Saturday, March 6, 2010

Actual Tea, Anyone?

I seem to remember that I have readers who feel very strongly about tea, so I thought I'd ask for help through my blog.

I have a family member who has been really into tea lately, and I'd like to get them some "real" tea for their birthday. (I try really hard when it comes to presents, not that I always hit the mark.) Unfortunately, IRL I'm stuck with Walmart's finest when it comes to tea, so I'm wondering:

a) What tea (name/brand/etc.) would you recommend for someone who so far likes Twinnings Earl Grey the best, and

b) Do you know of any reliable websites where I could get it from?

I've saved a little from my tax return, so money isn't so much an object (I'm not buying $100 worth of tea, obviously).

Thank you! (Spirited debates of the merits of one sort of tea v. another are quite welcome.)


  1. The Republic of Tea has some really good quality teas overall. I'm more of a green/oolong fan than a black tea drinker, so can't say one way or the other about their Earl Grey (Earl Greyer, they call it) but I'm sure it's as good as everything else they've got. Also, there's this sort of social networking site for tea lovers called Steepster, where you can search for specific teas and read other peoples' reviews of different teas they've tried.

  2. PF, Upton Teas are really great and they personalize the tins for the recipient. They have a wide array and can recommend teas based on one's taste preferences. My dad and I both love Earl Grey but he's gotten hooked on Upton's Thé Mélange Russe (Russian Blend) which is sort of more citrus-y than conventional Earl Grey. You can get a 125g tin for about $10 or a glassine packet for about $8. You can check them out at uptontea dot com. The Earl Grey with blue flowers (German cornflowers added to mix) is my indulgence. They're really fabulous teas. If I need to be portable, Mighty Leaf also is a very good bagged brand. But these days, I'm just cringing at the thought of tea bags, ya know? ;)

  3. Being a New Yorker, I always default to Alice's Tea Cup:

    There's also Takashimaya:
    But they're a bit more inflated, IMO.

  4. Hey, tea-lovers: how much better is it than coffee? I’ve tried the latter a few times and ended up spitting it out each time (and this was with some cream and sugar, which I count as improvements). I wonder how tea tastes. And if I could make some without my crippling propensity for burning myself like an idiot kicking in.

  5. PF,
    The argo tea company is widely recognized as some of the best tea in the US. Their only physical tea houses are located in Chicago and New York, but you can get the tea online at Seriously, the best flavors I've ever tasted. My favorite is Fruit Sangria with dried fruit, rosehips and hibiscus.

    Joe, coffee is horrible for you.

  6. I love coffee, and will drink tea on occasion. Apparently unlike the commenters here (insofar as they've talked about it), I enjoy both without milk or sugar. Straight up and hot.

    I tend to not like the really floral, delicate or fruit-flavored teas. I want something that'll put hair on your chest, and for me that means I look for black tea.

    I don't have any brand suggestions. However, there are plenty of shops that will let you assemble your own tea - you tell them what you want to taste (spice, tannin, bitterness, floral, fruit, green, herbs, etc) and they'll whip it up for you right there. Hand-packed teas are a nice gift, no matter whether you like the stuff or not...

  7. Well, I take that "brand" comment back. I make sun tea religiously in the summer; put a half gallon of water in a glass jar, add 10 tea bags, cover and place it out in the sun.

    When I do this, I've found that (believe it or not) Salada is the best, the red box. Strong, not too floral, and stands up to lemon.

    Salada isn't gift worthy; too common/plebian. Makes fantastic iced tea, though. When I've got company coming over, I'll substitute 3 of those tea bags for something fruity (cranberry works best, imho), and they rave about it over grilled food.

  8. Another maybe too ordinary for a gift, but my favorite tea hands down, is Constant Comment. It's a little like Earl Grey but has a hint, as the box says of "orange and sweet spice." Yum!

  9. I'd say that based on my opinions, from Best to still pretty good: Rishi Tea, Mark T Wendell, Tao of Tea, Republic of Tea, Stash, and Tazo.
    There's another one I like with a very new agey name but I can't seem to recall what it is right now.

    Rishi's the best quality IMHO, but Mark T Wendell's the best value. I do believe Mark T Wendell has at least one type of earl grey and Rishi has a few different types, some with lavender and some without (well, they used to at least). Both also offer samplers and are well suited to ordering small amounts from: Rishi will sell 1oz of tea which brews between 15 to 30 cups, and Mark T Wendell sells 1.5 oz tins for some of their teas.
    Both are more focused on loose leaf tea though they do sell teabags.

    I'm not really a tea snob but I am big on loose leaf after realizing how better it can taste and how economical it can be. If you're unsure if (s)he drinks looseleaf you might also want to include an infuser, a package of tea pouches, or something to brew it with.

  10. Echoing the comment about The Republic of Tea.

    Also, I'd consider rather than getting tea itself something tea related like a nice teapot.

  11. If your family member has a clear teapot, you could get them a tea flower/flowering tea. Google image it if you haven't seen it before. It looks really neat and they come in a variety of flavors.

  12. I must disagree with the commenter that mentioned Tao of Tea- I'm no tea snob by any means, but I've had my share of tea over the years and have had several different types of their tea, and while they are fairly well-known, and I suspect popular, I'm of the opinion that their tea is pretty much just mediocre. They have a slick-looking website, and offer nice products (I bought a teapot from them that I really like) but out of half a dozen or so of their teas that I've tried, there's only one that I really liked; everything else has been just average, or below average. Granted, that's just one person's opinion, and obviously they still wouldn't be in business if everyone thought that way, but I just wanted to offer my two cents' worth.

  13. I like tea, Earl Grey, hot.

    But I have found Twinnings Lady Grey a very pleasant evening tea. They also make a nice tea similar to the Earl/Lady Grey variety, Prince of Wales. It is similar to the Greys but has an essense of chestnut.

  14. Oh, I should have mentioned that Twinings, Earl/Lady Grey, Darjeeling and Prince of Wales are relatively light roasted.

    Twinings has a scale from 1 to 5 on their packaging so you can see the type of roast.

    Those I have mentioned are 2 out of 5.

    People who like this type of strength will often find heavier teas, such as English Breakfast, (quite strong), and Irish Breakfast (stronger still)to be too acidic.

    You can compensate by steeping them slightly less, by in my experience, that is not quite satisfactory.

    Better I think, to choose teas of the appropriate strength for your taste.

  15. I've found a surprisingly wide variety of international teas at Big Lots.

  16. Twinnings is actually pretty decent.

    Earl Grey can get tiresome, after a while. Darjeeling has never appealed to me, even when I've gone to Murchie's and bought the very best. Perhaps it just doesn't work well without creme and lemon.

    I personally like the Twinning's Irish Breakfast quite well -- much better than the English Breakfast blend. I'd say, there's a reason why the Irish are the worlds greatest tea-drinkers :)

    A good quality, pure Ceylon tea is also a good bet.


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