Thursday, August 15, 2013

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)
Website: Rishi-Tea.com

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

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