Monday, February 8, 2016

Review #57 - Ringtons Earl Grey Tea (bagged)

So now that we are back into the swing of things, wouldn't you know it, I run straight into a challenging review. When Michael of Finest English Tea contacted me I was, as always, looking forward to trying another tea I had never heard of. Then the shipment arrived, I read the box and found something I had never seen before. What was it? Read on to find out what the challenge was.


The box I received looks like your typical tea box minus the display tab at the bottom. The expiration date is printed in easy to read letters right on the top and the back has some history and the steeping directions. On one of the sides you'll see that Ringtons is a member of the ethical tea partnership which is always a nice thing to see. Last thing you want to learn about your tea is how the people who grow and pick your tea are being taken advantage of.

Once you open the box you will find a foil bag that contains all the teabags. When you actually open that foil bag prepare yourself for a wave of tea aroma because contained within is not your average 20 bag count but 50. Seriously, there is alot of aroma to take in which really puts you in the mood to do some tasting. There is one small matter with that foil bag; sealing it back up. Since the bags are not individually wrapped, once you the consumer open that large bag you really should find a way to keep the bags fresh.

As for the aroma itself, more on the tea side and less on the citrus. It definitely wasn't perfume based but it lacked that fresh citrus smell some earl grey's present.  To be fair that bit of info is explained on the back of the box.

"We've chosen a milder Kenyan tea for this blend, rather than a traditional China tea which can sometimes be bitter." 
On one of the sides, you also get the ingredients list:

Black tea (99.3%)
Natural flavor (0.7%) 
As you have heard me drone on and on about, the words Natural flavor scare me. I have also said, more companies then I care to admit, abuse the true meaning of these two words leaving consumers wondering what is really in their food; or in this case tea.  So to end, we have a (to use their words) "delicate citrus note" Earl Grey from Kenyan with fairly paid workers.

Steeping Method

So now we come to the challenging part. The part where I reveal why this review took alot more time then my typical reviews would normally take.

"Water caught just before the boil" 

I will admit, those 6 little words really caught me out. To begin,  when I boil water in my pot I just set it to the highest mark. But what does that mean? Well as many of you know boiling means the water has obtained a temp of 212F or 100C degrees at sea level.  As an engineer I can test for this. But "water caught" is a bit more open for interpretation. So I did some searching and found a couple of different opinions on the matter. Without dragging you threw the internet opinion mud I found it to be somewhere between 200 to 210F.

Their box also stated a time range of 3-5 minutes. So for the first time in like forever I will not specifically set out to stress this tea by going over 5 minutes. My gut instinct told me that was going to happen naturally given the range of temps I had to test.

So 200, 205, 210 @ 3, 4 and 5 minutes. You might want to grab a cup of tea because this is going to take a while.

The Result

I started at the 210F temp because when you think about it, that really is just before boiling.  At 3
minutes it had a very deep but overwhelming flavor of tea but very little in the citrus area. I let it cool but the flavor did not blend well at all nor did it gain anything other then when I first tried it. At the 4 minute mark the color got darker and the flavor ended up being even more unbalanced. Cooling provided nothing. The final time of 5 minutes took all the bad parts and made them worse. To end this was clearly not the temperature the tea blenders had planned for.

I then moved onto the 205 range and at 3 minutes things improved. The color looks about the same but the flavor wasn't so overwhelmingly tea. You could now start to pick out the bergamot. It still wasn't balanced but now you could honestly label this tea as light. After a bit of cooling I wanted to say the tea gained a bit of citrus but it was still a small amount and the balance was still weighted towards the tea. At 4 minutes the color darkened and the bergamot was a bit more present. Meaning you could taste it a bit more. The two ingredients were now getting closer to being a more balanced light tea. Cooling provided a bit more, but like before, nothing changed a great deal. At the 5 minute mark it felt like the temp and steep time were still not right. Yes there was more color but the balance was still off and the citrus notes were still missing.

I gotta tell you, I was getting a bit nervous. So I started in with the 200 temperature in hopes of finding my preferred temp and right away this tea changed for the better. At 3 minutes this was now a decent light earl grey. The citrus still wasn't a large part of the flavor but the tea just tasted better. The lack of over powering black tea allowed the bergamot to provide some flavor. Cooling allowed alot more balance which made me look forward to the next time. At the 4 minute time I thought things were going to greatly improve but they didn't. The color was more suited to a lighter tea, the black tea added to the taste instead of overpowering it and the bergamot was more enjoyable. But it still lacked balance, so I let it cool a bit. Thankfully that was the final piece to this entire steeping puzzle. After about a minute and half the blend came together. The tea mellowed a bit, the light citrus was there and the color looked good. To end the 5 minute time went beyond where I like it and actually brought the black tea back to where the bergamot was no longer blended. Cooling definitely helped but not like the 4 minute time.


Given the sheer number of permeation's that all of the above steep times would give you I stuck with the 200 range. Keeping in mind this tea was designed to be on the light side (citrus) you must set expectations correctly. If you go with 200 @ 4 mins, then I would do the same 200 but at 5 mins for two light teas.

Final Thoughts

Like I said at the start, this was unlike any review I had done before, this one took time and now you can see why.  To be honest I still worry that I didn't compare different temperatures enough (Meaning 200 @ 4 vs 210 @ 4. )  but given the shear volume I had to draw the line somewhere. To summarize you have a tea that is sourced in a fair way but you are unsure of the actual ingredients. This tea must also be given extra time to prepare to insure the proper temps and allowed to cool before you can enjoy it. Not to mention this tea is by design a "delicate citrus" flavor so personal preferences abound.
To wrap this up, if you like to quickly throw on some "citrusy" Earl Grey using boiled water and ingredients matter to you,  I would skip it. But if you like a deeper flavor and are willing to spend some time making this tea your own by way of experimenting with steep times and temps, I would definitely suggest you try it.