Monday, July 29, 2013

Earl Grey Black Tea by EnjoyingTea

Earl Grey Black Tea by EnjoyingTea

Seller Description: "This tea is made from top grade orange pekoe Ceylon black tea scented with the elegant fragrance of bergamot. The Ceylon tea is grown at the altitude of 7000 feet above sea level from the Sri Lanka region. When brewed this tea produces a bright coppery color liquid with a piquant and refreshing taste."
Website: Earl Grey Black Tea
Cost: $5.99/4oz

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4-5 minutes
Additives: 1 tablespoon of Sugar in the Raw

This was a huge surprise, and I was very impressed by it. For years EnjoyingTea has been my go-to place for teaware, but I haven't really explored their black teas before - just the greens. While I was still in Alaska I bought one of their green tea samplers, and this sample came in the same adorable tin. I've actually considered buying some empty ones from from the company before; they're only $0.65, the tea is protected from air and moisture, and there's no garbage to throw away because you can recycle them so easily - in the bin or by filling it with new tea!

Opening up this tin, the smell is delightfully pungent - wonderfully sharp and sweet. I wasn't able to find the directions on their website, so I just followed the customary 1tsp/8oz for 4-5 minutes.

When I'm unsure about a steeping time, I prefer to start shorter and then add time as needed. Unfortunately, this time I forgot to set the timer and went straight for the full five minutes. At the first sip I could tell that a shorter steep would have been a lot better, because it had a slightly bitter bite.

Initially I added just one tablespoon of raw sugar, but the over-steep made an additional tablespoon a must. It helped ease the bitterness, and left me with a surprisingly good Earl Grey. It was nicely balanced, and the cornflowers added an interesting kick; slight enough to add layers, but not so much as to detract. There was some noticeable astringency, which left me with a mid-range dry mouth. To smooth that out I added a dash of milk, which served to both cut some of the astringency and to highlight the fresh flavor of the cornflowers.

Before cleaning up, I did attempt a re-steep, and while the color was lighter the flavor held up gorgeously. I would not hesitate to re-steep this one in the future.

But I couldn't leave off there. Because of the timing issue with the first cup, I wouldn't feel right posting this without trying a shorter steep.

I am so glad I did!

The four minute steep had all of the strengths of the five minute steep with none of its issues. There was no bitterness, only the slightest hints of astringency, and it tasted even smoother. I can totally see myself curing up with this and a book!

Overall, I'm very impressed with this tea, and I look forward to seeing how it will do when it goes head to head with other varieties in the Battle of the Earl Greys!

Prominent Notes: Black tea and bergamot
Aftertaste: Cornflower
Overall: A truly enjoyable cup of tea!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Smoked Earl Grey by Tao of Tea

Smoked Earl Grey

Seller Description: "A blend of organic Indian black tea from Nilgiri infused with natural bergamot essence and organic smoked tea from Fujian Province in China. The smoked tea is better known as Lapsang Souchong in China."
Directions: 1 teaspoon per 8oz, steep 4-5 minutes
Website: Smoked Earl Grey
Cost: $8.75/3.5oz tin

Smoked Earl Grey
Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 5 minutes
Additives: 1 tablespoon of Sugar in the Raw

My freshman year of college, I enrolled in a "rocks for jocks" class, both to meet some requirements and also because in high school I just couldn't wrap my head around plate tectonics. After a few "ah ha!" moments which were course related, I noticed something that had nothing to do with the curriculum: that more than one of my classmates smelled like a campfire nearly every day. It wasn't until that point that I actually understood that while I might live in a very small city, just off campus there were people living in dry cabins. No running water, and wood stoves for heat. I lived in Alaska for six years, and I have my share of weird and wacky memories, and I had to ask myself which century it was more than once!

Of all those, that moment sticks out for some undefinable reason. This tea reminds me of that. The blend tastes almost identical to their Pine Smoked Black, and the bergamot notes are very difficult to identify, if at all.

I was not able to finish the cup, and my husband (who usually is happy with any tea I'm not) actually struggled to finish his. It's just too much of a single note, and the smoky flavor overwhelms everything else. This doesn't taste like an Earl Grey to me, so it will not be moving forward.

Prominent Notes: Campfire smoke
Aftertaste: Black tea and campfire smoke
Overall: This will not be moving forward in the Battle of the Earl Greys.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Blue Flower Earl Grey by Tao of Tea

Blue Flower Earl Grey

 Seller Description: "A hand-crafted blend of full-bodied organic Indian black tea from Nilgiri, natural bergamot essence and beautiful blue cornflowers..."
Directions: 1 teaspoon per 8oz, steep 4-5 minutes
Website: Blue Flower Earl Grey
Cost: $11.00/3.5oz tin

Blue Flower Earl Grey
Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1 tablespoon of Sugar in the Raw

The first loose leaf tea I ever tried was from the Tao of Tea, and I had several of their blends shipped up to Alaska while I was teaching in the bush. Each sip always feels like just a little bit of home. This wasn't one of the teas I enjoyed up there, but I wanted to try out as many of their Earl Greys as possible.

Infused liquor
I've had to experiment a lot with this tea to dial in a better cup. I've made this tea several times now, and so far I haven't been able to tweak my steeping methods enough to truly enjoy it. Yesterday I steeped it for five minutes, and it was pretty bitter.

Adding a dash of milk did help slightly, and the creaminess did allow additional notes to peek out, but it was still not quite to my taste. Part of that might be the addition of the cornflowers - there's an element to this blend that's just hitting me the wrong way, and I think it's the slightly perfumey floral note. Hoping that my hesitation towards this tea could be fixed with a little tweaking, I tried a four-minute steep today and while the bitterness had abated it was left slightly watery but lacked as much of the floral note.

I finally steeped it for four and a half minutes, and it's been the best so far. A compromise between the two previous extremes. The flavor does still have a bit of a bite, as the black tea is the most prominent note by far, with the citrus note meekly following. While the floral note isn't as strong now as it was in the five minute steep, it's still keeping me from truly enjoying this blend.

Infused leaves
From the most bitter to the most watery, the amount of astringency has remained the same. I'm left with a moderate dry mouth, but it's never waned or become worse. Comparing that to my issues with the floral note, that's much less of a concern for me.

Overall, the memories I associate with this brand of tea are just better than the tea itself. It won't be continuing in the Battle of the Earl Greys, but I look forward to trying the more straightforward Earl Grey and re-introducing myself to the Smoked Earl Grey I enjoyed in Alaska.

Prominent Notes: Black tea
Aftertaste: Black tea and cornflower
Overall: This will not be moving forward in the Battle of the Earl Greys.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Earl Grey Organic by Mighty Leaf

Earl Grey Organic by Mighty Leaf

Seller Description: "A regal blend of the finest golden tip, organic black tea leaves infused with rich first-press bergamot oil. An inspiration to the epicurean with a fancy for the classical."
Directions: "Brew time 4 minutes."

Teaware: 16oz glass mug with lid
Measured dry: 1 tea sachet
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1 tablespoon of Sugar in the Raw, a dash of milk

I remember when the "sachets" first started to appear in grocery stores. I liked the idea of full leaf teas and at first I was just wary of adding extra garbage to the landfills. It was later that I realized I also had to worry about possibly contaminating my drinks with chemicals from the heated plastic.

PLA sachet with stitching
When this tea was given to me to review, I knew I had to do a little research. What I found on their website was surprisingly reassuring. Mighty Leaf describes their sachets as "100% polyactic corn based compostable material," and goes on to state that they are also biodegradable. The sachets are actually sewn closed with cotton string instead of staples or glues.

So far, it was sounding a little too good to be true, so I looked up "polyactic" and discovered that polyactic acid (PLA) is a renewable resource that's actually being used in medical implants that are meant to break down in your body - like dissolving stitches. You can click here to read a Smithsonian article about its common uses and issues, but, when it comes down to it, PLA does look like a step in the right direction.

Now, if you've been reading my blog you've probably noticed that the one previous entry for a teabag was a little harsh. Well, a lot of that comes down to not only what its made of, but what's inside. Sachets like this one include full leaf tea that you can actually see, and they generally allow the leaves a lot of room to expand. Teabags, however, are usually much lower grades of tea. It goes all the way down to "fannings": the tea dust left over once higher quality teas are created. That's one thing I do have to give sachets; they offer the convenience of a teabag without the left-over dust that's used in teabags.

But on to the tea itself! 

To make sure this tea was able to live up to its promise, I was very careful with the steeping instructions. I've heard people say before that one of the reasons tea snobs raise their noses at teabags is because well, a) the contents, but also b) they don't prepare it with the exacting nature they do loose leaf.

Infused leaves from sachet
To that end, the quantity was pretty straightforward (one sachet of tea!) and the brewing time was marked on the package (4 minutes), but the ratio was not. It can mean a big difference to a tea if you use one teaspoon of dry tea in a 6oz teacup versus a 16oz mug. One may be overwhelmingly potent while the other may taste like flavored water. 

With all the different teas I've been able to try this summer, I've noticed that no one plays by the same rules and some makers give you dry measures for 6, 7, or finally 8 ounces. That's usually my default, because its the actual cup measure, but it doesn't always make the best cup. 

For this tea, I filled my 16oz mug 2/3 of the way full, which amounted to approx. 10oz of water, and let it steep for four minutes. At first sip the tea was a little mild (next time I will try to hit the 8oz mark on the head) but it held a lot of promise. 

I waited until after the first couple of sips to add a dash of milk, in order to get a better feel for the tea. The black tea notes are the most prominent, with just enough bergamot oil to complete the traditional Earl Grey flavor profile. Because the bergamot is so slight, it contributes to a very subtle tea with pleasantly low astringency - no dry mouth here! Once I added the milk the flavors smoothed out even further and it seemed to bring out some added creaminess in the tea.

Lighter second steep
I did attempt one re-steep, but while the tea's original flavor was present it was pretty light. This will be a one-steep tea for me in the future.

After all the steepings were done, I decided to satisfy my curiosity and open up the sachet. If you go back to the teabag I opened a month or so ago, there is a world of difference between the sachet contents and the bag contents. Instead of the coffee-ground texture of the teabag, the sachet revealed recognizable leaves which had the room they needed to unfurl.

Between opening up the door to some new knowledge and changing some of my preconceived notions about pre-packaged tea, this blend has managed to impress me. It's easy and tasty - things that I definitely appreciate during the school year. Because of that, it will be moving forward into the first elimination round of the Battle of the Earl Greys. 

Prominent Notes: Black tea and light bergamot
Aftertaste: Black tea
Overall: This will be moving on to the first elimination round!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Earl Grey Provence by Mariage Frères

Earl Grey Provence by Mariage Frères
Seller Description: "The zesty and lightly peppered flavour of bergamot lends itself perfectly to black tea. In this version, our master blender weaves in the colourful flavours of Provence in all their glory: an astonishing addition of wild lavender gives a touch of warmth and mystery to the cup. Its round and ample body feels silky on the palate, energising all the senses."
Directions: "Measure out 2.5 g of tea for 20 cl of pure, filtered water. Bring the water to a simmer (about 95° C) and let the tea infuse for 3 to 5 minutes."
Cost: 9,50 €/100g

Teaware: 16oz tetsubin teapot with Depression Glass teacup.
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1 tablespoon of Sugar in the Raw

Earl Grey Provence
This is the last of the three Mariage Frères samples, and I picked it out today because the dry smell is perfect for a warm smile on a dreary morning. It's cloudy, rainy, and a chill is hanging in the air. I love it! For one precious morning I feel like we've been magically transported from horrible, broiling Dallas to our wonderful heart-home in the Pacific Northwest. The tea has a spicy bergamot aroma mixed with a not-quite lavender floral scent, and the black tea blend is a faint note towards the end.

Once I brewed it, I was surprised by how pale the liquor was - before it darkened with the depth of the cup it was a lovely light gold. From what I remember of the other Mariage Frères teas I've tried, I was expecting something a little darker.

The flavor is sweet - sweeter than the Sugar in the Raw itself. There is some significant astringency, and a definite dry tongue sensation. As with the initial dry aroma, the bergamot and the lavender are most prominent, while there are only hints of the black tea base. From my experience, teas with a higher astringency seem to coincide with more bergamot, but in this case the lavender seems to be contributing as well.

A great cup on a cloudy day
I was curious how the lavender would translate into an iced tea, so I put a covered cup of this in the fridge to cool for a couple hours. It's not something I'm going to do again, as the flavor lost all its traction. It was half of the original pot and not altered in any way but temperature, but the lavender has lost all its freshness and its taste is watery if not almost papery.

Now that its been a couple hours since that first sip, I decided to brew up a second batch. This time I just used my 16oz infuser mug, but I added one more thing: a dash of milk. Oh, I wish I had made the first cup this way! The milk really helps cut some of the astringency and smooths out the flavor.

While this is an enjoyable cup of tea - especially with the milk - it does strike me more like a flavored black tea than an Earl Grey. For that reason it will not be moving forward in the Battle of the Earl Greys. 

Prominent Notes: Lavender and bergamot
Aftertaste: Not noticeable
Overall: An enjoyable tea, but it will not be advancing

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mrs. Grey's Blend by Simpson & Vail

Mrs. Grey's Blend by Simpson & Vail

Seller Description: "An interesting black tea blend that has the fragrant aroma and flavor of our Earl Grey with orange and lemon peels that creates a refreshing taste sensation. Delicious when iced!"
Directions: Brew tea at 212º - steep for 3 minutes.
Cost: $6.95/4oz

The dry tea
Teaware: ForLife NewLeaf 16oz infuser mug
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1-1/2 tbsp Sugar in the Raw

On to sample number six, of the seven provided by Simpson & Vail! It's been a heck of a lot of fun to have the opportunity to try so many different Earl Greys and their variations. Not all of them have been things I would usually purchase on my own, but it's been fascinating to contrast what I think I'd like with how I actually felt about these new teas. This tea is a great example of that. When I started this project, I didn't think I'd find so much enjoyment in the various blends. I felt fairly certain that when the chips came down and the brackets were closed it would be a straightforward Earl Grey, but some of the blends have actually given me cause to question that idea.

This was one of those blends, mostly because of its dry smell, which lives up to the seller's description. There is no missing the black tea and aromatic bergamot, but the citrus aroma is a little more sneaky. It's there, but you need to work a little to pick it out. 

The infused leaves
After it steeped I was surprised by how prevalent the black tea blend becomes. The bergamot is still present, but neither it nor the other citrus notes assert themselves as much as the actual tea flavors. To me, this almost tastes more like a traditional Earl Grey than a blend. It even has the customary astringency, and leaves my tongue very dry. 

Now, I'd like to tell you what my husband thought of it as well, but that requires a little background.  Have you ever heard of someone referring to a small kitchen as a "one-butt" kitchen? Well, at our apartment it's more like "half-cheek"! Jake was making biscuits and gravy while I was darting around him to prepare and photograph this. He stole a cup, and at first described it as "bready." 

Later he admitted that impression had more to do with the fact he was covered in flour than the actual flavor of the tea! He's a fantastic cook, but a very messy one. I tried to find a cool and very nerdy apron to encourage him to wear one, but so far it's stayed a lot neater than he has. 

Ha! I got the apron on him!
While I glared pointedly at the pristine Discworld apron hanging in the corner, he told me that it tasted more like a standard Earl Grey to him, although he could pick out the additional citrus notes.

Since that made a lot more sense than his "bready" comment, I left him to it and, because of the seller's description, I put half of my sample in the fridge to cool.

About an hour later I pulled it back out, and I was surprised to discover that if anything the black blend had become stronger, almost completely overshadowing the citrus notes. I almost want to add lemon to it, which is funny because this blend is supposed to have extra citrus! In the future, I think I will enjoy this hot instead of cool, because the flavor is much more balanced that way.

While the dry aroma had initially made me hope to add it to the lineup, I don't think this one will be moving forward in the Battle of the Earl Greys. It is a nice, solid Earl Grey but the additional citrus notes just are not strong nor prevalent enough to help this stand out.

Prominent Notes: Black tea blend
Aftertaste: Mixed citrus notes
Overall: More of a standard Earl Grey than a variety blend

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lady Grey by Tealicious

Lady Grey by Tealicious

Teaware: 16oz infuser mug
Measured dry: 2 tsp
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 4 tsp Sugar in the Raw 

This sample is another one of three fall preview teas which were sent to me by Tealicious. It won't be released until October, so it's not listed on the website yet.

It appears to be a black blend with lavender flowers and probably bergamot oil. Dry, this blend smells deceptively mild. The black blend dominates, while the lavender and citrus notes are very, very faint.

When steeped, the flavors switch places. The first punch of lavender rises out of the cup along with its steam, and it keeps on coming with the first sip. It's mild and sweetly floral in a fresh way, without perfumey bites or bitterness. The lavender flavor is more prevalent than the traditional Earl Grey flavor profile, which in itself is fairly light and the bergamot is barely noticeable. There is some astringency, but like the rest of the cup its bite is gentle.

I decided to try it chilled, and when cool the lavender continues to dominate the cup. Of the two versions, I do prefer it hot - mostly because when its chilled you don't get that wonderful sensation of a warm cup in your hands!

After that I did one more thing: a second steep. This didn't quite hold up - the cup was very watery, and in the future I will prepare it as a single-steep tea.

All in all, this is a great tea if you're craving lavender. It is a bit more of a flavored black than an Earl Grey, and it will not be moving on in the Battle of the Earl Greys for that reason.

Prominent Notes: Lavender
Aftertaste: Black blend and very light bergamot
Overall: Less an Earl Grey than a floral black

Friday, July 5, 2013

Victorian Earl Grey by Simpson & Vail

Victorian Earl Grey by Simpson & Vail

Seller Description: "Take a step back into the past with this floral blend. This tea is a sensational mixture of Rose Congou black tea, rose petals, lavender, rosemary and high quality bergamot oil. A top seller, Victorian Earl Grey tea brews to an amber cup that has a sweet, floral taste that is adored by old and young alike. The aroma of the brewed tea is slightly earthy and woody from the rosemary and lavender, and while the brewed tea has this taste as well, it is rounded out with the citrus taste of bergamot and the sweet rose petals."
Ingredients: Rose Congou black tea, lavender petals, rose petals, rosemary and bergamot oil.
Directions: Brew tea at 212º - steep for 3 minutes.
Cost: $6.80/4oz

Teaware: ForLife NewLeaf 16oz infuser mug
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1-1/2 tbsp Sugar in the Raw

This was the fifth of seven samples provided by Simpson & Vail for the Battle of the Earl Greys. For those of you who've been following my costuming blog, I've been doing a lot of Victorian research and costuming over the last year. I can't help but dance back into that frame of mind when I smell this tea. Visions of lace and embroidery, stays and petticoats just dance through my mind.

The dry smell is primarily floral, with very prominent rose, rosemary, and lavender notes. It manages to completely avoid smelling too much like artificial perfume and instead smells fresh and vibrant - like you've stuck your nose into a bouquet or you're sitting in an actual garden. I can't smell the citrus or black tea blend that's the traditional Earl Grey flavor profile, but it just smells too good for me to worry about it too much at this point!

The jolting shriek of my modern timer helped me detach my nose from the rest of the dry sample, and attend to the fresh liquor.

Steeped, the color of the liquor falls between baltic and cherry amber. It's more pink than I remember seeing from other Earl Grey blends, which just helps it stand out that much more. The aroma is just as richly floral as the dry tea, but now the black tea is beginning to assert its presence.

The infused leaves smell nearly identical to the aroma of the steeped tea, with only a little less of the floral signature.

At first, I wasn't sure if the bergamot was going to be strong enough to create the traditional flavor profile of an Earl Grey. At first sip all those worries are assuaged. It's not the most prominent note - that honor goes jointly to the rosemary and rose - but it is definitely making itself known.

I just can't stop drinking this! There is little to no astringency, and each sip is smooth and sweet - beyond even the Sugar in the Raw that I routinely add. This isn't quite the straightforward Earl Grey that I'm looking for in the Battle of the Earl Greys project, so it won't be moving on into the bracket, but it's wonderful and unique enough to forge it's own place in our cupboard. I'm looking forward to making up a cup of this while I work on my next petticoat!

Prominent Notes: Lavender, rosemary, and black tea blend
Aftertaste: Rose and bergamot
Overall: Absolutely wonderful!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Earl Grey Supreme by Harney & Sons

Earl Grey Supreme by Harney & Sons

Seller Description: "To the connoisseur we offer Earl Grey Supreme, which uses a higher grade of teas along with the addition of Silver Tips. Most of our customers have never gone back to our regular Earl Grey once they have tasted the Supreme. If you love Bergamot and fine tea, this is the blend for you."
Directions: "...a teaspoon of tea for each cup of tea desired....pour boiling water over tea & steep 5 minutes."
Cost: $7.50/4oz tin

Teaware: ForLife NewLeaf 16oz infuser mug
Measured dry: 2 tsp for first cup, 3 tsp for second cup, 2-1/2 tsp for third cup
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 5 minutes for first and second cups, 4-1/2 minutes for third cup
Additives: 1-1/2 tbsp Sugar in the Raw

A close up of the dry tea
Sometimes I forget how much television is offered online, so when I came across PBS' streaming Antiques Roadshow episodes I just had to settle in for a marathon. I'd heard wonderful things about this tea, so I figured it would be a great companion.

I was very, very wrong. It took three different cups of tea, and iced version, and a re-steep to figure out that I really don't care for this... and I wish I hadn't bought a whole tin!

When I first opened it, the smell sent my senses for a loop. The aroma is a spicy bergamot - more straightforward than Mariage Frères' Earl Grey French Blue, brisker bergamot than Teavana's Earl Grey Black, and spicier than Simpson & Vail's Earl Grey.

For my first cup, I followed the directions exactly: 1 tablespoon per cup for five minutes. Instead of a bracing cup to start my day I was left with a flavor that started mild and ended with a very watery aftertaste. Even the infused leaves were weak - the aroma that had tantalized my senses initially was now a pale imitation of itself. I dumped the leaves and gave the rest of that cup to my husband.

The infused leaves
For my next attempt, I increased the amount of dry tea to 1-1/2 teaspoons per cup and stayed at a five minute steep. That cup showed more promise, but I think I used too many leaves because it was fairly bitter. I shoved the rest of that cup into the fridge to cool and tried again.

The third attempt was 1-1/4 teaspoons of dry tea with a 4-1/2 minute steep, and I think I (finally!) hit as close as I'm going to come to the sweet spot. 

The bergamot was still milder than the dry smell would indicate but the watery and bitter notes had been eliminated. There was a lot more astringency than I expected, and the dry mouth feel was a lot more pronounced than other Earl Greys which have had similarly mild bergamot notes. At this point my patience for this tea was starting to wane, so I dumped the rest of the third cup in the fridge with the second cup.

First attempt
Now on to attempt a re-steep. I kept to the same steeping time as the 3rd attempt, and I was pleasantly surprised. It's a mild cup, but the Earl Grey flavor profile still dominates the flavor. Actually, the re-steep is very similar to the first attempt I made, but without the watery aftertaste.

Finally, we come to the iced-tea version of this tea. It's at this point that I want to completely give up on this brew. The cold has not improved it, and as a last-ditch effort to gain some enjoyment from this tea, I poured in a dash of milk. Now it tastes a little like bitter bubble-tea. 

That's it. I give up on this stuff. It's just too finicky to mess with. During the school year I'm usually running around juggling fifty-zillion things at once, and I don't have time for a tea that's this picky about how it's prepared. I could spend another morning attempting to dial in just the right way to brew it, but I have much better things to do and a whole line-up of Earl Greys with better manners and behavior.

Update 7/5: I think I needed a bit of time to allow my frustration level to simmer down. It's two days later, and I finally feel up to trying again. I have completely disregarded the directions at this point, and at the suggestion of JaquelineM on Steepster, I used 3 very level teaspoons of dry tea, slightly cooler water (boiling minus 5 minutes), and a 4-minute steep. Once I removed the infuser basket I added 1-1/2 tbsp Sugar in the Raw, and, finally, I was able to enjoy it.

When prepared this way, it's a surprisingly smooth Earl Grey. There are no jarring notes, and the mild bergamot twines nicely with the black tea blend. There's little to no astringency, and it is nice to enjoy an Earl Grey without the usual dry mouth sensation as a chaser. I've tried this same method a couple times now, and the consistency has forced me to change my mind about this blend. I am actually going to move it forward to the first elimination round.

For right now, I'm going to settle back with the rest of the cup - and savor the idea that this whole dialing-in process happened with the infuser mug I'm using for both the Battle of the Earl Greys and school in the fall. I don't want to do this again with another piece of teaware!

Prominent Notes: Mild bergamot
Aftertaste: Black tea blend
Overall: Moving forward to the first elimination round

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Earl Grey French Blue by Mariage Frères

The first cup, just before I removed the infuser.

Seller Description: "Graceful and sophisticated, this classic blend reinvents itself by pairing the fruity, zesty and lightly peppery notes of refined bergamot with the sweet-scented hint of cornflower. Balanced and full of body with ample and lasting flavour, the liquor floods the palate with its charm and majesty."
Directions: "Measure out 2.5 g of tea for 20 cl of pure, filtered water. Bring the water to a simmer (about 95° C) and let the tea infuse for 3 to 5 minutes."
Cost: 8,50 €/100g

Teaware: ForLife NewLeaf 16oz infuser mug
Measured dry: 1-1/4 tsp for first cup, 1-1/2 tsp for second cup
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes for first cup, 5 minutes for second cup
Additives: 1-1/2 tbsp Sugar in the Raw

This marks my 20th Earl Grey review during the Battle of the Earl Greys! I couldn't resist pulling out my new mugs this morning - I bought two of them for side-by-side tea comparisons in the elimination rounds as well as practical use at home and work. It was a difficult choice. At first I couldn't decide if I wanted a professional tea cupping set or something more practical. I had to sit myself down with the question: If this is a quest to find the perfect tea for me, how will I actually prepare it in the future? I'm not going to drag a cupping set to school, but I will need to have something compact yet still enjoyable, so this set emerged as the winner.

Earl Grey French Blue
But on to the tea! This is the second tea in the Mariage Frères trio of samples. Unlike its counterparts, the dry smell of this tea is more floral than citrus, and the black tea blend is an after note. The dry blend is actually quite pretty - the blue flowers are surprisingly plentiful and vivid.

They don't stay that way. One of the first things I noticed about the infused leaves is that all the color was leeched out of them and they were left pale and grayish yellow. Luckily that doesn't influence the flavor!

I was very careful with the measurements this time, and was right on the mark for the tea to water ratio. For the next cup, I think I'll increase the amount of tea and the steep time because this first try was a little weak. The floral notes from the cornflowers are overwhelming the bergamot, and this tastes more like a floral black than an Earl Grey right now.

Infused leaves at the end of steep
That's about as far as I got this morning. My allergies were acting up, so I had to take some Benadryl and it knocked me for a loop. I took a completely unexpected nap, but managed (barely!) to put the rest of the tea in the fridge before my head hit the pillow. As an iced tea, this is a lot more forgiving and the weak taste does not detract from it - rather, it becomes a strength and gives it a nice laid-back flavor. The black tea blend becomes a stronger note, and the citrus notes begin to peek out around the floral.

For my second hot cup of this, I increased the amount of the tea by 1/4 tsp and the steep time to 5 minutes. Small changes, but at first sip I can tell they made all the difference. It's a much richer cup with a deeper color and flavor. The bergamot has woken up and is making its presence known, knocking the cornflowers down where they belong! There is no question now that this tea has an Earl Grey flavor profile, but the small kick of the cornflowers is giving it an extra punch which brings it to a higher level.

The second cup - with steam!
It is more astringent now, but only in a mild way. The dry mouth feel is light but present, where it was missing before. It's just enough to let you know you're drinking an Earl Grey!

I had serious doubts about this tea after the first cup, but the second one has completely wiped them out! I am absolutely loving this, and it will definitely be moving on to the first elimination round!

Prominent Notes: Black tea blend and bergamot
Aftertaste: Prominent notes plus faint floral notes
Overall: When brewed correctly, this is a wonderful cup!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Earl Grey Extra by Simpson & Vail

Seller description: "For the 'extreme' Earl Grey lover, we've added more Bergamot oil to our famous Earl Grey to make Earl Grey Extra. This blend was originally formulated by Mr. Vail for his many Eastern European customers."
Classifications: Kosher
DirectionsBrew tea at 212º - steep for 3 minutes.
Cost: $6.50/4oz

Teaware: 16oz tetsubin with depression glass cup
Measured dry: 1 tablespoon
Water temperature: Boiling
Steeping time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1 tablespoon Sugar in the Raw, a dash of milk later

This is the fourth of seven samples from Simpson & Vail. I've really enjoyed their teas - especially the fruity ones - but this comes closer than any of the others to meeting the criteria for my ideal Earl Grey.

Dry, this tea nearly shouts "Bergamot!' and it smells so wonderful I'm having a difficult time keeping my nose out of it. In fact, the citrus smell is so pervasive that it's difficult to even smell the black tea base.

When steeped, the bergamot aroma translates into a very citrusy cup, with a nice deep color. The black tea does come out in the flavor, but there's no missing the extra bergamot which does an excellent job of taking their straight Earl Grey blend and kicking it up a notch. This does a much better job of holding my interest and allowing this one to stand out above the crowd.

The extra bergamot does make it a little astringent, but not as much as some of the other teas I've tried. It leaves me with a slight dry mouth, but adding a dash of milk definitely helped to balance it out.
I decided to go for a second steep, and as you can see from the picture it was a lot lighter - both in color and in taste. Most of the remaining flavor comes from the sugar, and I'm hard pressed to locate any of the original notes. This will remain a single-steep tea for me in the future.

All that said, this will be moving on to the next round in the Battle of the Earl Greys! It will be interesting to see how it compares with other teas side-by-side.

Prominent notes: Black tea and bergamot
Aftertaste: Citrus and a slight hint of floral
Overall: This is going to take its place in the first elimination round