Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Teas that “Taste Like “Tea”

March 23, 2010 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

I’ve written a lot about things like rose tea (with more to come), and I’m about to write about chocolate tea soon (still tasting), but today I thought I would turn my attention to the recent teas I’ve been brewing that “taste like tea.”

In the American sense, tea is black “orange pekoe”, usually Lipton. I had a horrifying (or perhaps edifying) experience last month. I was helping to run a conference at a fancy hotel, and in our staff room we had continuous catered coffee and tea service. The tea service was not terrific. This hotel, which used to serve a very fancy brand of tea (I can’t remember the name but the tea “bags” came as stand alone pyramids with little leaves at the top), had switched to Tazo for all their flavored teas and, yes, Lipton for their regular black tea & decaf. Yes, it’s the economy.

Normally I always travel with a private tea stash, but somehow in my craze of packing all I had packed were nighttime tisanes like echinacea, ginger, and throat-soothing formulas. I needed some actual TEA one morning, and while hurrying from one task to the next stopped in the staff lounge to try to grab a cup. I plopped two bags of Lipton into my to-go cup, steeped them until it was sufficiently orange, and then ran off.

Twenty minutes later I was pouring it out and scraping my tongue. Not kidding. Apparently my steady diet of decent to high grade tea at home has ruined my ability to drink the cheap stuff.

Fortunately, my tea buddy Midori was at this conference, and she happened to be coming straight from a trip to London, and she had brought me a gift, direct from the Twinings Gift Shop, a sampler box of all their classic teas in bags, including assam, darjeeling, ceylon, nglish breakfast, etc. Talk about a stroke of timing! I would have been in sad, sad shape by the end of the long weekend without it.

Perhaps to banish the sense-memory of the Lipton from my tongue, I found myself brewing not the Earl Grey or Lady Grey in the box, but the assam, darjeeling, and ceylon. Teas that truly taste like tea, and which are very similar to each other on the flavor spectrum. These are my new ‘travel’ tea bags, and when they run out, I’ll probably buy more from the Twinings web site.

It was also bitterly cold here last month, with snow and sleet and windstorms, which also put me in the mood for black tea, which can be made with boiling water and which just seems to hold the heat longer. I ended up ordering samplers from several different companies, thanks to coupons and me being a sucker for good online marketing, and three more teas have hit my radar as a result:

I’m drinking the Tealuxe Tiger Hill Nilgiri right at this moment and it is growing on me. It has the essential basic flavor I have come to expect from the Indian subcontinent black teas, but the sweet aftertaste reminds me almost of mint. It has large, dark wiry leaves, and at $1 per ten grams, really affordable. In fact, overall, the Tealuxe teas surprised me with how inexpensive they are, even for some of the higher grades. I bought $25 worth of 10g samples and nearly all were $1 each (the herbal non-teas tending to be $2, interestingly enough!). I would definitely consider brewing this stronger than my usual and adding cream, to serve someone who preferred their tea that style.

Next, a tea flavor I don’t normally associate with Chinese teas, but the Imperial Tea Court’s Yunnan Golden Rings arrived at my doorstep and was the first tea from that order I brewed. Delightfully delicious! A truly luxurious taste of TEA. The fuzzy golden tips have been rolled into rings that are pleasing to the eye, but as they unfurl in the cup the scent makes you think of everything that is soothing and wonderful about a hot cup of tea. The flavor is almost malty in its mellowness.

An interesting note from the Imperial Tea Court about getting this black tea from Yunnan (and really, I’d call it a ‘brown’ tea, myself…): “The recent, phenomenal popularity of Puerh tea has considerably slowed the production of black tea in Yunnan province, as farmers and factories are all rushing to produce Puerhs and black tea production has virtually been forgotten. However, as the Puerh stampede has abated somewhat due to over-production and poor quality, black tea is beginning to make a comeback.” The Yunnan Golden Rings were one of the treasures unearthed in the comeback.

Finally, my favorite tea of the three, and one I had not expected to like nearly as much as I do. This is one I’ll probably buy a half pound of to make sure I don’t run out any time soon–and who knows if it will always be this good? If this were a wine, I’d be buying a case of it. This is the Assam Gold Rain from Teavana. While surfing their website to fill up my shopping cart enough to qualify for free shipping, I ended up tossing this one in to ensure I’d purchased a wide variety. It is an “FTGFOP” tea, meaning “Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe” (and jokingly referred to in tea circles as “Far Too Good For Ordinary People”).

So here we come to it. An actual “orange pekoe.” Sir Thomas Lipton is widely considered responsible for introducing this name for the black teas of India to the western market, though its etymology will forever be in dispute. Even the “orange” part of the name is disputed. What isn’t disputed is the grading system, which runs from OP, to FOP (flowery orange pekoe), GFOP (golden FOP), TGFOP (tippy GFOP), and finally FTGFOP.

Yes, folks, it’s that good. It shares the maltiness of the Golden Rings, but goes another step into that world of sweetness and light that the best Indian teas have, and which bagged Lipton has barely a ghost of, and Twinings manages to capture, but with this every sip is transcendent. The flavor is as smooth as a windless lake, which just mainlines that tea flavor totally devoid of any bitterness straight to the brain. Reviewers rate it as “fruity” on the teavana website, but it’s not fruity in the sense of tasting like an actual fruit other than the “tea fruit.” Truly a tea that tastes like tea, but which conveys the true meaning of “fine” tea. At $30 for 8 ounces, it seems a bargain, though I have to wonder what Sir Thomas Lipton, who was famous for bringing low cost tea to the working classes of Britain, would think of the price.

Twinings sampler
TeaLuxe Tiger Hill Nilgiri
Imperial Tea Court Yunnan Golden Rings
Teavana Assam Gold Rain

0 Comments to “Teas that “Taste Like “Tea””

  1. You mentioned ordering from the Twinings shop online. I’m just curious, since I visit the States fairly rarely (I’m Canadian), are they hard to get there? I’m a little surprised since I can get most Twinings varieties (including the Lady Grey which makes my mouth so happy!) down the street in either direction at the local grocery store or pharmacy.

    • We do have Twinings brand tea bags in a lot of grocery stores here in the US, but I’ve never seen the Assam in bags, and you definitely can’t get their multi-tea selection like the one Midori brought me from their shop in the UK. And given how they taste, I wouldn’t be surprised if these aren’t slightly better than what they ship to grocery…


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