I can’t drink beer all the time. I have to go to work and have the kind of job where opening a beer at my desk would be frowned upon. I also like to have a couple of booze-free days a week. And then there are the early mornings, which see me needing a livener of caffeine, not a sharpener of booze. All of this, plus my desire to learn more about different drinks, has seen tea become my latest obsession.
Builders’ tea was ruined for me a few years ago by my housemate at university who said it tasted like beansprouts. Ever since that moment, every tea has tasted exactly like that, some mildly and others so strong that I’m almost distracted to start chewing it.
My first sidestep away from Sainsbury’s own label was seeing the black boxes of Twinings with flavour descriptions on their front. I got the Breakfast, the malty Assam and the intensely smoky Lapsang Souchong, just to see what they were like. Then I found Teapigs in Waitrose and couldn’t resist the brown box with the cool brand, even if I could’ve bought about 300 bags for the same price. The addition of Teapigs to my shopping basket was the moment of change which saw me going online and buying a box of almost all of their teas, which come in cute and handy two-bag (or temples, as they’re called) sample boxes as well as in larger boxes or as loose teas.
I don’t know much about tea (this helps) but I’m fascinated to see it described in the same ways as wine or beer (and now coffee) with tasting notes and descriptions. And that was the trigger that made me realise that tea wasn’t just Tetley’s.
Chamomile tea is a relaxer, soothing anxiety, aiding sleep. This caffeine-free tea is made with whole flowers, like a cute sack of golden buds (which swell when brewing as the picture shows). It’s a pale gold, clean, floral and delicate, a little minty and uplifting, a little pineapple sweetness. I really liked it.
Peppermint tea is good for the gut, another caffeine-free brew, it smells amazing and zingy-fresh, vibrant and minty which carries through to the tongue and leaves a tingle of little kisses behind. It’s refreshing and not overpowering, with no harsh bitterness. If you’ve never had peppermint tea then you need to try it!
Tung ting oolong is a blue tea, somewhere between green and black. It’s very delicate, floral like a field of daisies, rapeseed in the summer, light and interesting.
Chocolate flake tea is malty Assam plus cocoa beans, chocolate flakes and a bit of fun. It smells like cocoa with a slug of Baileys in it (the bag before brewing smells like a fancy box of chocs) but the taste is much more subtle than expected, still lots of chocolate flavour in there and the background of tea. It’s a bit cheeky.
Yerba Mate is an interesting one. It’s called an energy brew, a Red Bull for Amazonian tribes, a should-be favourite with celebs due to the detoxing and weightloss credentials it holds. It’s a musky green with a pungent earthy aroma, a little smoky, the way an old jumper smelt when pubs let you smoke, it’s got a bitterness as well, but not a harshness, and a hint of cannabis. It’s smooth, there’s an underlying sweetness and I liked it a lot; it’s like green tea but better.
Rooibos is a red tea, another that’s caffeine-free, and it smells the best of the whole lot, like jam roly poly and stewed apple mixed with something lightly, sweetly floral. There’s a jammy, nutty flavour to it but it’s a background depth, not like drinking syrup. Fig rolls, sweet tobacco, blackcurrant and even a little earthy smoke all come through – yum.
Popcorn tea is another fun one which mixes green tea with toasted rice (plus a tiny nugget of popcorn), leaving a light and nutty brew which does taste like popcorn and adds a sweetness. Green tea for the cinema fan.
Chilli Chai mixes Assam tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom pods, chilli and vanilla. The temple is a picture, filled with colour and fragrant chunks. Spice plumes out the cup but the taste is delicate and not overpowering – spicy, fruity, fragrant, a tingle on the tongue.
Silver tips white tea is plucked within two hours of sprouting, and only sprouts for two weeks of the year, before it’s left to dry naturally. It’s a lilac-brown colour, doughy, floral, raisiny and grassy. Smooth, subtle and refreshing, but really interesting to taste.
Darjeeling Earl Grey is floral and lemony, the bergamot giving off something different to any Earl Grey I’ve had before, tasting fresher and less like chewing a cup of stewed flowers.
Mao feng green tea has a fruity-floral aroma with a background savouriness to it, not bitter or brow-curlingly bad, as some green teas are, this is light and lovely.
The Breakfast tea is the staple. I got a big box of it. It’s like all the other Breakfast teas, just better.
Apart from the Earl Grey, the green tea and the Breakfast, I got two bags of each to try. When I order again I will be buying a big box each of the Yerba Mate, Chamomile and Rooibos, plus more Breakfast (I might even make the step up to loose tea!), and maybe some irresistible peppermint. What I like about all of the ones I tried are the subtle flavours and the freshness of them, not tasting like old beansprouts or cardboard, and there's something for all times of the day, whether a breakfast wake up or an evening relaxer. It’s taken tea from an everyday work fuel to an interesting drink of great variety. Teapigs also look fantastic – it’s a great brand and a great product with interesting words written on the boxes. It’s not cheap but then the beer I buy isn’t cheap either, choosing to pay for quality over quantity.
Of course, it also got me thinking about beers made with tea... an Earl Grey IPA, with the floral flavour hitting a different note to the hops; a green tea pale ale with a different depth of flavour, a different type of bitterness; a lapsang souchong stout, smoky and intense in a way smoked malt can’t produce; peppermint tea porter making the best mint choc chip beer ever; a Rooibos red ale, adding nutty, jammy flavours to it... Or, what about a tea temple with Assam tea, a few pieces of malted barley and a couple of small hop leaves to give you a beer in a tea cup? I’d love to try that.
Tea: my day time drink just got more interesting. Anyone else had any different teas that are worth trying or different places which sell interesting varieties?