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.