ONE GOOD TEA DESERVES ANOTHER

I haven’t mentioned tea on this blog for a long time, yet twice on one day may prove to be too much for some of you. Having extolled the virtues of Rose Garden tea earlier, I thought I may as well stay with the garden theme and introduce you to an infusion of Sweet Rhubarb – another gift, this time from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

This infusion is blended by Taylors of Harrogate – and a fine blend it is too of hibiscus, rose hips, sweet blackberry leaves, apple, and natural rhubarb flavouring. Quite what is meant by ‘other natural flavourings’ I am not sure. You can read the ingredients on the box below.

Whatever they are, they make a wonderful infusion that is both a delight to smell and to drink. Despite my preference for adding milk to most teas, this is not one of them. The Sweet Rhubarb is best enjoyed on its own. If you enjoy eating rhubarb, you will definitely enjoy the fresh tangy flavour of this infusion.

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ROSE GARDEN TEA

I even felt reluctant to throw out the beautifully sturdy box that housed this tea: the embossed black top fitting over the bottom – so tantalising to lift it up and to smell the delicious aroma of roses! Those fifteen tea bags have been eked out; each one to be enjoyed in full measure during a time of quiet contemplation. This deliciously precious tea – a gift – is none other than Twinings Rose Garden Black Tea.

Everything about this tea, which forms part of the Twinings Discovery Collection, is a delight: the beautifully designed box, the golden inner and the pyramid-shaped tea bags. That delightful scent of rose petals mixed with black tea is irresistible!

The Rose Garden tea can be enjoyed without milk. I like to put a small amount of milk in my tea – no sugar – so I brewed it for the recommended three to four minutes to bring out the full flavour and subtle aroma.

RONNEFELDT EARL GREY TEA

A couple of tea bags came to me as a gift – what a gift for this Ronnefeldt Earl Grey tea is delicious!

It is a new brand of tea to me which brews to a beautiful colour; is full-bodied; and just the ‘right’ amount of bergamot flavour comes through the black tea base. So taken with it am I that I looked it up online – very pricey at just over R7,00 per tea bag. Nonetheless, for special occasions or pure self-indulgence when a real pick-me-up is required, the flavour is probably worth it.

TWININGS ENGLISH AFTERNOON TEA

What a dream! Why wait for the afternoon to enjoy this beautiful brightly coloured, smooth, flavoursome tea? The 100 tea bags come in a gold foil pack – once opened I keep them in a tin. I scanned the box, so the colours do not show up as well as they might.

As you can tell from the picture above, the design of the box is attractive in its own right: a mixture of black, yellow and different shades of green – all very summery, born out by the  (should be yellow) kite fliers and the suggestion of waves, light breezes (and is that a green flower peeping out from behind the black box on the front).

Then, of course, there is the ethical bit – the ‘feel-good’ factor to enhance your tea-drinking enjoyment:

What I find interesting – apart from the refreshing flavour and the lightness of the tea that has one reaching out to pour a second cup, is the blurb on the back of the box: Master blenders use all their knowledge to choose just the right teas at just the right time. They select the best teas from Africa (they don’t mention from where exactly but, note this, they use only the brightest, freshest African leaves) and assure us tea drinkers that it is the bright freshness of the African leaves that makes this tea so refreshing. Other leaves are from Assam, obviously picked when they are at their best, and high-grown Ceylon, which originates in Sri Lanka.

I am not mocking this tea – I love it and highly recommend it to anyone who has easy access to it (mine was a gift from England) – I am amused by the marketing hype (as if the tea needed it – the taste alone is a winner). It is the slightly patronising nod to the African tea that raises an eyebrow. No mention of African tea leaves is made on the website https://www.twiningsusa.com/our-products/english-afternoon:

Our English Afternoon tea combines carefully selected Keemun tea from the Anhui province in China with Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka. Keemun teas are light-to-medium bodied, smooth and slightly sweet in taste. Ceylon teas are bright in colour, crisp and refreshing. Blended together, these two varieties provide a modern twist to a storied tea that is perfect as an afternoon pick-me-up or whenever you need a little lift.

Forget about what is on the box and focus what is in the box – brew it for two or three minutes and enjoy your cup(s) of Twinings English Afternoon tea!

NO PLEASURE IN THIS EARL GREY TEA

There was a brief period when Earl Grey tea of any brand was unavailable in our town – a situation that has fortunately been rectified. Feeling rather desperate for some, I was delighted to find this box of Closemyer Earl Grey tea lurking on a shelf in between organic herb teas, almond flour, and chai seeds among other items. Not having tried this brand before, I bought it.

Naturally I boiled the kettle and eagerly opened the box as soon as I got home … and was assailed by a distinctly chemical smell! This smell was so pervasive that it permeated the tiny foil-wrapped tea bags. Each tea bag is so tightly woven so that it initially ‘floats’ on the water like a little buoy … not good news. Well, neither is the taste. I tried it out on family and friends. Verdicts (before even tasting the tea) ranged from “insecticide” to a “very bad cough mixture smell”. The brew itself is pale, thin-tasting, and distinctly artificial.

What ingredients would you expect to be listed on an average box of Earl Grey tea? Apart from a black tea base, surely you would expect to find bergamot? Bergamot being oil from the rind of bergamot orange. Given the history of tea, the Chinese are generally credited with having first developed scented and different flavoured teas. As  Closemyer Earl Grey tea is a product of China – surely it would be a top class tea?

I’m afraid not. We all know that the citrusy flavour of Earl Grey comes from the addition of natural or synthetic bergamot oil – the problem with the Closemyer version is that it is overwhelmingly synthetic in smell and taste. So synthetic in fact that the ingredients are simply listed as … Earl Grey tea!

Reluctant to waste good money, I have valiantly imbibed several cups of this tea – with and without milk. The tea is not to be recommended and so I have finally succumbed to the fact that as it brings me no pleasure, the rest of the bags have simply had to be binned.

CO-OP EARL GREY FAIRTRADE TEA

My collection of teas is dwindling, mainly because we haven’t travelled anywhere ‘tea-worthy’ for some time. It thus came as a lovely surprise when a friend invited me to tea and opened her box of Co-op Earl Grey Fairtrade tea bags that she had received as a gift. Fairtrade is a word that has become synonymous with ethical products. To quote from the box “Fairtrade means fairer trading conditions and opportunities for producers in developing countries to invest in their businesses and communities for a sustainable future.” It is also stated on the box that the leaves come from strictly monitored plantations – which includes the monitoring of employee working conditions. Good for the conscience that.

We are always up for something new, and while this may be a supermarket brand in the UK, it is an ‘exotic’ brand to us. The blue and grey packaging with the sketches of leaves, flowers and an old-fashioned teapot appealed to us both.

While there is nothing new in the ingredients – we assumed the ‘natural ingredients’ referred to was the bergamot – it is always interesting to taste the different combinations of teas blended by different manufacturers. We know that both Malawi and Kenya produce delectable teas in their own right, so the truly ‘exotic’ part of this tea would be the addition of leaves from South India.

We sat outside, enjoying the warm breeze of a late autumn afternoon, savouring both the warmth and the taste of the tea. It is delicious: we enjoyed the full flavour of slightly smoky black tea infused with oil of bergamot. A calming drink, it was the perfect backdrop to a wonderful afternoon of catching up and enjoying each other’s company.

As this tea is not available in this country, we made the most of it – and poured another cup!

TWININGS BLACKCURRANT TEA

On a day such as today, with the temperature rising to 30°C and above while a strong, gusty and warm Berg Wind blows, Twinings Blackcurrant tea is the one to reach for. Its flavour is fulsome, rounded and rich. With or without milk, it is a refreshing drink that requires no accompaniment at all.

This very fine black tea has been expertly blended with the juicy flavour of blackcurrants to create a tea with a strong, fruity aroma and the characteristic sweet and tangy taste one would expect of such a fruit.