Saturday, August 31, 2013

Earl Grey by Lupicia

Earl Grey by Lupicia

Seller Description: Authentic Earl Grey made with Keemun tea. Delicious straight up or with milk.
Website: Earl Grey by Lupicia
Sample source: Steepster Swap

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug, transferred to china cup
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: First attempt 3 minutes, second 4 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons of raw sugar

I've heard a lot of wonderful things about this tea, so I knew I had to try it out before I got too much further into the Battle of the Earl Greys. I didn't expect to have to quickly look up the names of Jane Austen characters, nor did I think it would be quite so... forgettable.

Earl Grey by Lupicia
The dry smell is more subtle than other teas I've tried recently, but unmistakably bergamot with only traces of the black tea.

I actually made this tea twice. The first time I went with the shorter steep time, only to discover the tea was not quite brisk enough yet for my taste. It was still enjoyable, despite the need for a slightly longer steep. The black tea and bergamot are so seamlessly blended together that I could not separate one note from the other, and, as an added bonus, there is little to no astringency at this point.

The second attempt is stronger, but still somewhat mild. The flavors are just as perfectly blended, and there is still little to no astringency at all. It's incredibly smooth, and I've never met a tea that's quite so polite. It doesn't briskly announce itself and strut into the room like many other Earl Greys. It knocks quietly, waits to be invited, and then hesitantly peeks around the door before meekly scuttling into the room and perching daintily on a small chair. I've seen people describe Earl Grey as the grandfather of teas, but this one is acting like some meek Regency miss.

I wanted Elizabeth Bennet and I got Anne de Bourgh!

And yes, I did have to look her name up because she was that forgetful!

Now this is still a nice tea, and a very smooth cup, but it's just too... meek. I'm trying to find something with enough get-up-and-go to kick my brain into gear in the morning. This tea may contain caffeine, but it just doesn't have that bold and assertive quality I'm looking for.

Prominent Notes: Black tea and bergamot
Aftertaste: Not noticible
Overall: Straightforward and delicious

Earl Grey Lavender by Revolution

Tealights and tea... a wonderful combination!

Seller Description: Revolution Tea's award-winning Earl Grey Lavender adds a unique twist to a popular favorite. Ceylon, Oolong and Darjeeling estate tea leaves are lightly flavored with Oil of Bergamot and combined with super blue lavender to create a wonderful, sweet tea. Enjoy Earl Grey Lavender as a morning pick-me-up or as a late afternoon treat.
Website: Earl Grey Lavender by Revolution
Sample source: Provided

A sachet of Earl Grey Lavender
Teaware: Noritake "Sterling Tide" teacup, 7oz capacity
Measured dry: 1 sachet
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 3 minutes
Additives: 2 teaspoons of raw sugar

Despite the caffeine I knew was loaded in every sip, I couldn't resist steeping a cup (or two!) of this tonight. We just finished our first week back with students, so I needed a little cup of calm... and the warmth of the tea was also a much-needed balm to my throat. The first week back always does a number on my vocal chords after a summer of casual conversation. I lit a couple tea lights and settled back to sooth and enjoy... or loaf and invite, if you've ever had Kim Campbell as a professor! One of her favorite poetry activities is - even now that she's teaching teachers and not middle school students - to have those in her charge physically interpret the line from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself."

The contents of the sachet
Now the business of interpreting "I loafe and invite my soul" is usually fraught with reflection, meditation, or any number of things that speak to you as an individual. For me, it's calm and quiet and often best done in starlight.

I am so glad that I steeped up a cup of this tea, because it was the perfect counterpoint. Dry, it smells nearly entirely of lavender, and fresh lavender at that. No sour perfumey notes, just the serenity of a lovely fragrance, and I think that was the clincher this evening.

The box indicated a 3-4 minute steep time, and lately erring on the side of caution has been working well for me. There is a surprisingly good balance between the traditional Earl Grey flavor profile and the lavender. The black tea and bergamot slide to the front, while the lavender dances lightly in the background. Often I will encounter teas which are skewed one way or another, but this one actually lives up to its promise.

The infused leaves
I did open one of the sachets, and I was impressed with the beauty of the tea it contained. There is a world of difference between the fannings of a tea bag and the unbroken leaves of a sachet like this.

But the elephant in the room is the nylon sachet, which does give you the experience and quality of a loose leaf tea with the convenience of a tea bag. I hope in the future that Revolution will embrace biodegradable sachet material, or offer their teas as loose leaf. It is truly the only thing keeping me from completely enjoying this wonderful tea.

It is pretty unusual for me to enjoy a cup of Earl Grey at night, but since this is so much more soothing than brisk I just couldn't let my fingers walk past it to more nighttime-friendly teas.

Prominent Notes: Black tea blend and bergamot oil
Aftertaste: Fresh Lavender
Overall: A surprisingly tasty tea

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Unbridled Love Fruit Tea by Teavivre

Unbridled Love Fruit Tea by Teavivre

Seller DescriptionTeaVivre's Fruit Tea's make great, low calorie, caffeine-free, refreshing drinks for anytime of the day. Made only from carefully matched flower petals, dried fruit and berries, they all have high levels of vitamins and minerals and – most importantly – taste and smell great! They are all fantastic to drink either hot or iced.
Ingredients: Apple, Roselle, Rose hip, Orange Peel and Black Currants
Directions: 3-4 teaspoons for 8oz of water. Brew at 212 ºF for 8 to 9 minutes

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug, depression glass cup
Measured dry: 4 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 9 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons of raw sugar

This tea has taken me on a bit of a journey. When the sample first arrived from Teavivre, I though it would simply be a nice, enjoyable cup to make the most of a long summer evening. I wasn't expecting it to become my husband's new favorite fruit blend, nor did I expect the quick trip back to my best friend's childhood home where we used to have fruit juice "tea" parties in the backyard.

First Steep: The dry smell is a curious blend... it's apple with a faintly floral, berry kick. One of the best things about infusing in glass is that you get to watch the steep slowly unfold. It's delightful to watch crimson ribbons snake down from the infuser basket and turn water into a liquor.

The color is a lovely blend of dark pink with an orange twist, and before I even take my first sip I can smell the delicate aroma of rose hips and apple. That translates well into the flavor, which continues to build on those elements and adds a black currant chaser. There is still a delicate flavor, by no means overwhelming but still made of stern enough stuff to build a nice cuppa.

This is like apple cider in a rose garden. As the cup begins to cool, slight orange hints sneak from their hiding places but remain firmly in the background. It is whole and refreshingly authentic without any of the artificial and/or perfumey notes that plague many other fruit or floral blends.

Re-Steep: Out of curiosity, I did attempt another steep.  It was a bit too light. This tea just gives its all in the first steep and doesn't save anything for later. It's a very, very faint apple and orange. The colorful streamers never appeared and most the color had more to do with raw sugar than anything else.

Second Attempt: I just picked up a white teapot as an early birthday present, and I couldn't resist making a fresh batch. My husband Jake absolutely loved it, and while I need to scale down my apple intake, he has no such worries and is avidly looking forward to enjoying this on winter mornings.

Prominent Notes: Apple and rose hips
Aftertaste: Black currant
Overall: A keeper!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Earl of Anxi by Verdant Tea

The Earl of Anxi by Verdant Tea

Seller DescriptionA unique Earl Grey made with Tieguanyin and laced with saffron and frankincense....We start not with a black tea, but with our famous Hand-Picked Tieguanyin to give the bergamot a cleaner base to integrate with, and reinforce the floral citrus notes. We draw out the citrus sweetness with a uniquely creamy and rich orange peel, and crystallize the florals into a prominent position with jasmine blossoms.
Ingredients: Autumn Harvest Tieguanyin, Organic Orange Peel, Organic Jasmine, Wildcrafted Frankincense Resin, Organic Goji Berry, Organic Saffron
Directions: 5g per 8oz of water at 212°F for 2 minutes
Website: The Earl of Anxi at Verdant Tea
Sample source: Provided

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 2 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons of raw sugar

When I'm enjoying tea, I will often close my eyes and venture to the tea's perfect setting. This one takes me straight to Christmas Mass. A lot of that has to do with the smoky Frankincense, but it's also the brightness in this tea that, in the darkest part of winter, promises the spring will come.

I was given a sample of this for the Battle of the Earl Greys, with the understanding that it was quite different than the traditional Earl Grey flavor profile. The black tea has been replaced with a green, the bergamot with orange, and additional notes (like the Frankincense!) have been added. It's such a special blend, though, that I knew I had to include it anyway, and I am so glad that I was able to.

When I opened the sample I had a quick flashback to opening my package of Hand Picked Autumn Tiegyanyin, as the delicate dry smell of the tea comes primarily from its green base. Gradually that changed, as hints of the orange peel, jasmine, and Frankincense did begin to introduce themselves politely. 

Steeped, the aroma is nearly pure Tiegyanyin, and I have a difficult time locating the other notes. They come out and play in the actual flavor more than the aroma. This is not a brisk tea, ready to shake the last of the sand from your sleepy eyes. It's more of a soothing hand rubbing your back when things seem overwhelming. 

This blend uses my absolute favorite green tea as a base and just stacks different elements and nuances onto it. With one sip I'm hit first by the Tiegyanyin and orange peel, then it almost feels like I'm breathing out Frankincense and jasmine. It's incredibly fresh, very silky and creamy, and there is only the tiniest of the astringency I often find in my morning teas. 

An additional bonus is that it also holds up well upon re-steeping. After three minutes it is nearly as strong as the first steep. All the elements are still there and some of the smaller notes, like the saffron, are actually peeking out more.

That said, I can't quite imagine myself making a cup of this to jump-start my hectic school day. It deserves, no, demands, the time to really sip and savor it over multiple hours and many steepings. This is more of a weekend winter morning tea, and I think I will continue to enjoy it as such.

Prominent Notes: Tiegyanyin, citrus, and jasmine
Aftertaste: Frankincense
Overall: A very tasty, comforting tea

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Silky Earl Grey by Teajo Teas

Steam rising from Silky Earl Grey by Teajo Teas

Seller DescriptionThis aromatic black tea is made with pure bergamot extract and safflower. If you are a fan of this classic tea, you will love our blend. The black tea in this blend is single estate and originates from a garden in Assam, a region known for producing high quality, full-bodied tea.
Ingredients: Broken leaf black tea, bergamot oil, lemon peel, safflower and cacao.
Directions: 1 tablespoon for 3 minutes, 8oz water at 212°F

Dry leaves of Silky Earl Grey
Teaware: Steeped in 16oz glass infuser mug
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 3 minutes
Additives: 4 teaspoons of raw sugar

This is simply glorious. By now you know that I don't throw that around lightly, but this tea... wow. I'm trying to be impartial - this was a complimentary sample after all - but I'm actually having a really difficult time with this one. It's going to be very hard for me not to just rave about it. I knew I was in for something special when my eyes rolled up at the dry smell of the tea. It is just pregnant with pungent bergamot, embraced with a clean and fresh Assam base, and holds just the slightest hint of licorice.

Once I opened the package and met those gorgeous leaves, I was pretty sure that a love affair with this tea was about to begin. They look like glistening pieces of chewy black licorice, nearly good enough to eat!

Steeped Silky Earl Grey
Now not every tea that smells amazing translates well into the cup, but this defies the odds. It gets better. It's fresh, smooth and nuanced, and with each sip I keep discovering more layers. I might pick out a slight licorice, a tiny note of mint or vanilla with one sip, and the faintest hint of cocoa in the next. 

Now, there is some mild astringency, but nothing that took away from my enjoyment. Even then, it was quickly solved but a small dash of milk. Then it keeps on going, as this tea also holds up fairly well on the second steep. The flavors are not nearly as strong or nuanced, but it is still better than many of the first-steep Earl Greys I've tried during this project.

In addition to the warm fuzzies I experience just drinking this tea, I love the fact that it is not only single estate tea from a family owned farm, but it it is also grown biodynamically. From what I understand, it's a sustainable way of farming that goes above and beyond organics and treats all aspects of of the farm as part of one single organism... interrelated in both a physical and spiritual way; the plants, the animals, and even the soil. 

There is no question that this is going into the next round of the Battle of the Earl Greys... but it's also going to become a cupboard staple.

Prominent Notes: Bergamot and Assam
Aftertaste: Just the slightest hints of cocao and licorice
Overall: This is a very strong contender!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Silver Needle White Tea by Teavivre

Silver Needle White Tea - Pale 1st and 2nd Steeps

Seller Description: "The Silver Needle White Tea owns a beautiful name, Bai Hao Yin Zhen. Silver (Bai Hao) prefers to the white pekoe; while Needle (Yin Zhen) describes the appearance of the thick and straight tea buds, which have tips as straight and sharp as needles. When you brew this tea, the heat of water arouses the delicate fragrance of the tea. The nutritious substance spreads into the light yellow tea liquid. Take a sip, and you will feel the smooth tea liquid carrying a strong fragrance companioned with slight soymilk scent travelling down to your throat. Aftertaste comes quick, and will leave a long-lasting tender aroma in your mouth."
Gaiwan Directions: For a 3oz gaiwan, use 5g of tea (which converts to approx. 1 teaspoon). Use 176ºF water and up to six steeps: Rinse, 45seconds, 1minute, 1m 30s, 1m 45s, 2m 20s, and 3m.
Teapot Directions: For an 8oz teapot, use 2-3 tablespoons of tea. Use 176ºF water and up to three steeps: 1minute, 2m, and 3m.

Teaware: Yixing gaiwan (90ml)
Measured dry: 1 teaspoon
Water Temperature: Boiling minus five minutes
Steeping Time: 2 minutes each steep
Additives: None

I was delighted to open the mail this morning, because it was chock full of Teavivre samples! I decided to try the Silver Needle White Tea first. When the title of the tea is that absolutely perfect for a costumer, how can you go wrong? 

The dry leaves are gorgeous - perfect little tight spears with tiny white hairs. They smell fresh and somewhat frisky. It's light, but with definite elements of the grassy notes to come. Unfortunately, my cat thought it smelled a little too much like her favorite catnip. While I was heating up the kettle, she managed to sneak onto the table and help herself to the teaspoon I'd put in my gaiwan. 

When I turned back to pour the water, I discovered that the rather imperious look on her little face was ruined by the tea leaves she had managed to stick to her nose. We stared at each other for a moment, before my brain kicked back into gear and I chased her off the table. 

I wasn't too worried, but because I do adore the little stinker I put in a quick call to the veterinarian, who wasn't terribly concerned but did tell me to note any significant changes in behavior. I think it was one of the stranger calls they'd received today, but I felt better about her little state of mind... and tummy.

While it hurt to do it, I cleaned up the leaves she'd scattered and put a fresh teaspoon in my gaiwan. I gave it a quick rinse and then started the first steep. After a minute, my first impression of the pale, pale yellow liquor was a faint but creamy butternut squash. It was a little understated so I added another minute and that's when this tea hit the butter zone. 

The slightly longer steep had left its notes richer, and lent a silky sensation to my mouth. It was not quite creamy, but held the promise of it. A slight grassiness did make itself known, but it was by no means overwhelming. The longer it sits, the smoother it becomes. I can completely understand why the seller compared it to soymilk, but my husband still insists he tastes honeydew melon. (That might just be his complete aversion to squash, though!)

The second steep was even more pronounced in terms of silkiness, and it developed a slightly nuttier flavor in addition to gaining some (very mild) astringency. Overall, though, it still remains calm and mellow, sliding into a slightly grassier note as it cools in the cup. It's a lovely balm to a hectic day.

The third steep left behind any remnants of astringency. It's possible I let the second steep go a little too long, because that was the only time it showed up. The silky smoothness of this tea continues to twine through the cup, and I can finally place that sweet note at the end - it's just the tiniest bit minty.

I did attempt a fourth steep, but I think I would have preferred to stop at the third because the buttery squash and nutty flavors diminished in the face of more prominent grassy notes.

Teaware: 16oz Glass Infuser Mug
Measured dry: 1-1/2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling minus five minutes
Steeping Time: 3 minutes
Additives: None

But I'm not always going to have the time or inclination to use my gaiwan to make this, so I wasn't done yet. My husband enjoyed the sip I gave him, so I decided to make him a full mug. Well, it was his after I sampled a bit of it myself!

In the future I think I'll double the amount of dry leaf, because it was a bit of a faint cup. Otherwise the flavors stayed true to the first steep with the gaiwan. It was a little too light to exhibit the nuttiness of the later steeps, and the soymilk notes were understated leading to a primarily vegetal and grassy tea. I offered to add more leaves or steep it longer, but he enjoyed it the way it was.

No matter the teaware or steeping time, there was one thing that remained the same throughout: the aroma of the infused leaves. The smell was always very faint, as if all the tea's power is so focused - so concentrated - on the flavor that it just doesn't have the will to exude much of a fragrance. What little it does possess is lightly grassy, but very difficult to pick out.

Prominent Notes: Soymilk, a slight nuttiness, and dry grass
Aftertaste: Sweetly minty
Overall: Mild but playful (just keep the kitties away!)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Earl Grey Bravo by Adagio vs. Organic Earl Grey by Tealicious

Organic Earl Grey by Tealicious vs.
Earl Grey Bravo by Adagio

Today we have the second bout of the Battle of the Earl Greys, where Adagio's Earl Grey Bravo goes head-to-head with the new Organic Earl Grey by Tealicious!

Earl Grey Bravo by Adagio
Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 3 minutes
Additives: 4 teaspoons of raw sugar

Organic Earl Grey by Tealicious
Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 4 teaspoons of raw sugar

Now that both cups have been properly infused, let's see how they meet the criteria!

1. Does the tea taste smooth, without any jarring notes?

  • Adagio: Yes, it is a very smooth and creamy tea... with maybe a bit too much cream.
  • Tealicious: There is a slight astringency right off the bat, but nothing flavor-wise.

2. If this is a variety blend, does the Earl Grey flavor profile maintain the driver's seat?

  • Adagio: This is a cream variation, and the cream is very noticeable. Now that being said, the cream in this particular tea does have a better balance than most creams, but it still has the potential to overpower the Earl Grey flavor profile.
  • Tealicious: N/A - This is a straightforward Earl Grey

3. Is there a "Wow!" factor? Something that makes it stand out?

  • Adagio: Not really - it lives up to its promise, but doesn't exceed that. It's a good cup, and I can see us enjoying it in the mornings, but nothing about it makes me scream.
  • Tealicious: No, this doesn't have a "Wow!" factor, but it does have a slightly strange cooked cereal element to this cup that wasn't present when I did the initial review. That may be due to the fact that this was the end of the sample, and the last bit of any tea can be either extremely good or surprisingly bad. Update: Now that's strange. We were almost done with the review, but I had to come back and update it! After this had a chance to cool down and settle, the cooked flavor vanished, and the taste dramatically improved. This is much closer to what I remember of this tea from the initial review.

4. How is the astringency? Does it detract from the tea?

  • Adagio: As this tea settled, it did develop some astringency that wasn't there when it was first steeped. It is very mild, but it doesn't take away from our enjoyment of the tea.
  • Tealicious: This has been moderately astringent from the get-go, which surprised me because it was so smooth and mild during the initial review. This might have also been a factor of the small sample size and the fact that it was the end of the sample. 

5. Does it have any special ties to sustainability, Fair-Trade, or eco-friendliness?

  • Adagio: No, it does not.
  • Tealicious: This is a sample from the new fall lineup which has not yet been released. I was told it was organic, but pertinent details have not yet been released and it is not listed on their website yet.

Jake's Opinion: They're both solid Earl Greys, but the Adagio is my favorite of the two. It's much smoother and less astringent than the Tealicious, and cream, while somewhat overpowering, is not unpleasant. Update: After the Tealicious cooled and settled, the flavor improved dramatically. The burnt flavor completely vanishes and what is left is a very good Earl Grey. I'm not sure how to call it, because this one is temperamental in terms on preparation. After it settles it becomes a very good cup of Earl Grey, still moderately astringent, but it is very, very enjoyable and it doesn't have the potentially overpowering cream of the Adagio.

Lyssa's Opinion: This is tough, because I really thought the Tealicious was going to be my favorite, based on the initial review. I would feel a little more confident if I had a larger sample size, but based on how this particular cup brewed up, I think I have to go for the Adagio. It has been a lot more consistent and hasn't displayed any of the unfortunate quirks of this cup of the Tealicious. Update: Now that it has had a chance to settle, this is what I remembered. It's smoother and sweeter now that it's cooled, and because it doesn't have the cream of the Adagio, it tastes more like an Earl Grey. It's at this point that I need to remind myself about my goals for this project. I'm looking for a tea for school, and have to keep my school year habits in mind. I'm not concerned about its need to sit a little, because I'll usually let my tea sit a while and come back to it periodically. I won't be drinking it all fresh at one time. Because of that, I think I am now switching sides, the Tealicious is going to be my choice.

So, the winner of this face/off is...

Organic Earl Grey by Tealicious

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rishi's Earl Grey vs. Victorian Earl Grey by Simpson & Vail

Earl Grey by Rishi vs. Victorian Earl Grey by S&V

This is the first face/off of the Battle of the Earl Greys. Today Rishi's Earl Grey goes head-to-head with the Victorian Earl Grey of Simpson & Vail. Both of these teas have already had their initial reviews, so this will be more of a comparison than a review.

Because I only had one sachet of the Rishi Earl Grey, I could only make only 8oz of it instead of the 16oz I will try to use for the rest of this project. In the preparation notes below, please note that all additives have been scaled down to match.

Victorian Earl Grey by Simpson & Vail
Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling minus two minutes
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons of raw sugar, 2 tablespoon milk

Earl Grey by Rishi Tea
Teaware: 16oz glass mug with lid (filled halfway, to 8oz)
Measured dry: 1 tea sachet
Water Temperature: Boiling minus two minutes
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1-1/2 teaspoons of raw sugar, 1 tablespoon milk

And now for the criteria that's been evolving throughout the series of initial reviews...

1. Does the tea taste smooth, without any jarring notes?

  • Earl Grey: No, it was very bitter.
  • Victorian Earl Grey: Yes, very! This only gets better with additives, and milk helps it really pop. The rose and lavender come to the forefront and then the black tea and bergamot slide on in.

2. If this is a variety blend, does the Earl Grey flavor profile maintain the driver's seat?

  • Earl Grey: There are no distractions, but the bergamot flavor is very understated and difficult to pick out. It's not a variety, but the black tea is more dominant.
  • Victorian Earl Grey: No, the rose and lavender are definitely prevalent, but it doesn't detract from our enjoyment.

3. Is there a "Wow!" factor? Something that makes it stand out?

  • Earl Grey: Not a positive one.
  • Victorian Earl Grey: Yes! It fills my mind with satin, crinolines, and lace.

4. How is the astringency? Does it detract from the tea?

  • Earl Grey: Mild to moderate, but that's not its major detraction.
  • Victorian Earl Grey: There's not much at all. It's a nice, smooth drink.

5. Does it have any special ties to sustainability, Fair-Trade, or eco-friendliness?

  • Earl Grey: It is organic and Fair Trade, but the company is making poor decisions as of late regarding packaging (one step forward, two steps back). You can read more about that in this tea's initial review.
  • Victorian Earl Grey: It's certified Kosher.

During the infusion process
Overall: While we didn't agree on every point, my husband and I did come to the same conclusion overall.

Jake definitely enjoyed both. He preferred the Victorian Earl Grey, but didn't mind the bitterness of the Earl Grey at all. He actually drained the rest of the cup as soon as I was finished reviewing it.

I, however, had a much stronger preference. I really enjoyed the Victorian Earl Grey and didn't care for the Earl Grey at all. The only reason I might hesitate to settle on the Victorian would be that it is less of an Earl Grey focus than I am looking for. But when I send my mind a couple weeks into the future it's much more enjoyable to think about starting my day with the Victorian than dreading the bitterness of the Earl Grey.

So, the winner of this face/off is...

The Victorian Earl Grey by Simpson & Vail

Earl Grey by Rishi Tea

Earl Grey by Rishi Tea

Seller Description: "Earl Grey is a British tea classic and the most popular tea of the Western World. This citrus-scented tea blend dates back to the 19th Century Sino-British trade of opium, tea, silk and porcelain. Our bestselling Organic Earl Grey blends bold-flavored Yunnan Dian Hong harvested from antique tea trees with natural Bergamot citrus from Southern Italy."
Directions: 1 tablespoon per 8 ounces, steep at 212°F (boiling) for 4 minutes (1st infusion), 5 minutes (2nd infusion)

Teaware: 16oz glass mug with lid (filled halfway)
Measured dry: 1 tea sachet
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1-1/2 teaspoons of raw sugar, 1 tablespoon milk

I only had one sachet of this tea on hand, but I heard so many great things about it that I knew it was pretty likely to snag a place in the first elimination round. Because of that, I decided to do both this review and its first face/off on the same day, with the same cup of tea. I do owe thanks to Short Sorceress, because our Steepster swap made this possible.

The sachet and its packaging
To be honest, I usually avoid any kind of pre-packaged tea. In our household we try to recycle what we can, and cut extraneous waste where possible. Buying a tin of loose leaf tea and using a reusable infuser basket means that we don't create extra waste. You're cutting off a stage in the manufacturing process and saving a whole bunch of extra packaging from adding up in a landfill.

Now sometimes it is easier to be able to grab something and go. On the rare occasions I will use a teabag or sachet, I do appreciate vendors' efforts to make pre-packaged teas more environmentally friendly. It was with a hopeful mind that I read Rishi's 2012 press release about their new sachets, but all it really said was that they were made with "plant based resources." That doesn't necessarily mean they're any better or more biodegradable. 

Looking at the sachet in front of me, I am surprised at the rough thickness of it, and how loose the weave is. I've tried a couple sachets before (from Revolution, Mighty Leaf, and the like) and those were diaphanous and silky - you could easily see through them to the full leaf tea inside. This has the extra steeping room common to those sachets, but none of the visibility. It wasn't until after I steeped the tea and cut the bag open that I was actually able to see what I was making!

But all the packaging in the world isn't going to do you any good if the tea isn't to your taste. 

The dry smell of this tea was fairly promising. It had a nice, rich aroma that was heavy with bergamot. Now, because I only had the one sachet I only filled my 16oz mug to the 8oz mark and steeped for the recommended four minutes.

I only have a stovetop kettle, so I can't tell you what the exact water temperature was, but it did have 1-2 minutes to cool after it boiled. But a slightly cooler temperature should have resulted in a lighter cup, not a bitter one. And this was bitter. I tried it first without additives, but the overwhelming black tea flavor bit at me with astringency. Since I never take black tea without sugar I wasn't very worried yet. 

I added a teaspoon and a half of raw sugar, but unfortunately it just wasn't able to cut the bitterness. The smell of the tea is still wonderful, but when I bring it to my lips I get a mouthful of an abrasive, bitter, and astringent brew with a slightly burnt twist. This one doesn't hesitate to bite back.

Adding a tablespoon of milk didn't help as much as I would have liked either. It did serve to smooth out some of the bitterness but it came at a cost, diluting the flavor. 

Infused leaves
The website for this tea did suggest re-steeping, so I decided to give it one more try. I had already opened the bag to examine the infused leaves, so the second steep was actually done without the bag, in my favorite infuser. As the website suggested, I steeped for five minutes. A teaspoon and a half of raw sugar later, the re-steep did have a noticeably more diluted flavor, but the bitterness and astringency have backed off considerably. While not the best, it's considerably better than the first steep.

It would have been nice to experiment with this tea a little more, but I can't justify buying a whole box of tea when I didn't like it the first time. Especially with the shenanigans the company is pulling with their new packaging and pricing. 

Rishi released a press release back in October about their packaging transition from tins (which I have never had a difficult time recycling) to a combination of plastic bags and recycled cardboard. To me, that sounds more like a move backwards than forwards. 

Their stance is that this is "...ushering in the transformation of the brandʼs packaging format from a labeled tin to a more environmentally friendly, sealed bag in a printed, bi-lingual box. The move provides a strategic change to invest more in tea quality and freshness and less in packaging, storage and transit costs. The airtight bag in a box is far better suited to preserve the freshness and character of Rishi Teaʼs signature teas. Rishi Tea will gradually transition its entire line of loose leaf tins to this new, more sustainable format."

In addition to that, the price has also jumped. I didn't price the tea before the change, but according to one Amazon reviewer, the price difference is nearly a dollar per ounce. 

I really enjoyed their Earl Grey Lavender, but that just doesn't sound like solid logic to me. Maybe if they had some more in-depth information I would comforted or even engaged by it, but what they have put out there is not enough to sway me. I am not willing to deal with that in order to get my hands on more. With how they're treating their customers, I'm glad that I was so disappointed by this tea.

Prominent Notes: Black tea blend
Aftertaste: Bergamot and a slightly burnt flavor
Overall: An interesting thing to try, but not for me

First Elimination Round Bracket

We've finally made it to the first elimination round! 

You'll notice that there are a couple teas on here which have not been reviewed yet, and I apologize for that. While I am incredibly grateful to the wonderful companies which sent samples, I've been having to space the others out from payday to payday. I would have preferred to have everything on hand for us to start, but the school year is upon us and my target was to finish this project before my birthday in September. 

Due to some issues with quantities, I will have to write the initial review and do the first head-to-head battle for that tea on the same day. I'll be a little screwed if it wins, but we'll face that issue when and if we come to it.

This has been a huge learning process for me, and if you have any comments or suggestions I would love to hear them. Thank you for taking this journey with me.

Now on to the Battle of the Earl Greys!

Update 8/16: I had to make slight adjustments in the order due to availability. I had two teas that were supposed to be on the way but I may be unable to obtain them in time. I also wanted to make sure the lineup could move in order, eliminating the skipping around.

Earl Grey Decaf by Mighty Leaf

Seller Description: "Perfection of a classic, minus the caffeine. Gold tips of rich black tea leaves blended with a twist of deep, first-press bergamot oil."
Directions: "Brew time 4 minutes."

Teaware: 16oz glass mug with lid (filled halfway)
Measured dry: 1 tea sachet
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1 tablespoon of raw sugar

This takes the Earl Grey experience into a whole new time slot! Before this, the Battle of the Earl Greys bas been a whirlwind of morning or sometimes early afternoon teas which have left me wound up well into the night and early morning. It was a delightful break to sit back and enjoy this tea without having to worry about the clock.

And I really did enjoy it. It tastes very similar to their regular, caffeinated Earl Grey; sweeter than the sugar alone, this is smooth and eminently sippable. For a decaf tea, I was surprised how much of the usual Earl Grey experience it provided. You get the same smell, a very similar flavor, and a kick of astringency that's low but definitely present.

Now, when it comes to the Battle of the Earl Greys, I am looking for a morning friendly caffeinated tea with the wherewithal to kick my sleepy tail into motion... but this fits a completely difference niche. I have to cut myself off from all caffeine after noon, otherwise I will spend the evening bouncing off the walls, unable to sleep that night. This would allow me to continue to enjoy the flavor of an Earl Grey at school during the afternoon.

Prominent Notes: Bergamot oil with a twist of black tea
Aftertaste: Black tea with an astringent chaser
Overall: A nice way to enjoy an Earl Grey after dark... or even after noon!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Earl Grey Heaven by Persimmon Tree

This company offers some pretty great little 5 for $5 samplers, and I wasn't very good about restraining myself! I ordered the black tea sampler, the herbal, and the rooibos. Hopefully that will be enough to keep me busy for a little while!

But we have to start somewhere, so first off is their Earl Grey Heaven!

Seller Description: "A delicious fusion of organic black loose-leaf tea leaves, fragrant oil of bergamot and a touch of French vanilla, this divine black tea will fill your room with an aroma most heavenly! This creamy Earl Grey tea is rich and robust with refreshing citrus notes that will awaken your senses and put a spring in your step."
Directions: 1-2 teaspoons per 8oz, steep 4-5 minutes
Website: Earl Grey Heaven
Cost: $9.99/2oz

The directions on their website were so inexact they were not really directions at all, so I had to fiddle with this a bit to end up with an enjoyable cup. This tea definitely played hard to get! For clarity's sake, I decided to break this up into three parts, one for each attempt.

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes, plus 2 minutes later
Additives: 1 tablespoon of raw sugar

I decided to do the logical thing and start on the low end, with the smaller amount of tea and shorter steep time. It didn't work out, and what flavor there was lacked nearly any substance. There were slight hints of vanilla and black tea, but any trace bergamot was just too light to identify. It was a watery tease, so I decided to let it steep a little longer. After two more minutes the flavor hadn't improved and the cup still tasted watery, but with an additional bitter note. I decided to dump that out and start over.

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 3 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 5 minutes
Additives: 1-1/2 tablespoons of raw sugar

This cup was noticeably better. It was still watery, but starting to develop some backbone. The vanilla was unmistakable, and this time there was enough of the Earl Grey flavor profile to build up to a medium level of astringency, but something was still missing. It just didn't have that get-up-and-go that's so essential for a morning tea. I need it to help me kick my butt into gear, but this tea makes me feel like I need to boss it around instead!

I decided to give it one more chance, and added a dash of milk. I was impressed with how much of a difference it made - it kicked it up a level, and it was the most enjoyable cup yet. The milk did a good job of filling in some of the blanks, but there was still room to grow, so I decided to try making one more cup.

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid
Measured dry: 4 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 5 minutes
Additives: 1-1/2 tablespoons of raw sugar

I'm running out of steam at this point, so this will have to be the last one. At least I think we finally dialed it in - well, as much as this tea is capable of. While the flavors have become more powerful, there's still some intrinsic weakness... just something missing. I think the black tea base just isn't strong enough to carry the rest of the flavors. 

Adding milk did help significantly, and this one was head and shoulders above where we started. The creaminess blends well with the vanilla, and it allows the black tea blend and bergamot to establish themselves more firmly. Letting it sit and cool a bit helped deepen the flavor as well. 

But I don't want to have to make it with milk every time, which I would have to in order to enjoy this one. Overall, this just isn't the one for me.

Prominent Notes: Black tea and vanilla
Aftertaste: Bergamot and vanilla
Overall: This will not be moving forward

Monday, August 5, 2013

Earl Grey by Tao of Tea

Earl Grey by Tao of Tea

Seller Description: "This is a handcrafted blend of organic Assam black tea and organic bergamot Essence. Our bergamot ‘Citrus Bergamia’ originates from Sicily in Italy, the famous home to this fruit, and is steam distilled to make a natural essence. We hand-blend the bergamot essence and tea leaves in small batches so that we can maintain an even flavor profile, often ignored by larger mechanical processes. The flavor of the tea is fresh, citrusy and slightly floral. This citrus aroma has a stabilizing effect on the emotions, promotes positive thoughts and relieves anxiety. Bergamot is second only to lavender in its ability to relax the brain and induce sleep."
Directions: 1 teaspoon per 8oz, steep 4-5 minutes
Website: Earl Grey
Cost: $8.75/3.5oz tin

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

This tea has some pretty wonderful promise, but for me the love just wasn't there. The moment I opened the bag, my hope for this tea began to wither. It has a pungent, burnt aspect that seems like it belongs to a completely different kind of tea. Nothing about it made me think "Earl Grey" and I couldn't wait to get my nose away from it.

Despite my misgivings, I really tried to keep an open mind, but the first sip tasted nearly identical to the dry aroma. It was just overwhelmingly burnt black tea, coming at you from two fronts: the smell of the tea and the flavor itself.

As it has cooled the bergamot was able to peek out of its hiding place. It was still faint, but at least it was present. Probably the best thing about this blend was the level of astringency, which was nearly negligible. At least you don't have to worry about a dry-mouth factor.

Overall, this one just isn't for me. I like everything they have to say about it, and the fact that it's organic, but as much as I truly wanted to love it, I just can't. It will not be moving forward in the Battle of the Earl Greys.

Prominent Notes: Burnt black tea
Aftertaste: Burnt black tea
Overall: This won't be moving forward

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Creamy Earl Grey by Simpson & Vail

Creamy Earl Grey by Simpson & Vail

Seller Description: "This variation of an Earl Grey blend has rapidly become a best seller! The tantalizing, heady aroma of this blend and with the smooth, creamy flavor that lingers on the taste buds combines to create a delicious sensory delight."
Directions: Brew tea at 212º - steep for 3 minutes.
Website: Creamy Earl Grey
Cost: $7.20/4oz

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

This is the last of the seven Simpson & Vail samples, and as I opened it the dry smell burst from the bag, full of cream with just a hint of black tea. I couldn't really smell the bergamot until it started steeping, but once the hot water began to do its work the citrus notes began to make themselves known. Now, during the course of this project I have tried a lot of different Earl Grey creams. Many of them have been overwhelmingly creamy - so much so that I was often hard pressed to taste any aspect of the normal Earl Grey flavor profile.

This was a pleasant surprise. It has a much better balance than many of those other Earl Grey creams, and while the black tea and bergamot flavors don't dominate they are strong enough not to fade into the background. This is very smooth, and there's no noticeable astringency, so it can be enjoyed without any of the dry mouth factor you often encounter with straight Earl Greys.

Now, when I'm at home I prefer to add cream on my own, but this is the kind of thing I'd take to work where cream and milk are unreliable. I'm also a lot less likely to re-steep there, as this one doesn't really hold up. It's a solid all-in-one for the office. That said, this is going to go on my Earl Grey cream lineup instead of moving forward in the Battle of the Earl Greys. It's just a bit more of a better fit.

Prominent Notes: Cream, light black tea & bergamot
Aftertaste: Cream and bergamot
Overall: An enjoyable cup

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cream Earl Grey by New Mexico Tea Co.

Cream Earl Grey by New Mexico Tea Co.

Seller Description: "An exquisite Earl Grey character mellowed with soft hints of cream. If you are fan of Earl Grey and have not tried tried this, you are in for a treat. Cream Earl Grey has a taste that is smooth with vanilla overtones, which stand out above the premium bergamot flavor – the signature taste of Earl Grey."
Ingredients: Black tea, cornflower petals, bergamot oil, and natural flavors
Website: Cream Earl Grey by NM Tea Co.
Cost: $5.50/2oz

The dry blend
Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug with lid, Depression Glass cup
Measured dry: 2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 1 tablespoon of Sugar in the Raw

Thank you, QueenOfTarts from Steepster, for sending this my way! The dry tea smells amazing - a huge whiff of cream with light notes of bergamot peeking through.

The smell does tell you a lot about what to expect with the tea once it has steeped. Jake was in the other room playing his spacecraft game (he's talking a newbie through E.V.E.) so I divided the tea into two cups, made him use his coaster, and settled down with mine and some Patricia Briggs.

The infused leaves
Any bergamot I may have smelled in the dry aroma has vanished, and the tea itself tastes like mostly cream with a little black tea at the end. It might have worked a little better for me if I was reading about feline shapeshifters, but Ms. Briggs fills her worlds with werewolves and the cream just didn't hit the spot!

When Jake took a break from the Gallente Federation to share his reaction, he was not any more impressed with this than I was - but a little more emphatic!

This was an interesting thing to try, but so much of the focus is on the cream that the traditional Earl Grey flavor profile just slips through the cracks. Because of that, it's not going to be moving forward in the Battle of the Earl Greys.

Prominent Notes: Cream
Aftertaste: Black tea
Overall: Not moving forward

Earl Grey by DAVIDsTEA

In front of the tea chest are the remaining Earl Greys!

We're getting close to the end of the initial reviews, and soon I will post the brackets for the first elimination round! Still to come are...
  • Earl Grey by DAVIDsTEA
  • Earl Grey by Rishi Tea 
  • Earl Grey Decaf by Mighty Leaf
  • Creamy Earl Grey by Simpson & Vail
  • Earl Grey by Tao of Tea
  • Cream Earl Grey by New Mexico Tea Company
  • Earl Grey by Nina's Paris (yet to arrive)
  • Earl Grey Heaven by The Persimmon Tree (yet to arrive)

There are, of course, countless more that I'd like to try but the school year is upon us and I can't put as much money into tea. If you happen to have an Earl Grey that is not listed on here or the blog archive, I would be delighted if you could send it my way. Otherwise, I think 38 Earl Greys is a good place to start!

We're going to begin paring down that list with today's tea: Earl Grey by DAVIDsTEA!

Earl Grey by DAVIDsTEA

Seller Description: "Everyone has tried Earl Grey. And yet this one is different. It’s made with an exceptional blend of rare, ethically-grown, high-altitude black teas. Pure oil of bergamot, a citrus fruit, gives it an aroma that’s headier than usual. And the cornflower petals add a subtly perfect fragrance. Discover the difference. You’ll never go back."
Directions: 1-1/2 teaspoon per 8oz, steep 4-5 minutes
Website: DAVIDsTEA Earl Grey
Cost: $8.00/100g with tin

The dry tea
Teaware: 16oz tetsubin with Depression Glass cups
Measured dry: 2-1/2 teaspoons
Water Temperature: Boiling
Steeping Time: 4-1/2 minutes
Additives: 1-1/2 tablespoon of Sugar in the Raw

I liked DAVIDsTEA's Cream of Earl Grey so much that I couldn't leave this one out! The dry tea aroma is just heavenly. The bergamot does cartwheels, nearly shouting "Look at me!" and the cornflower slyly twines around it.

The second time was the charm with this one. There are conflicting directions between the sticker that goes on the tin and the website. The former advises 1-1/2tsp per 8oz of water, while the latter says to use 1tsp per 8oz. The first time I made this, I followed the directions on the tin and let it steep the full five minutes. It was a little bitter, so I made it again with slightly less tea and a shorter steep time. That was the ticket!

There was just a tiny bit of astringency with the first cup, but in the second attempt I am having a difficult time locating more than a hint of it. It's just so smooth and wonderful... wait a second. That's strange... I just poured a second cup and it's changed a lot. I took out the infuser basket to end the steep on time, but the tea in the teapot has continued to change while I sipped the first cup I poured. The astringency has increased from minuscule to medium and it tastes somehow darker and more unpredictable.

It may be that I needed to stir the tea in the pot, but I usually don't have to bother with that. I pulled in Jake for a second opinion, and the first thing he asked me was if I had left the leaves in to continue to steep, because this did taste so much like an oversteep. We talked about it for a while, and he suggested that it might just need to be enjoyed fresh instead of left. I'm left wondering if we can avoid this same reaction in an infuser mug, where you're only making one serving and enjoying it rather quickly.

The infused leaves
I did try this with a dash of milk, and I don't recommend it. Something about the blend just makes the flavor roll up and die when it's even slightly diluted, and each sip was just overwhelmed even with the slightest drop of milk.

The infused leaves were a bit of a shock too. With as intense as the dry flavor was, I expected something on a similar level. No dice. The infused leaves smell like wet autumn leaves that someone dribbled a couple drops of Earl Grey on.

Overall this has been a bit of a letdown. I loved the initial cup, but once it had a chance to sit for a couple minutes and cool it was horrible. I'll keep experimenting with it and see if I can dial in a better cup, but I'm not a fan of fussy teas.

Prominent Notes: Bergamot
Aftertaste: Cornflower
Overall: Too finicky for my tastes