Category: Black
Tea Company: Hampstead Tea (website)
Ingredients: Fairtrade black tea, natural oil of bergamot
Vendor Suggested Preparation: Use one sachet or level teaspoon of tea leaves per person. Brew with freshly boiled water and infuse for up to three minutes

Hampstead Tea Biodynamic, Organic and Fairtrade Earl Grey

This tea has possibly one of the most well-described packages I have ever seen. The single teabag package reads: “Hamstead Tea, London. Organic Fairtrade Earl Grey with aromatic bergamot. 1 staple-free teabag.”

Wow, that is quite a mouthful. I personally do not know anyone who buys teabags who is also concerned about saving some metal, but by the look of the string attached to the teabag, it makes me wonder why more teabag-producers do not follow this. It seems that Hamstead has implemented an easy way to do away with stables entirely. But how about the tea itself?!

The packaging recommends 3-5 minutes for steeping. The last earl grey that I tried oversteeped even with low steep times, so I boil some water and decide to go for the lower end here with 3 minutes of infusion. While I will admit that I am not big on bagged tea, this tea smells quite good, dry in the bag. A hint of orange provides a nice aroma. The steeping tea gives off a pleasant bergamot aroma. The first sip confirms that 3 minutes was a perfect amount of steeping, unless you prefer your tea stronger. For a bagged tea, this is pretty smooth, but it lacks a bit in the flavor profile. This is definitely a quality bagged tea. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would give it a 65/100.

You can purchase the Biodynamic, Organic and Fairtrade Earl Grey directly from the Hampstead Tea website.

Author: Spencer E

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Category: Black
Tea Company: Tea Forte (website)
Ingredients: organic Indian Assam black tea, natural orange flavor, natural bergamot flavor, organic cornflower blossoms
Vendor Suggested Preparation: Steep for 3-5 minutes, 208degF

Tea Forte Earl Grey

From the moment at which I remove the pyramid infuser from its cardboard cover, I know there is something different about this Earl Grey. The smell of bergamot is not very strong. In fact, it is hardly present at all. Popping the infuser into my Tea Forte Cafe Cup, I fill the cup with just boiled water and let it steep for four minutes…a happy medium in the 3-5 minute range that was given by Tea Forte’s website!

The tea being now prepared, I take a whiff of the steeping, once again surprised by the smell. It is spicy with a bit of a fruity smell. Intrigued, I go on to try this cup of tea, sip by sip. My first sip is possibly the most astringent Earl Grey I have ever tasted! The bergamot is finally hinted at in the aftertaste, but the tea itself is so incredibly astringent that I wonder if I mistimed this tea. I ditch this cup and prepare to steep a new one.

This second cup I steep for only two and a half minutes. I know this is less than what was suggested, but I figure it is better to be safe. This second cup still smells exactly the first one, which worries me slightly, but I forge onward with this tasting! Still astringent, even after such a short steep time. But it is not as bad as the first cup was. The bergamot flavor is very fake and overdone, which is a bit of a turn-off, considering that this is supposed to be Earl Grey, not cologne.

If hunting for a cup of Earl Grey, this is not the tea to which to turn. I recommend trying a different brand. Sorry, Tea Forte, but this tea needs to go back to the mixing room. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would give it a 45/100.

You can purchase the Earl Grey directly from the Tea Forte website.

Author: Spencer E

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Category: Pu-erh
Tea Company: Canton Tea Co. (website)
Ingredients: Pu-erh tea
Vendor Suggested Preparation: Use the gongfu style. A small teapot (or small amount of water) with 3-4 g of tea and hot water: 95°C (203°F) infused for just 20 secs. Reinfuse at least 6 times.

Canton Tea Co. 2010 Xing Hai Raw Beeng Cha

The chance to try this tea is something very special. Unfortunately, despite how special it was, I am not honestly sure which of Canton Tea Co’ Pu’erhs this tea is. “Canton Beeng Cha” is all that the label says, and from my limited knowledge of Chinese, I know that a “Beeng” or bing is a round cake of pu’erh. “Cha” is merely “tea.” That being said, I can be sure that this is a pu’erh!

I begin this session of tea by bringing some water to a boil, after which I rise my gaiwan, small pot, and teacup to preheat them. It is pretty amazing how much of a difference preheating ones teaware can make on the taste of the tea that follows. Next, I measure out about one teaspoon of this tea into my gaiwan. I typically use more than this for gong fu brewing (quick and multiple infusions), which is what the directions on the label seem to imply, but for now we will merely follow along. I perform a quick rinse of the leaves with hot water to “open” them.

The dry leaves have a very vegetal aroma, suggesting a raw pu’erh. Yet there is an underlying smokiness and clear, fresh smell to them as well. The first 20 second infusion is performed. The wet leaves smell more malty now, yet still slightly vegetal. Much to my surprise, the tea brews a very pale green. This is very interesting, and not at all what I was expecting. This first infusion carries a very thin flavor. It is clear and fresh, with a smooth, vegetal aftertaste. As per the instructions, I go ahead and resteep the leaves, figuring that it will be different in the second infusion.

Mmm, this tea really kicks it in gear with the second infusion. The vegetal pu’erh flavor floods the taste buds. It is incredibly smooth and just slides over the tongue. I am truly impressed. I put it through several more steepings, and this tea just keeps on impressing. Normally, I prefer cooked pu’erhs to raw pu’erhs, but with a tea like this, I can hardly afford to be biased. I would give this tea an 87/100 on my personal enjoyment scale.

You can purchase the 2010 Xing Hai Raw Beeng Cha directly from the Canton Tea Co. website.

Author: Spencer E

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Category: Rooibos
Tea Company: The Necessiteas (website)
Ingredients: Green rooibos, lemongrass, lemon peel, vanilla chips, natural flavors
Vendor Suggested Preparation: Use 1 tsp per 8 oz boiling water, steep 5 min

The Necessiteas Lemon Chiffon

This tea helped me come to a decision on something. I don’t consider myself a tea purist at all. I happy drink tisanes and call them tea to my friends. I will throw sugar, splenda, or sweet and low into a cup and not think twice about it. I don’t use the purest of pure spring waters, or wash my teapots by hand, or insist that my oolong only is worth drinking when I drink it from a gaiwan or a special seasoned yixing pot. I try to drink good quality teas, and to treat them well to get good flavor, but I don’t fuss to much about it.

But this one has taken me a little too far.

I don’t like chips of stuff in my tea.

This tea smells amazing, as all of the Necessiteas’ blends do. It’s a whiff of lemony heaven. But when I first saw the blend, I thought there were chunks of carrot in there. Nope- they turned out to be vanilla chips. Vanilla chips? Like would go in cookies. Meh? That feels just wrong. But, for the sake of tea reviewing, I brewed up a cup.

The chips only partially melted, and left an oily residue on the surface of the cup. The brew still smelled amazingly lemon – one of the major ingredients is lemon grass. The flavor is nice, but there’s an oily mouthfeel that ruins it for me. The flavor is strongly lemongrass. The advertised vanilla notes don’t come through for me.

So for me, this tea would be a pass. I don’t want to drink it because of the way the chips affect the brew. And the flavor behind the oily mess isn’t enough to make me want to work around it. The lemongrass is nice, but not enough to make me want more of it. I’ll stick with their other flavors. And when I want lemon, I’ll go with Shanti Tea’s Lemonade.

You can purchase the Lemon Chiffon directly from the The Necessiteas website.

Author: Gretchen

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Category: Green
Tea Company: The Jasmine Pearl (website)
Ingredients: Green Tea
Vendor Suggested Preparation: Scoop a heaping teaspoon of tea leaves into your infuser. Heat water to 200° – 212° F (boiling). Pour 8 oz. of water over tea leaves. Steep tea for 5 minutes (depending on taste preference). Remove infuser and enjoy tea.

The Jasmine Pearl High-Elevation Formosa Green

I recently received an e-mail from The Jasmine Pearl’s co-owner Chuck – o’ the of the Chuck-’n-Heather combination – to try some new wares from Taiwan. One was an aged oolong, another was a GABA green tea, and a couple of other offerings he left a mystery. However, the one that he seemed most eager to present was an organic green tea he received from his Taiwanese supplier. Said trader mentioned that it was “what green tea should taste like.”

Alas, when I and a tea compatriot did make it down, the last of the Formosa Green had vanished into the palate-y aether. He said that the actual bulk delivery would be arriving in the next few days, though, and that he’d let us know. True to his word, three days later, an e-mail showed up saying it came in. I tried it, liked it, bought an ounce…but I was unconvinced that it was the end-all/say-all for green teas. It was the second Taiwanese green I’d tasted, but it wasn’t the best. Perhaps I needed to subject it to my approach.

First off, I will say that the leaves were gorgeous – dark, bold green, long, twisty, and packed with aroma. I sniffed butter, lemons, grass, and…some kind of nut. Overall, it reminded me of a more pleasant-seeming Mao Feng. Far different than what I was expecting from a Taiwanese green. The last one I had smelled like Fruit Roll-Ups.

I completely forgot to ask what the best brewing approach was for this. Not that I was too worried about it; green teas were somewhat easy to figure out. I went with 1 tbsn. in 8oz. of 175F water and a steep time of three minutes.

What result was a relatively clear brew with a green tinge and a gentle, almost lemongrassy aroma. The flavor echoed the lemongrass comparison but with a twist. It was more like lemon verbena dipped in honey – citrusy, sweet, creamy, grassy, and oddly herbal on finish. If this is what green tea is supposed to taste like…I can deal with that.

You can purchase the High-Elevation Formosa Green directly from the The Jasmine Pearl website.

Author: Geoff

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