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.