Monday, May 27, 2013

Review #24 - Suki Tea Earl Grey Blue Flower

So one day I'm checking my twitter feed and I see this.

@EarlGrey1 Challenge on. Where do we send our hand blended Earl Grey tea for tasting?

I know I'm not the worlds most storied tea reviewer in the world but I have been contacted by both tea makers and tea magazines before. In each and every case things just haven't worked out. So when I first saw this message I was kind of expecting the whole thing to just fizzle out. But I was wrong because Oscar, the person who had sent the post was totally serious about sending me some tea to review. Even after informing him that I lived in the States he had this to say via twitter direct msg.

@EarlGrey1 Hi, don't forget to send me the address.

So I sent him my address and waited. To be honest, I'd given my address to other people promising tea and it never came so yes, I still wasn't sure. Then on Saturday night when I checked our mail, a rather large package from Belfast was staring me in the face. Oscar was true to his word and did in fact mail me some Earl Grey. Adding to my surprise, it was a 100g bag. I was beyond shocked because I was completely expecting a small, sample size package which would have been totally acceptable. So it appears I will be reviewing my first Earl Grey that I didn't need to purchase. Needless to say, a huge Thank You to Oscar at Suki Tea. Now on with the review.


 As you can see from the picture, the tea came in what looks like an ordinary paper bag. But under closer inspection you'll see the bag is a bit "waxed" and when you open it, will find a plastic coating on the inside. This bag is for shipping only and Suki's packaging is very clear:

Once opened, store in a sealed airtight container and consume within 3 months.
I did my typical cheating aroma test before opening and Suki passed with flying colors. I couldn't pick up any form of aromas which means you should loose little to no flavor in transit. Upon opening it I was greeted with a subdued aroma. It really didn't smell like any Earl Grey I've tasted before. It almost smelled flowery. That's when I remembered what the ingredients were:

Ingredients: Organic Rainforest Alliance Certified Tanzanian Black Tea (97.8%), Organic Centaurea Ceranus cyanus flower petals (1.5%), Organic Bergamot flavouring (0.7%) 
Trust me, when I saw the Centaurea word I was clueless so I did some checking on their website and via my favorite search engine. Come to find out, it's cornflower. As the expression goes, learn something every day. Since I had Oscar's ear via twitter I asked him where the idea to add cornflower came from. He had this to say:

I was a designer before I started this company. Visual impact is a big part of any food and drink experience. This is part of the theater.  
So we know the tea is all organic and Fairtrade. We know exactly how much of everything is in it, which is so nice given all the issues we are currently facing with labeling. And we know the person in charge is not just going for a certain flavor but for a total experience. I'll admit, Oscar had peaked my interest.

Note: For those of you who know your Earl Grey variations, Lady Grey (Ie.Twinnings) includes cornflower as well and it purposely keeps the begamot to a minimum.

Steeping Method

I've said it many times before but I tend to default to a 4 minute steep time when it comes to Earl Grey. I'm probably wrong for doing so but there it is. So when I read the steeping instructions on the bag I honestly didn't see them and just went 4 minutes. I remember seeing the 5 but what I didn't see was the 1 before it. Somehow my brain had blocked that part out and had me thinking 4-5 minute steeping time.
So while waiting for the timer to go off for my first attempt, I grabbed the bag and re-read everything. That's when I saw the 4 was not a 4 but a 1. Khaaaaannnnn!!!! I cringed because that meant I had some serious work ahead of me. Here is what the bag has to say:
1 teaspoon per person. Infuse for 1-5 min in fresh boiled water
So I'm going to warn you now, this review will be very data driven. Why? Because for each 1 minute time period I also had to test the re-steep. It's a dirty job but someone has gotta taste all this Earl Grey Tea.

The Results

So here goes.

At 1 minute
Barely there, very thin, cooling really doesn't bring any additional sweetness. Color is very lite.  Re-steeping is almost equivalent to a first steep. To be honest I don't see the point. If this were an Oolong and this was part of the "washing" step then maybe I would agree but I wouldn't do it.

At 2 minutes
A bit more flavor but still very thin. Noticed color got darker but again, not a very full flavor. Cooling doesn't allow any additional flavors to get noticed. Re-Steep is on par with the 1 minute 1st steep. You get a bit more flavor but why make your first cup so thin just to get a second.

At 3 minutes
Flavor jumps up a bit and the color continues to darken. Cooling helps but now I'm starting to notice less of the bergamot and more flowery tastes. At this point I would describe this tea as a very lite flavored Earl Grey. Re-steep will get you two of pretty much the same cups of tea. If you like a very lite Earl Grey then you will enjoy the re-steep as well. Go to 3 minutes for both the first and second steeps.

At 4 minutes
This is where I started to really enjoy this tea. Color is on par with most other Earl Greys. When you taste it right after steeping the flowery tastes come through more then the bergamot. As I've done before I'm going to suggest waiting. Once this tea began to cool the bergamot rose to the top of the flavor chart and I got to enjoy a good Earl Grey. Now here is the interesting part. The re-steep produced a pretty big surprise. If you go 4 minutes for the re-steep you will get a cup of Earl Grey almost equal to the first. I'll repeat, I was really surprised. There is no flowery tastes left and all you get is tea and bergamot. I repeated this time frame and got the same results.

At 5 minutes
And then we fell off the cliff. Sadly at the 5 minute mark I thought the flowery taste overwhelmed the bergamot and no amount of cooling allowed it to come through. Re-steeping produced more of the same.

Now before we move on, I need to bring up the wine comparison again. With wine you have different varieties. You have Merlot, Cab Sav, Chianti, Shiraz, the Pinot's, Chardonnay and Riesling. Each are good in their own right but people have favorites. Keeping that in mind, Suki Earl Grey is a lite variety.

One final strange note. As you saw written, Oscar added the cornflower to improve the overall aesthetics of the tea.  The cornflower is this wonderfully bright and vibrant blue color that really stands out. Ironically enough the same cornflower that was added, has the opposite effect when re-steeping.
When setting up the tea for my post steeping picture my wife asked me what the clear stuff was.  I had my own opinion on the matter so I let her give hers. She said it looks like someone added cooked white onions. Sadly I totally agree.


See above for all the details.

Final Thoughts

This tea can probably be many things to many types of Earl Grey people. It can be very, very lite or it can be a bit stronger. At the 4 minute mark this tea gets the closest to what I personally like in an Earl Grey. But just to repeat, this is a Chardonnay and I'm more of a Cab Sav kind of guy. I can definitely appreciate what Oscar has done and once I found my steeping time I enjoyed this tea. I also love the fact there is nothing unknown, it's all organic and fair-trade ingredients. As far as I'm concerned this tea puts Belfast on the tea map. To end, I'd try it for yourself and see where your steeping takes you.  I'm sure there is steep time for everyone.