Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review #26 - Harney & Sons Earl Grey Supreme (loose)

This review sees me return to a tea by Harney & Sons. As mentioned before, I bought a number of samples from them so this will be the second to be reviewed. In an effort to make sure I was not influenced in any way by the name or packaging I was going to come up with some completely random way to select from the remaining H&S samples. While contemplating this new and completely random method my youngest walked up and asked what I was doing. I informed him of how I was coming up with a brand new way to pick which tea I was going to review next. Given how curious little ones can be, I provided many details and made sure he understood all the permutations. He paused, looked at me, looked at the tea samples on the counter, looked at me again and then handed me one. "Here, do this one!" And with that my random selection from the remaining teas was completed. Onto the review. 
As we saw in the first H&S review, their sample bags all look the same both front and back and the only difference is the naming label applied to them. Like before the bag gives off zero aroma so you will loose little to nothing during the shipping and handling of your tea. With that out of the way I ripped off the top of the bag, opened it and took in my first breath which gave me a strong perfume smell. As you know I prefer the more natural citrus based aromas but do not hold it against most teas. Brewing changes many things so I always refrain from prejudging.  I tried again after letting the tea bag breath a little and the perfume smell was still present just not as strong. Because of this I could detect a bit of tea but mostly this Earl Grey was about the overwhelming aroma. 

So I headed over to their site to find out the ingredients of this blend: 
A nice mixture of large black leaves, the brown leaves of the oolong, and silver needles of the white tea. 

As for the actual begamot, I found this:

Lovely citrus aromas predominate, we put a higher amount of bergamot in this special tea.

So after reading this I placed my typical serving size amount onto the white plate and let it sit there to really air out. Unfortunately I still got an artificial aroma rather then a nice clean natural one. I wondered if it was me so I went back to some of my previously reviewed teas and re-tested the aroma on some of the stronger blends. There indeed was alot more citrus in a few others then in this tea so it wasn't me. This tea, and it's ingredients tend towards the purfume side.

Steeping Method 
A few reviews back I needed to cover quite the range of steeping times starting at 1 minute and going all the way up to 5 minutes. Thankfully this tea is going easy on me. All I have to concern myself with is 4 to 5 minutes. 
The Results
At the 4 minute steep time the color was good but the perfume was still very strong and rather over powering. If the aroma was one of fresh citrus, as if being in an orchard, I wouldn't mind. But it's not. So I decided to let it sit for while. Thankfully things improved. The perfume made way to a more natural aroma and the taste became more balanced. Initially this was all flavoring and no tea. But as it cooled the differences started to even out.  
At 5 minutes I got more of the same but faster and with a better result. (Yes I know that made no sense). When the water was poured I got the same nose full of perfume. But this time, and because of
the extra minute, I think the perfume dissipated quicker. I could pick up on the tea a bit more and of course sooner. It was very slight but it was there. The flavor was similar to the 4 minute time but this time I didn't need quite so much cooling time. I'm not a tea master but from a logical point of view this is what I think is happening. Because the tea spent more time steeping it burned off the perfume flavoring and allowed the actual tea to come through. Was this by design? Only the blender can answer that. At this point I enjoyed the tea very much. It had some of those wonderful cooling artifacts that good teas exhibit. Stealing from the world of wine, I would say this tea had complexity. I still don't technically know what I'm drinking by way of ingredients so that puts a damper on my overall enjoyment. But it should be stated, this is a good Earl Grey.  

Now that you know I like the 5 minute steeping time, I can tell you quite frankly, there is nothing left to re-steep. At 4 minutes on the re-steep the water barely changes color and there is only a hint of anything. At 5 minutes the water gains a tiny amount of color but the flavor remains mostly heated water. Simple put, don't even bother with this tea. Enjoy the first cup/pot, compost the leaves, and start with fresh tea if you want a second helping. 

Final Thoughts. 
If you can get past the perfume filled aroma, and don't mind waiting for the flavors to blend, you should enjoy this tea as much as I did. Would I suggest this tea? That gets back to personal preferences. If you are like me and like knowing what's in your food, then you may want to hold off on this blend because they really don't tell you. If that doesn't matter to you, then by all means try it for yourself. I will add that H&S does have an Organic Earl Grey that I plan to review in the near future. I did sneak a peak at their description page and found something that has me looking forward to my next Harney & Sons review: 

Since these are organic teas, the aroma is light and subtle. This allows the lemony Bergamot to come through loud and clear.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review #25 - Ashbys of London Earl Grey (bagged)

A few reviews back I hit the wrong key while typing in a company name. It was my fault and I admitted it. But this time, if not for me being extra careful I could have easily messed this one up bad. I'll explain. The tea being reviewed this week comes from Ashbys of London. When I did a web search to get their site I found, and I am not making this up, AshbyTea who sells Ashbys of London, among other things. Then I noticed the bags they show on the "No S" site are different from the ones I bought. So I went back to Ashbys of London's site (has an "S") and found the actual tea I am reviewing and thankfully it shows the same bag I have in my possession. So if I haven't totally confused you, lets get on with the review. 


Some of the companies I review set a tone with their box because more and more companies are trying to use recycled or partially recycled material. Needless to say I applaud their efforts for all the million obvious reasons. With regards to Ashbys, the first thing you see is plastic.  As you might have guessed, this is the first tea I've reviewed where the "box" was made entirely from clear plastic. Yes it's cool to see inside but as for the use of plastics, I have to admit to cringing a bit. With that out of the way I broke the seal and tried to pick up any aroma from the sealed bag. Ashbys has done a good job with their sealing process because I couldn't pick anything up by way of tea. So I ripped open the bag and took a nice deep inhale and got a nose full of perfume. Never wanting to go on first impressions, I let the opened bag breath a bit and tried again. The perfume aroma had dissipated some, and if you stayed with it, you could in fact smell the black tea. But as mentioned many times before, I look for a nice natural citrus aroma and personally get turned off by alot of artificial perfume.

Enough fooling around it was time to pull the bag out. That's when I saw the staples. I'll admit I cringed again. So I looked at the bottom of the plastic box and read the ingredients.
Ingredients: Black tea, Oil of bergamot

I flipped the box around and obviously found no additional info. So I went back and read everything on the bottom card. There I found some additional info. To be completely fair, I'll post what their site has....typos and all:

Named after the Prime Minister to China in 1830, Earl Grey derivesw its famoun flavor from oil of bergamot (an oil form the rind of the fruit of Citrus Bergamia). Ashbys flavor their own Earl Grey using a China Black FOP tea that has just the right body and flavor to enhance the oil of bergamot.

 So we have a tea that smells of perfume, uses staples and has a plastic box. As always I'm going to be completely honest here, my expectations at this point were not very high. Sadly the steeping section had another let down ready for us.

Steeping Method

With a tea bag ready to go I grabbed the wrapper to see what the steeping instructions were, and there weren't any.  The only instructions I could find were right under the ingredients.

Directions: Use one tea bag per cup. Pour on boiling water, leave to stand for 2-3 minutes, and serve.

I went back to their site and couldn't find any instructions on the Earl Grey page. So I had a look around and found on their product page a rather detailed set of instructions that seemed to be for straight black tea because it suggested boiling water for 5 minutes using loose tea. At this point in my review my little voice was telling me something was a bit off. That's when I noticed this:

In order to reduce your cost of shipping and handling charges.
Griffith Enterprises decided to reimburse handling charges for any orders over $80.00 (US) dollars.  
Who? So I thought maybe Ashbys (with an S) had been sold to this Griffith Co and Ashby (no S) was now selling it? Making this worse, and again returning to the underneath of the plastic box, it stated it was imported and distributed by Coffee Master Inc. in Spring Grove, IL. US. At this point I decided to move on and just finish this review.

The Results

Seeing how this tea did not call for a 4 minute steep time, that became my stress test along with 5
minutes just to make sure. At the 2 minute mark this tea kept it's perfume smelling attributes and didn't really taste very much of tea or Earl Grey. At 3 minutes, things improved to the point where during the cooling period I could pick out more of the bergamot but it was still a very artificial flavor. Strangely enough at 4 minutes things improved but again this was not a wonderfully tasting citrus filled tea.  No this was a tea that had plenty of artificial flavorings to it. At 5 minutes the tea started to turn suggesting I had burnt it.  The color at the suggested 3 min time can be seen in the picture and it was more then acceptable.


I think the re-steeping helped to "burn off" the perfume smell and taste because if you went 4 minutes on your second steep after stopping at 2 minutes for your first steep, it wasn't a total waste. It wasn't great but I actually preferred the second steep to the first.

Final Words

Plastic container, staples in bag and on label, no idea about the ingredients with regards to health, confusing instructions if you read their site, and a site that had a few things that you just don't see anymore with regards to web design. I won't go into them here but in a past life I did my fair share of PHP, ColdFusion, etc, etc and maybe that's why this site seems a bit off to me. Sticking with the tea only, this wasn't my favorite tea for most of the reasons listed above. If you like a tea where the bergamot is heavy on the perfume side, then try it. But for me, this is not something I would drink.