oil. But to be fair, they do have an organic version of this tea listed on their website which I will absolutely review sometime in the future. To end, get out there and sample some for yourself.


EGA's First Theory of Tea Bags : The flavor of bagged tea is inversely proportional to the quality of artwork on the tea bags.

My theory is based upon the notion that the more a company spends time wise on bag aesthetics, the less time they appear to spend on creating good tea.

Arguments, postulates, etc are welcome.