Friday, 26 June 2015

Whittards: Afternoon Earl Grey

Today is a first for Laura's Tea Room - I am writing my first review of a Whittard's tea!

Recently, I found myself in London and after visiting Twinings, we walked up to Covent Garden and I popped into the Whittards shop which can be found in the center of Covent Garden. On the surface level it looks tiny, but there is a extensive downstairs part of the shop.

On the top level there are lovely gift sets and biscuits, but it's downstairs where it get's interesting - they have tea's in huge caddies that can be brought loose and also a wide selection of boxed tea too. Not having much money left to spend I decided to try at least one tea and I opted for their Afternoon Earl Grey tea.

The tea comes in a box of fifty standard round bags. Inside there is a secure silver foil packet. The outer box is attractively designed. It's pretty and traditional.

You may be wondering why Whittard's haven't appeared on here before. There is a reason of course! Many years ago, when I first started drinking tea black, I went out for the day and purchased a tin of their Christmas tea. I was new to tea and a baby when it came to drinking tea without milk. I brewed up a pot of the Christmas tea, took a sip and was almost sick. It was not Whittard's fault it was mine. Christmas tea's, as you may know, are full of spices and things like cloves. It was way too strong and shamefully, I was put off from trying Whittards. It was a error on my part and now I'm wondering what lovely tea's have I missed in the interim!

So, I was stood in the basement of Whittards a couple of weeks ago wondering what to try first, and my eye was caught by this lovely, delicate tea.

The tea consists of a black tea from Indonesia with a light bergamot flavouring.

I couldn't wait to fire up the tea maker and get going with this tea. I put three bags into the pot and brewed for three minutes, however, I soon discovered this wasn't enough, so have changed the process slightly and now use four teabags and brew for four minutes.

Afternoon Earl Grey is not the kind of Earl Grey to knock you out with it's strength so if you like a hearty Earl Grey this may not be the Earl Grey for you, but, even though I love Earl Grey very strong, I appreciate this is a afternoon tea, so it's intended to be lighter version. After all, afternoon tea's are intended to be taken with cakes and all things delicate and this tea reflects that very well.

First of all, I enjoyed the depth of flavour I had with the black tea. It's delicate but tasty and is not at all bitter or overpowering. It's a very refreshing tea, light and airy but with a solid base.

The bergamot flavouring is very delicate and is very evenly balanced.  It not in your face like some bergamot flavourings can be, but it certainly makes it's presence known. I do think that perhaps it could be a little bit stronger, but it enjoyable none the less.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this tea. It's almost a more feminine spin on Earl Grey. It's very refreshing and it's lightness is very enjoyable. In a odd way you feel as though you are not overburdened with bergamot which I can feel like sometimes when I drink a lot of Earl Grey.

Obviously, this is perfect for afternoon tea, to serve up to your friends in your best china! But it's just as nice to take in your old battered mug as well!

This is ideal if you like your tea a little weaker, or if you find many of the standard Earl Grey's too strong. It's also a great starter tea if you are stepping into the world of taking tea without milk, as many black tea's and many flavoured tea's can me quite overpowering when you first ditch the milk.

After a bumpy start with Whittards I am now more than impressed and I certainly look forward to trying more of their wonderful tea's.

And, there are quite a few branches here in London so I'll be spoiled for choice.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Shibui Tea: Earl Grey Pyramids

A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a lovely chap called John from Shibui Tea.

Shibui Tea is a small family business that can be found in Edinburgh, Scotland, and John kindly asked if I'd like some samples of his new ranges, and I, of course, said yes.

I was kindly sent several samples of all sorts of tea, from red tea, to green tea to the more traditional black tea's. This evening, I decided to pop on some music (some great fare from The Small Faces. "Wouldn't it be nice to get on with me neighbours?" Steve Marriott is currently asking!) and try one of the generous samples that John sent to me.

In a  post I wrote this afternoon I was bemoaning the chopping and changing in established Earl Grey recipes so I thought it was timely to review a Earl Grey. And as readers know, my heart does rather belong to the Earl!

Shibui Tea's wonderful Earl Grey comes in a pyramid teabag. I really liked the texture of the teabag. It was smooth and silky and contained a generous amount of tea. I love the idea of pyramids, I find there is nothing nicer to feel the fabric of the teabag and just feel the tea, too! Tea is such a wonderful thing that we should not restrict ourselves to the taste and smell, it's also nice to feel too!

I infused the teabag for about four minutes and enjoyed the citrus flavour that the tea emitted. Very fresh, very summery and delicious.

Once I was settled on my comfy bed, I took my first sip and instantly knew that this was a Earl Grey that I was going to enjoy very much. 

I know that I often say this when reviewing a Earl Grey, but although it looks a simplistic tea on the surface it's one of the hardest tea's to get right. Often it's either totally devoid of flavour, or, it's overly perfumed and artificial making your cup of tea turn into a bitter mess that is undrinkable. There are very few tea's that get it right, let alone give you a wonderful, perfect cup of Earl Grey. So far, the only company who have got it right is Northern Tea. And now, happily, I can add Shibui to the list too!

This Earl Grey is evenly balanced. Firstly, it brews to a gorgeous mahogany colour. Rich, dark and inviting. It does not have that strange oily skin on the top that I have encountered in some Earl Grey's, obviously from the use of cheap bergamot oil. It's smooth and robust.

This strikes the right balance between having the traditional flavour of Earl Grey whilst retaining the actual flavour of the tea. Many brands over compensate with the bergamot and other flavours but this allows you to experience the nice flavour of the tea behind the flavouring. And the tea is of a lovely quality too.

So what of the flavouring? It's evenly balanced, present yet delicate, you know you're drinking Earl Grey but it feels totally natural, not at all artificial. It doesn't resemble the perfume department of Debenhams which Earl Grey can tend to do.

The bergamot brings a light, fresh citrusey tone, it's not at all heavy or hard to drink. It has a comforting element about it, making it a versatile, all year round tea. Brilliant for warm summer days, but equally as comforting when the nights draw in.

After finishing the tea it left my mouth feeling refreshed. I thoroughly enjoyed this Earl Grey.

In the eighteen months since I established this blog I have tried lots of Earl Grey's, which swing from absolutely glorious to absolutely foul. There doesn't seem to be many in the middle tea's. Earl Grey, for me at least, is a tea of extremes. One or the other!

I loved this tea and it certainly is one of the best I've had. You simply do get the best of both worlds in this tea. A lovely flavour coupled with a rich black tea which is strong and holds it's own against the bergamot flavouring.

It is quite fashionable for Earl Grey's to come with cornflowers in, but I find, at times this makes it a bit too strong. This tea doesn't have cornflowers or anything else except bergamot and that is what makes it so nice. It's simple but effective.

If you are hunting for a really good tea, and especially if you prefer your tea in bags, I'd highly recommend this wonderful Earl Grey from Shibui

Personally, I can't wait to dip in my box of treats to try some of the other marvelous tea's John kindly sent me.

In the meantime, if you are hunting down for the perfect Earl Grey do visit their website. Don't miss out on a great tea!

And So The Earl Grey Saga Continues ....

Yesterday I visited London for an appointment. Afterwards, being in the local area, decided to pop into two teashops. One, Twinings, the other Whittards at Covent Garden.

I was quite excited by the prospect of visiting Twinings - I hadn't done so in ages. I found some great tea's. Intensely Tropical one was one fabulous purchase. I also managed to get some of the Earl Grey Classic blend and one or two other ones I liked the look of. All will be reviewed on here in time.

As much as I enjoyed the visit, I felt it lacked the sparkle of previous visits. There was something different in the shop, it had changed. I think it was because there were less of the individual, unique tea's that they used to stock, instead rows and rows of tea that is available in most commercial supermarkets and shops filled the shelves.

In the shop I was chatting to the female sales assistant, who was really friendly and who knew her stuff. Then, I will admit, down to me, I raised the thorny issue of THE Earl Grey.

Readers may not be aware of the Earl Grey issue so I'll give you a run down.

About five (could be more!) years ago, Twinings changed the recipe of their Earl Grey. They changed the recipe, the packaging and the name, it's now called "The Earl Grey". This massive change caused such a do in the tea world. I was just stepping into the tea world around the time the change occurred and I was hugely surprised at the fuss and anger the changes incurred.

The Earl Grey was described by some of the readers of this blog, in emails to me, as 'weak as water', 'tasteless' and 'bland'. So, instead of buying "The" Earl Grey, readers admitted to me that they brought the international range, known as "Classic Earl Grey" (you'll know it, it's in a yellow box) from Twinings website. Yes, it was an expensive way of buying Earl Grey, but, it was tasty and flavoursome, and identical to the previous Earl Grey sold in the UK.

I happen to agree. So, it was with excitement that I headed to Twinings to stock up on the Classic range. But, to my horror (and surprise) it's not longer sold in bags, just in small caddies. Online the tea is only available in a decaff version.

So, it seems, Classic is being restricted, at least in the UK. I'm not sure if it's being phased out totally, or if it's just an availability issue. Either way, I was disappointed.

Upon chatting to the friendly shop assistant about the thorny issue of Earl Grey, I confided in her that I relied upon the Classic version as I didn't enjoy what I could get in the UK. She replied that they had acted in response to consumer feedback. I get that, brands are always asking customers to participate in surveys and market research to help keep them on top of their game. But what has gone terribly wrong?

The issue of Twinings Earl Grey is indeed the issue I receive most emails about. Some offering genuine ways to improve the tea, other's just wanting to rant to a sympathetic ear. So I have to question have they truly listened to their customers or did Twinings simply decide to modernise the recipe and the brand?

I hear again and again of people's lack of interest in Earl Grey. Many, myself included, have found wonderful Earl Grey's else where, quite often in loose form, that are fully flavoured and affordable in price. I have heard stories of  one reader who goes on holiday to America each year and stocks up on the classic range whilst out there.

On the other side of the arguement, of course, is that whatever supermarket I go in, Twinings Earl Grey is always at least half empty, so it does sell. Is it then a case that us tea obsessives (or lovers, if you prefer that term) are just simply too picky?

I don't believe we are. Earl Grey is a blend that is very hard to get right. Too weak it's awful, too high a amount of bergamot and flavours leaves it unpleasantly perfumed. But The Earl Grey is so pale in comparison that I often have to use two bags to get a decent brew.

There is ground though to keep everyone happy.

Please, Twinings, bring back the non-decaff International Classic Earl Grey. At least give us Earl Grey lovers the option of either buying Classic or the new The Earl Grey. If you are limiting the classic range I feel you are making a mistake as so many tea lovers rely on your little yellow box of Earl Grey to keep them happy.

I know times - and trends  - change. However, I feel with Earl Grey it's such a traditional tea that there is room for every kind you can imagine.

Twinings: Intensely Tropical

I have to admit that Twinings and I have had a bit of a rocky relationship this past year or so. The amount of emails I receive regarding the changing of their Earl Grey recipe (yes, it was some time ago but it still is subject of consternation amongst tea lovers!) is quite high. Their attempt to create interesting flavours, such as their Intensely Beetroot Burst fell flat for me.

But yesterday, whilst up in London, I happened to go past the Twining shop and couldn't help but pop in and treat myself to a few goodies (I also visited Whittard and will review their tea shortly!) and I am so glad I have because I have found a wonderful little gem: Intensely Tropical. Sadly, this glorious tea isn't yet listed on their website so I can't provide a link to it yet, but will edit this post accordingly when it does appear.

Intensely Tropical is a fruit tea that is rich in flavour. The taste is a combination of pineapple, blood orange and lime. It is a perfect tea for a hot day and I enjoyed several cups of tea after I returned home from my trip to London. The weather had been hot, muggy and unpleasant, so this tea is a perfect tea to relax and cool down with.

From the moment I poured the hot water on the tea bag I knew that this was going to be a special drink, and that Twinings have really come up with something marvelous. It's fruity, exciting, and just ideal for this time of year.

The tea brews to a wonderful orange colour. The fruity, tropical aroma is very strong during the brewing process. With fruit tea's I tend to let them steep for ages, and even leave the bag in the cup, but this tea does brew to a lovely strong flavour so on this occasion I felt confident to remove the bag.

This tea had three very distinct flavours, making for a cup of tea that is a real experience from when you start your sip till the time you've swallowed your tea. It goes in stages with each flavour taking their turn to make an appearance.

Blood orange is the first component of this wonderful tea that you really taste. It has a rich, rounded flavour, packing a interesting and refreshing punch. It's slightly sharp, but not at all bitter. I personally love blood orange in a tea but it could be sharp for some on it's own. It's the brilliance of the three flavours blended together that make this tea work.

The rich sweetness of pineapple appears next. It makes your mouth water and the texture of the pineapple is as if you were eating it fresh. For me it's the pineapple flavour that makes this such a gorgeous, moreish drink. It adds a sweetness that perfectly evens out the sharpness of the blood orange.

And finally the lime. The lime adds that powerful kick right at the end, making your tongue dance for joy. You can really taste the lime as a aftertaste, leaving you tasting this tea for sometime after you have finished. I really loved the way the lime acted like ginger does in tea, giving your cup of tea a sharp, snazzy afterbite.

I am so impressed with Twinings for the creation of this lovely cup of tea. Fruit tea is never the first tea I turn to. However, feeling rather hot and flustered whilst in the shop yesterday it bounced off the shelf, catching my attention immediately. And I am really happy it did.

For the time of year it works really well. With one or two exceptions, I tend to like the Intensely range and this is a really fabulous addition. It's just so cooling and refreshing whilst at the same time satisfying and enjoyable.

And, this is the perfect candidate for iced tea, too!

My only complaint is you only have 20 envelopes in a box. I have almost got through half the pack in a single day - it's that good!

A massive thumbs up to Twining's tea blender for coming up with a truly scrumptious, summery tea.

I'm not sure where this tea is available yet, I've not checked my local supermarkets. But do keep an eye out for the lovely little orange box. It really is the best  of the Intensely range. You won't be disappointed. I can promise you that!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

TG Green Tea: Iced Green Tea With Jujube & Ginseng

TG Iced Green Tea with jujube and ginseng is like a gift from heaven on a hot day!

There is no doubting at all that over the last week or so London has been hot. It's been that thick, dry, stormy heat that leaves you with a headache, lacking energy and for me, at least, feeling nauseous and icky. The sort of weather, indeed, that makes you hope and pray for an electrical storm so your head can feel clear once again.

And, as I've mentioned before, I don't "do" heat especially well. Or, at least, my soul loves it, my body less so. I get a odd feeling in my stomach and my eczema can play up a little bit. I don't tend to drink as much tea, rather ice cold water.

Last week I reviewed another of TG's wonderful iced green tea's, their stunningly refreshing Mandarin and Ginseng flavour. 

Honestly, I've never enjoyed a cold drink like it. So today I have decided to review their Jujube and Ginseng flavoured green tea. 

Iced green tea is a perfect mixture of cold drink and tea. I was a bit uncertain at the start because I wasn't sure about drinking cold tea, but, oh, on a hot day it's like a gift from the gods. Soothing, thirst quenching, delicious and healthy. You won't want to touch fizzy drinks again!

In case you are not familiar with jujube, they are a variation (I think) of dates.

After a early morning walk to the supermarket to pick up some shopping for my mum I came back slightly hot and flustered and needed a drink so opted for the jujube with ginseng ice green tea. And it provided a wonderful burst of thirst quenching loveliness.

I wasn't too sure what to expect from the taste, and to me, it does actually remind me of dates, the sort of dates my nan used to have at Christmas, sweet, sticky and moreish. The flavour of the jujube is subtle, not overpowering, but it makes for a really interesting and different flavour. I think we've probably all tried a iced tea with lemon, but this flavour is really nice and different.

As with the previous tea I've reviewed, I love the sparky flavour from the ginseng. I had an awful headache when drinking this tea, but I felt soothed and relaxed almost  as soon as I had sat down to enjoy the drink. 

There is something lovely to be able to still drink tea whilst at the same time, have a cooling drink that is superb for the hot summer months. There are many brilliant recipes floating around on the internet about how to make iced tea's but I'll be frank- I much prefer the convenience of just grabbing one ready made up from the fridge, especially since the tea is so lovely to the taste.

To Sophia and Hua - I have totally fallen in love with your Iced Green Tea's. They are made very well, lacking the teeth smacking sweetness of most commercially available iced tea's, whilst, remaining tasty and unbitter, which is amazing considering this is green tea.

I was as equally impressed with the jujube and ginseng. I will admit that the mandarin and ginseng has slightly won me over, only because I love anything that has orangey tones as everyone knows (thanks to Juliette - one reader who sends me orange tea from Canada!) but that is not to say I disliked this one. I thought it different and unique.

I'm absolutely so proud to have been asked to review these tea's. I really do hope that TG Green Tea's will soon be seen everywhere. They deserve to be.

In a different life, many years ago, I was addicted to Cherry Coke. Every now and again, on hot days, I really have to fight the temptation to go and buy a bottle and it's certainly hard to walk past the chilled drink aisle. But, I am being utterly truthful here, I would pick these iced green tea's anytime.

Please do visit the company website which can be found here. Not only can you read all about the tea, but it gives you a option to request the tea's be stocked near to you.

Give these cold tea's a go. You won't be disappointed!