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Variety is the spice of life. It’s a somewhat overused phrase, but when it comes to tea drinking it’s true. I’m a black tea drinker first and foremost, and there’s nothing I like more than a good Assam. But I also like to mix things up with other varieties of black tea from time to time and just for fun I’ll throw in some green tea now and then and maybe even some oolong once in a while.

Black teas (ETS image)

Black teas (ETS image)

But it rarely occurs to me to mix any of the aforementioned in the same cup. Which is to say that for most tea drinkers the major types of tea like black, green, oolong and whatnot tend to be consumed apart from each other. I touched on this topic briefly some time ago when I wrote about a tea I’d run across that blended black and green tea. But I thought I’d revisit the subject and do a little experimenting of my own.

The topic came to mind again when I ran across (but haven’t sampled yet) a black and green tea mix from one of the big-name tea companies. It’s described as a “full flavored black tea with the refreshing goodness of green tea.” Which seems like it’s defeating the point on both counts but what do I know?

One of the main issues I see with this sort of thing is the nagging question of how to prepare such a blend. One article I read claimed that boiling water should be poured over the tea bag and steeped for about three to five minutes. Which might be good advice for black tea, though I tend to err on the side of shorter steeping times there. However, the common wisdom with green tea is that the surest way to ruin it is to subject it to boiling water and long steeping times.

The simplest way around this dilemma, of course, is to prepare both teas ahead of time and mix them. Which might be a bit labor-intensive for hot tea but for those of us who always have iced tea on hand it’s a little more convenient.

The downside to all of this, as I’ve found by undertaking some amateur tea mixing experiments is that the sum of the parts leaves something to be desired. I mixed a quite good black tea in equal parts with an acceptable green tea. I’m sorry to say that the result could be summed up in one word – bland. But perhaps more experimentation is called for. I’m not completely ready to give up on blended black and green tea just yet but for the moment I think I’ll stick with one or the other.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Buckingham Palace Garden Party Loose Leaf Tea - specially blended by experts (ETS image)

Buckingham Palace Garden Party Loose Leaf Tea – specially blended by experts (ETS image)

[Editor's note: the following article uses the term "blend" to refer to both blended and flavored teas, which are actually two very different things as shown in this other article on our blog.]

There are a lot of tea vendors out there who offer a blend-your-own-tea option, but how useful is this, really?

Customisation is in at the moment, with organisations and companies of all sizes trying to attract the individual consumer by offering them exactly what they want and tailoring the product specifically to their needs. But is expanding this penchant for customisation to tea taking it one step too far?

Typically, a shop that offers a blend-your-own-tea option will offer different choices for the base of your tea or herbal infusion (black, white, green, rooibos, etc.) This  base is then combined with other teas or flavours, such as dried fruits and herbs, to produce your very own blend. But is the average consumer really going to be able to put together a tea they will like? After all, tea blending, just like any specialty skill, is often considered to be an art, with tea blends carefully crafted to bring out the best of the flavours on offer. Expert tea blenders are experts for a reason—surely their knowledge of tea exceeds that of the everyday tea shopper, no matter how much of a tea connoisseur they might be?

But what happens when a tea that you’re hankering for is not on offer? What if you have always wondered what this or that tea would taste like with a particular flavour? In these situations blend-your-own-tea can be a great option, but you still need to make sure that you know what you want. Otherwise, it is all too easy to end up with a tea that sounds great, smells great, but might not taste all that great.

Blending your own tea works best when you have as much information as possible, and as such is not something I’d recommend for those who are only just getting into tea (unless, of course, you’re up for experimenting and don’t mind potentially spending a lot of money on teas you don’t like). If there is a tea you really enjoy but wished it had just a little more of this or a little less of that then blend-your-own-tea could be the answer to your tea dilemmas. To give a specific example, if you enjoy Lady Londonderry tea but wished it didn’t have such a floral tone, you could try blending a black tea with strawberry and lemon to suit your taste. If you have researched which black tea is typically used as a base and the amounts of each flavour that tends to be used in Lady Londonderry, then chances are you’ll create a blend you’ll enjoy.

Of course, there is still the risk that you might not end up liking the tea. But then this is always going to be the case when you are trying a new tea, whether or not you have blended it yourself. So whilst blend-your-own-tea options may not always be as good an idea as they seem, they definitely give tea lovers the option to craft a tea to suit their taste.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Having a bit of this tea and a bit of that tea in your tea pantry or cupboard is frustrating enough. You don’t have a sufficient amount of that Ceylon black or Keemun or Kenyan to steep a full pot. You do have a nice batch of CTC Assam around, though, and you know that some Keemun would be great blended with it, as in this Scottish Breakfast tea. Can you combine them? How will they steep up? Are you gonna live to regret your spurt of experimental fervor? Yes. Fine. No. Here’s the scoop:

My wood version of a pestle. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

My wood version of a pestle. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

What is a CTC tea?

There is some debate about what “CTC” stands for (“Cut, Tear, Curl,” “Cut, Tear, Crush,” “Curl, Tear, Crush,” or “Crush, Tear, Curl” are common ones). But they all agree that it’s machine processed tea. Often, it’s a blend of the same type of tea leaves from various growers. Blending helps deliver a consistent quality and taste from harvest to harvest and garden to garden. It helps meet large-scale demand versus each garden trying to market to a public that may not even know enough to tell the difference. The tea bits are in little nuggets quite often (to hubby and me they look like Grape Nuts bits). (More details here.)

What is an Orthodox tea?

Generally, Orthodox teas are hand-processed at least part of the way between harvest and your cup. They are generally higher quality, with less bitterness and more subtle and multi-layered flavors. They are usually harvested by hand to keep the leaves whole and then go through several processes by hand or machine: Withering where moisture evaporates from them, making them limp and pliable for rolling; rolling by hand for the highest grades and machine for the lower grades (usually, large-scale production); oxidation in a humidity- and temperature-controlled room, where the leaves turn from green to reddish-brown and then black; firing halts oxidation and completes the drying of the tea leaves. At the end of all this, the finer teas are in whole or broken leaf sizes, and they steep up differently from those CTC “nuggets.” (More details here.)

Comparison photo:

CTC Assam on the left. Orthodox Keemun Panda on the right (I didn’t have any Assam on hand at the time). (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

CTC Assam on the left. Orthodox Keemun Panda on the right (I didn’t have any Assam on hand at the time). (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

One way to blend them effectively

Whole leaves and broken leaves differ in steeping from those “nuggets” in a couple of ways. First, they take longer to steep than those “nuggets.” Second, they can often be steeped more than once whereas those “nuggets” are exhausted after one round (hubby and I have tried several times to do a second steeping that had any flavor to it but without success). So, what to do? Mortar and pestle to the rescue! Or if you don’t have that, try my own set up shown in the photo posted here.

I tend to grind the orthodox tea leaves a bit so that they will steep up faster (this was also mentioned in another article on this blog by one of the other writers). You may find you’ll also need less tea leaves this way, too, but you won’t get a second steep. It’s a trade off.

It’s also worth a try, especially when those little bits of this and that tea are sitting in your pantry and giggling, thinking they are safe from being steeped. Hardly!

See also:
Simon’s Crumbs by Janis Badarau

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A ready-made blend of Assam and Keemun that I have approximated with my own blends. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

A ready-made blend of Assam and Keemun that I have approximated with my own blends. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

A bit of this, a bit of that, and you find yourself engaging in the time-honored tradition of ad hoc tea blending. Some concoctions will be better than others, of course, and some will be so good that you might build yourself a whole new career as a tea blender, as several people have.

[Note: for the purposes of this article, I am using the terms “blending” and “flavoring” synonymously. Usually, they are two different things, tea-wise, as explained here on this blog.]

The one thing that leads most often to this flurry of tea blending activity is the urge to use up bits of this tea and that left over in their containers. There’s usually not enough for a full 6-cup potful, which is what we need in our house to get us through breakfast. So, some rather interesting combinations have come about as a result. For example, we combined all of our Autumn Flush Darjeeling samples together to get one very robust-tasting tea that can be steeped up fairly strong yet retain those distinct qualities of Darjeeling teas, especially that tangy fruity character.

Another motivating factor in our tea blending adventures is trying to temper a taste characteristic in a particular tea that we like in moderation but find overwhelming in larger quantities. The solution is usually to add in some of that stronger tasting tea to something less brash in the taste arena. Thus we found ourselves adding one teaspoon of Dian Hong to 5 teaspoons of CTC Assam to make that breakfast pot of tea. The peppery quality was still quite evident with the maltiness of the Assam but not so much that we would be tasting it for days afterwards (one of those “ghostly” tea tastes that lingers).

Time for you to dig through your tea pantry (you have one, right?) and pull out those bits of this tea and that to blend into what will hopefully be an unforgettably delicious pot of tea!

See my further adventures and explorations into the fascinating past-time of tea blending:
Tea and the Pioneer Spirit II
Homemade vs. Store Bought Tea Blends — Which Is Better?
Blending Away the Tea’s Character
Blending Your Leftover Teas
Ceylon Blends
Darjeeling Blends
Some Tea Blends I Hope to Never See
The Advantages of Blended Teas
The Advantages of Unblended Teas  

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tea blends and flavored teas (see what the difference is) are available by the hundreds. Some have been around for centuries and are considered classics while others are thought up in the tea vendor’s kitchen (either residential or commercial). Both of these are considered “store bought.” Inventive tea drinkers add to this array with their own creations done at home for their own consumption and to share with some lucky friends. This is considered “homemade.” With all these choices it can be hard to tell which is better. Or is that even a question that should be asked?

My attempt awhile back at a homemade tea blend. Not too bad, but… (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

My attempt awhile back at a homemade tea blend. Not too bad, but… (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

So often the answer to “Which is better?” is totally a matter of personal taste. For a lot of tea blends and flavored teas, though, the answer is very often: store bought. Whether you buy from a large vendor with stores popping up everywhere like those dandelions in your pristine lawn or from that small online specialty vendor who mixes up small batches of their own proprietary blends and flavoreds, you are getting something where the various flavors have been scrutinized and paired up for a particular effect.

For some of the classic teas such as Jasmines, “store bought” is always best, since the process is one that is difficult to duplicate in one’s kitchen. Spreading the fresh leaves out, layering them with jasmine petals, and then removing the petals is a job done best by experts. Earl Grey is another classic that takes that certain touch. Anyone can get oil of bergamot, but knowing what to do with it to get just the right flavor is another matter. English Breakfast Tea is a blend of various black teas in just the right proportions to get that distinct flavor.

As for new flavors involving various fruits and flowers, some flavors go together better than others, and some will clash in the extreme. A tea that has a basically floral character could go with some nutty or even fruit flavors, but not necessarily with other floral flavors. A tea with a more raisiny or stone fruit (peach, apricot, cherry) character is good with nuts, vanilla, and other flavors.

Just as with cooking where you need to know when to use sugar, when you can sub another liquid such as orange juice for water, how rice flour reacts versus wheat flour, and so on, you need to keep these things in mind for blending and flavoring teas. Now, all you folks who can whip up a gourmet meal from a can of sardines, a jar of dill pickles, and some over-ripe bananas are surely going to know how to blend teas and mix in flavorings to get a taste-pleasing result. But the rest of us who can screw up a scone mix that we dump in a bowl and add water to need to stay away from the very idea of trying to blend and flavor teas.

Of course, some of us prefer burnt or flat scones to the perfect ones from the local bakery. So there will be those who prefer their own “experiments” with blending and flavoring teas over what they get online or from the tea shop in town. So which is better? That’s easy: the one you want.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Someone asked the other day why dust in a bag is considered bad but powdered matcha is considered good, even premium. In other words, if whole or broken leaves are supposed to be better, why is matcha an exception? Great question, and one to which I flippantly answered: “Marketing and tradition!” Well, that question deserves a better answer, so it was time to go info diving into the depths of the Internet.

What’s Matcha

Matcha is a Japanese green tea made of finely ground gyokuro leaves. The processing, a key determiner in the final product, is different from making gyokuro in that the leaves are not rolled. They are steamed as usual to halt oxidation and then thoroughly dried, creating what is called “tencha.” These green dry leaves are then ground to a powder that is the consistency of talc and are then called “matcha” (sometimes spelled “mattcha”). This processing also preserves the flavor and health-enhancing properties in this tea.

Izu Matcha (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Izu Matcha (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

You should use 2g (1/2 level teaspoon) for 120 to 180cc (4 to 6 ounces) of hot water. A bamboo whisk is often used in matcha preparation as the most efficient way to mix the powder thoroughly with the hot water and to create a froth.

Matcha is the highest grade of Japanese tea, according to their grading system:

  1. Kukicha — (lowest) made from twigs and stems of the tea plant and historically given to children and seniors.
  2. Bancha — rather low in quality and usually not sold by specialty tea companies.
  3. Sencha — growing in popularity so there is now a very wide range from superb Japanese sencha to Chinese and Viet Namese versions that have uneven results.
  4. Gyokuro — a wonderful, labor-intensive tea made from leaves that are shade-grown for part of the year. It is only produced in small quantities each year, relative to other teas.
  5. Matcha — The highest grade and used during the famous Japanese Tea Ceremony.

What’s Tea-dust-in-a-bag

Irish Breakfast tea, usually bagged. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Irish Breakfast tea, usually bagged. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Bagged teas have been vilified by tea drinkers far and wide, myself included, and several myths persist about them:

  • They are filled with floor sweepings.
  • They are filled with only stale tea.
  • They are filled with only the cheapest grades of tea.
  • They cause excess waste.

The reality of teabags:

  • They are filled by machines where whole leaves go in one end and filled bags come out the other (well, almost — but the process does start with whole leaves, not floor sweepings).
  • They come in quite a variety of shapes and sizes, including round, square, flo-thru, and pyramid sachets.
  • They are filled with a full range of teas —  green, oolong, white, and black.
  • Not all tea types are suitable for bagging, with such premium teas as Ti Kuan Yin being a prime example, plus I haven’t seen any decent pu-erhs in teabags.
  • The stale bagged teas are the lower quality ones, but most are freshly made and, since demand is high, they don’t hang around long enough on store shelves to get stale.
  • The waste issue is addressed with bags made of material that will compost and generally seems a bit of an overdone concern anyway.

Bottom Line

The big question was why matcha was considered premium while teabags (the kind filled with fine dust) were not. From what I can see here, it is very likely what I said up front: marketing and tradition. But I have to add in one more item: variety. The range of bagged teas is wide and includes teas just a premium in quality as matcha, but the cheap, stale, low-end teas drag down the reputation of the higher-end bagged teas, such as those carried by Harney & Sons, Typhoo, PG Tips, Barry’s, and Taylors of Harrogate.

I stick to my personal preference to steep even these bagged brands loose in the pot (I cut up the bags and dump the tea dust into the pot) and swear it makes a difference in the taste. But we cannot diss bagged teas just because they are in bags.

A Selection of Reviews on Our Blog of the Finer Bagged Teas

About Some Popular Tea Brands

See also:
Have Bagged Teas Gotten a Bad Rap?
A Tasty Bagged Green Tea?
5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Bagged Tea
Mixing Loose Tea and Teabag Teas
The Growing Popularity of Matcha
Types of Japanese Tea
Tea Bags Revisited
Tea Review: English Tea Store’s Izu Matcha

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tea blends, where teas from various regions, not just several tea gardens from the same region, are combined usually exhibit the flavor profiles of each tea used. Sometimes, though, the blenders can blend away the tea’s character altogether. (Note: we’re not talking about those flavored teas where flower petals, spices, etc., have been added to tea leaves.)

Overblending can produce a taste that’s just plain bland, unlike this tasty pure Ceylon black tea. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Overblending can produce a taste that’s just plain bland, unlike this tasty pure Ceylon black tea. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Hubby and I had an English Breakfast Blend tea the other day and found it to be less than memorable. That is, there was no distinctive character to it. Unlike English Breakfast Blend No. 1 and English Breakfast Blend No. 2, both of which have a very distinct flavor profile, this blend was bland. They had overly balanced the flavors of the different teas used. None of them stood out.

The blend was supposed to be Assam, Ceylon, and a bit of Darjeeling added (yes, there is often a dash of Darjeeling in tea blends in part to add that wonderful Muscatel character and in part so they can appeal to those who have heard of Darjeeling tea and how good it is but haven’t tried it straight). The flavor came out more like something that was just hot and went well with milk. And yes a bit of sweetener was very much needed. There was no Assam maltiness, no Ceylon curranty/raisiny aroma and flavor, and definitely no Darjeeling fruity Muscatel notes. Just heavy taste and hot. Oh yeah, and wet!

Tea blending is an art and should be done by those who have apprenticed with a tea master. It also takes a keen sense of taste and smell, even keener than mine. The process of tea blending is a delicate one that takes an experienced and creative mind plus many years of dedication. The results will be worth that time and effort, with a perfectly blended tea producing an unrivaled flavor enjoyed with every sip. Some say the goal of tea blending is to maintain a standard and uniform taste dictated by the marketplace, but it can be to create a whole new taste, something is a whole greater than the sum of its part (to borrow an old saying).

The senses of sight, smell, and taste are key in the tea blending process: sight in the look of the blend, smell in regard to the aroma of the blend, and of course the taste. No matter what anyone says, I remain firm that tea flavor is the main attraction, even to those who drink tea for some health benefit. It is also key in tea blending, where flavor characteristics are played off each other so that one tempers or enhances another or harmonizes and while you can distinguish them, none dominates or overwhelms. It is a process that has been likened to cooking, where an extra pinch of cumin or a shallot instead of a yellow onion can make a world of difference in the outcome.

So what when wrong with this version of the classic English Breakfast Blend? No idea. Could have been that they started with inferior tea. Some blenders think they can hide poor taste by using the tea in a blend. Could have been old tea or tea that had not been stored away from air and moisture. Another possibility is that none of the teas in the blend was able to stand out against the others and harmonized way too closely. All I do know is that it’s a tea I will avoid in future. When a blend cannot even stand up against such classic brands as PG Tips and Barry’s, it hasn’t a hope of pleasing a tea lover’s palate.

See also:
Great Assam Breakfast Blends
The Advantages of Blended Teas
The Advantages of Unblended Teas
Some Tea Blends I Hope to Never See
Darjeeling Blends
Ceylon Blends
Blending Your Leftover Teas
“Tea-Blending as a Fine Art” by Joseph M. Walsh
Tea Blends vs Tea Flavourings
All Flavored Teas Are Not Created Equal

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Holiday Spiced Flavored Black Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Holiday Spiced Flavored Black Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

When blending teas, I sometimes end up doing the unthinkable: mixing loose tea and teabag teas. Yes, you heard me correctly. Despite the eyebrows that this might raise from some loose tea devotees, I find that it can actually be a very practical approach when my options are limited.

But before I go any further, I want to clarify what I mean, and in what circumstances I think it works. I am not advocating for mixing loose tea and teabags when you are blending two types of the same tea—don’t try dropping an earl grey teabag into your Nine Bend Black Dragon, please!—or when you are creating an existing, well-known blend, such as Russian Caravan (if you blended loose lapsang souchong and keemun with bagged oolong tea, for example, the difference in quality would affect the overall tea, and the tastes would not balance).

Instead, I am talking specifically about combining a pure loose tea base with a bagged herbal tisane to make a flavoured tea. In this case, “teabag” is a misleading term, because the bagged substance being added is not really tea (somehow “herbal tisane bag” doesn’t have quite the same ring…). So what would this look like? A few examples might be: a high quality white tea such as Peony White Needle Tea with bagged peppermint to make a white peppermint tea; Sencha (or Gyokuro if you’re feeling fancy!) with a bagged ginger infusion for a ginger green tea; a loose black tea with a fruity herbal tisane.

All very well you say, but if you use loose leaf, why not just combine the pure tea base with a loose tisane? If you have a loose tisane that you want to use, then great! However, there are a few reasons why you might end up going for a “teabag:”

1) I don’t know about you, but I find that I often end up with bagged versions of teas that I was given, or just somehow have lying around. And a lot of these are herbal infusions. I rarely drink them on their own, but if the flavour is one I like, why not use it up in a way that still makes a good cup of tea?

2) Availability can be an issue. There are several tisanes that I find perfectly adequate in bagged form, or am not particularly attached to the loose versions. For these it is often easier, and cheaper, to buy them bagged rather than seeking out the loose version in a specialty tea shop or ordering it online.

3) You might go for a bagged tisane if there is a particular blend that you enjoy, but which is sold by a company who only makes bagged tea.

4) As far as quality goes, although loose tea is always my first choice, there are some companies out there who make good quality bagged tea. And, as we know, there are ways to make the most of your teabags!

Have I convinced those of you who raised your eyebrows at the start of the article? As I said before, if you have a loose version of a tisane to use as the “flavour layer”, by all means use it. But I find that opting for a bagged version is often more practical, and it is an interesting way to expand your tea blending options!

Disclaimer: The author takes no responsibility for foul-tasting blends of tea.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ireland and tea go together like … uh, well … Ireland and tea! The Irish people drink the most tea per capita of any country in the world, with 3 million tea drinkers averaging 4 to 6 cups of tea per day each. Most of that tea is the Lyons brand (founded in 1902 by the J. Lyons family in Dublin, Ireland, and purchased by international food company Unilever in 1996). However, coming up a close second is Barry’s. Both are black teas and consumed on a daily basis, spurring the Irish Tea Debate: which is better?

Lyons Teas

Lyons Teas

A key development that made Lyons the top brand in Ireland was the introduction of a bagged version of their tea in the 1970s. It was a round bag and caused the tea’s popularity to soar. In 2004, they switched to a pyramid-shaped bag that is supposed to act as a mini teapot, allowing the tea dust pieces to float more freely and interact with the hot water. Batches of Lyons Original are re-tasted and re-blended daily so that variations from one tea crop to the next are balanced out. The tea is bagged at a factory in Dublin, making it truly an Irish product.

Only two types of Lyons tea are available in the U.S., and your best bet is to order it online:

  • Original Blend Lyons Tea — This tea is also known in Ireland as Green Label for obvious reasons and is the most popular variety of their tea. It steeps up a golden colored liquid that takes milk and sweetener well.
  • Lyons Gold Tea — A premium tea with a richer and more full-bodied flavor. It also steeps up a golden colored liquid and also is great with milk and sweetener.

Barry’s has a variety of blends — each with its own taste — of African (Kenya and Rwanda) and Indian (Assam) teas. The African teas are said to steep up particularly well in the water in Ireland, which tends to be “soft” (that is, not too many minerals in it). Authentic Barry’s is still blended and produced in Cork, Ireland, so this tea, too, is truly an Irish product.

Barry’s Blends

Barry’s Blends

Here’s where a key difference comes in: Lyons is blended one way for the Irish market and another way for elsewhere, which spurs those Irish who tend to travel outside the country to take some of the Irish-blend teabags with them. Whether they taste right or not is another matter, since they are blended to work with the fairly soft Irish water, just as Barry’s is.

Keys to maximizing your taste experience:

  • If you use milk in the tea, be sure it is fresh, whole milk, since dairy fats carry flavors.
  • Pour the milk into the cup first — many tea drinkers in Ireland swear that it does make a difference in how the tea tastes.
  • Use soft water, since the extra minerals in hard water distort the tea taste.
  • Many tea drinkers swear that you should use freshly boiled water, claiming that it has a higher oxygen content that helps to bring out tea flavors. Not sure why that would be, but you can give it a try.
  • Forego dainty manners and slurp your tea to get more flavor-enhancing oxygen in with each mouthful.

I wanted to do my own taste test, but my order of Lyons didn’t arrive in time (I always have plenty of Barry’s Gold Blend on hand). However, I found a side-by-side taste comparison, posted by “Kate.” She steeps in the bags (ugh!) and compares the results, straight and with the traditional milk and sugar. (Psst! Barry’s wins!) I’m not convinced that her thoughts about PG Tips and Lyons being virtually the same since both are in pyramid-shaped bags are correct. There seems to be a bit too much suspicion sometimes of big companies like Unilever, which owns both brands. I like to stay positive and think that the folks at Unilever know their market. The Irish would hardly stand still for anyone messing with their tea!

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Some teas seem to have a real “social” quality, suited to a more social tea time, whether it’s Afternoon Tea or High Tea, or a big tea time gala. They are generally teas best steeped in smaller quantities and able to undergo multiple steepings. A number of options are out there awaiting your selection for when you need that bit of time to yourself and your tea (herbals, too!).

Here are a few recommendations, based on reviews hubby and I have done:

1 Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling — Of the many tea estates in the Darjeeling region of India, Margaret’s Hope is one of the better known, and this tea does the reputation of that estate fair credit. The leaf pieces are broken leaf, clearly evident when dry, and are a dark green to coppery after steeping. This is not a tea that takes milk, since that typical Darjeeling muscatel flavor clashes with the milk. You might need a sweetener, but I encourage you to give this and other Darjeelings a try without it. The complexities of the flavors and the changes they undergo as the liquid cools a bit are worth the experience. This comes from a tea drinker who until about a year-and-a-half ago hardly ever drank a black tea without milk. Challenge your tea time guests to expand their tea horizons!

Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling just naturally draws a crowd!

Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling just naturally draws a crowd!

2 Buckingham Palace Garden Party — If you’ve ever had a fantasy of attending a garden tea party at Buckingham Palace and wanted to see if this tea would take you there (in your mind, that is), I can cheerfully say that it will! The smell of the dry tea has strong floral notes, especially rose and lilac, and a definite citrus aroma. These scents are typical of Earl Grey tea flavored with oil of bergamot (a type of orange) and jasmine. The taste of the tea plain in the cup carries forth those floral notes along with a bit of an edge. A little milk and sweetener heightens the floral notes. A perfect tea for tea parties, especially when served with some mild tasting foods like finger sandwiches made with cream cheese or rich-tasting Scottish shortbread cookies to balance out the strong floral.

If it’s good enough for a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, this tea is good enough for your garden party!

If it’s good enough for a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, this tea is good enough for your garden party!

3 Nonsuch Estate Nilgiri — This tea from the Nilgiri region of India is said to taste similar to Ceylon teas and are supposed to have a fruitiness. That depends, since how long you steep this tea can vary the taste considerably. The vendor gives a steeping time range of 2 to 5 minutes. Steeped at 2 minutes, the tea was light, fruity, and needed no additives — a great tea break for those who like their tea straight. Steeped at 5 minutes, the flavor was more similar to a nice Assam tea, with a dark amber color, a malty aroma, and taste that endured even with a bit of milk added — perfect for those who like milk in their tea and a stronger taste.

Nonsuch Estate Nilgiri pleases a wide range of palates.

Nonsuch Estate Nilgiri pleases a wide range of palates.

4 Bingo Blueberry Herbal — This herbal is a mix of fruit and floral — blueberries, blackcurrants, rose petals, dried apple, and more. It’s naturally sweet, yet slightly lemony (from the apple?) and still smooth tasting with no bitterness. Way better than fruit drinks, both hot and chilled (or with ice, whichever you prefer). The chilled version needs a bit of sweetener. Of course, there is no real tea in this. Tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant and its varietals such as Camellia Sinensis assamica. That’s actually good news to anyone wanting to avoid caffeine. However, if you want the theanine and other beneficial things in real tea, you won’t get them here. You will have a great herbal for adults and kids alike, so invite the whole family to the party!

Bingo Blueberry Herbal

Bingo Blueberry Herbal

5 Yorkshire Harrogate — This tasty and economical version of Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire tea is a true find! Open the pack and inhale a wonderful jammy fragrance emitting from those dark brown broken tea leaf pieces. Steep 4 minutes in water that had been brought to a full boil. The resulting liquid will be a fabulous, rich-looking reddish brown with a mild aroma. Straight, this tea has a smooth flavor with no bitterness, so those of you who can’t stand a “doctored” cuppa this is a great tea for you. However, for the rest of us, this tea, with a bit of milk and sweetener, is heavenly! Smooth and rich with the sweetener bringing out the jammy quality. Unlike a lot of other teas out there, what you smell in the dry leaves is what you get in the cup. Wonderful, especially in an age of highly flavored teas that smell great in the shop but disappoint when steeped. This tea was so fine that the Sticky Fingers Scone Mixes jumped out of the cupboard and begged to be baked so they could be part of that tea time. (It’s true, I swear!)

Some Yorkshire Harrogate tea and a few dozen scones will create the perfect social setting.

Some Yorkshire Harrogate tea and a few dozen scones will create the perfect social setting.

Pick your own social tea or herbal, something that can be enjoyed by a crowd. Enjoy!

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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