Posted by: ben | January 30, 2009

try some, buy some

Ben: The free sample is never something to be taken lightly.

To some, the sample is a way to explore a bit further than you usually would. To most – including me – the sample is akin to an act of desperation. If something is really brilliant, why do you have to lure people in? Surely the product sells itself?

This isn’t true, of course. There’s just something sinister about a free little bit of a big product. It didn’t work out well for Dudley Moore; I’m always suspicious that a similar fate will happen to me.

On my doorstep when I got home this evening was a parcel containing our first batch of teas from Teapigs, which we’ll be discussing over the course of the week. Along with the expected products was a free sample of their English Breakfast blend, presented in a ‘temple’ rather than a humble teabag. As I split the bought teas in half – one for me, one to give to Dan later the same evening – I thought, well, if I’m going to have this free sample, it’s only fair that Dan should have a free sample too.

So, as I was packing up his share of the goods I added an extra present – a sample of the dreaded Whittards vanilla ‘flavour’ loose leaf black tea. If we started this project due to my utter dissatisfaction with that loathsome mix, I thought it only fair that he endure it too.

So now we’re back in our separate abodes, sampling the teas. Dan has the dreaded vanilla, I have the Teapigs English Breakfast ‘temple’.


Dan: I feel you may have been led to believe that the Whittards vanilla tea is somewhat disappointing (well, if you’ve read the introduction or seen the gratuitous use of the word ‘dreaded’ any time this tea is mentioned, you will have), and as such, I went into the inaugural cup of loose leaf tea with an open mind, as it couldn’t be that bad, really. Well, I measured out a heaped teaspoon of the black, powdery leaves and let them infuse for a few minutes. I didn’t time it, but judged by the colour of the tea in the pot. After heating the mug (which is not a particularly great mug for delicate teas, though I intend to replace it soon), I poured out the amber liquid. I decided I would do this properly and didn’t add either milk or sugar. Perhaps I should have done.

dan's dreaded vanilla

dan's dreaded vanilla

The lovely smell of vanilla that lingered around the dried leaves had vanished the very second the water was added. There was no aroma whilst brewing, and no hint of the Mexican orchid from the mug of brown water that now steamed under my nose. Perhaps a taste would change my initial thoughts. Give it a chance, at least. Bland and insipid were the first words that came to mind. And they didn’t budge either. It was like a normal everyday teabag, with nothing to recommend itself above any other branded, mass-produced tea. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh here, as there’s nothing really offensive about the taste. It just doesn’t offer anything to incline you to try another cup. It’s just a disappointment to find out that a loose leaf tea has no different taste to others, with or without vanilla. It’s unlikely that I will have another mug, but if I do, I shall try making it a little stronger, as I may have been a little sparing on my first attempt. I may experiment with adding sugar, and if it’s still bland, maybe some milk, though my hopes are not high for any improvement. Loose leaf is renowned for having a greater depth and fuller flavour, and if that’s what you enjoy drinking, stay away from the dreaded vanilla.


Ben: Ok, I’ll admit it. The freebie was exciting. I was expecting the weird and wonderful things that arrived but the added bonus of a fourth tea to try meant I could get started on this project a little sooner. Even better, while Dan has to put up with the nasty Whittards stuff, I had the nice new leaves!

The sample came in a little plastic wrapper which declared:

teapigs english breakfast tea temple. no airs. no graces. just fine tea.

Quite how they can say that they have no airs or graces after calling their teabag a ‘temple’ is beyond me. Opening the wrapper and examining the bag, there is a difference – it’s made of some kind of nylon-like substance rather than the papery stuff of regular teabags. Novel.

ben's tea temple

ben's tea temple

I decided to do this properly. Like the old ladies say, I rinsed the teapot chipped white mug with boiling water before putting the bag in. Pouring on the water, the bag puffed full of air and floated to the top. It appears that the ‘temple’ traps air much more than a regular bag, meaning I had to squeeze it with a spoon to get it down, releasing lots of that frothy, bubbly stuff. Bleh.

I left it to steep and spooned off the bubbles. Taking the bag out, I noticed the leaves had unfurled and puffed the bag right out. A promising sign! Perhaps I didn’t need to squeeze the air out after all. I’m a common oik so added a little milk and sugar. Letting it cool slightly, I tried some and found it to be very drinkable.

Actually, really drinkable. I have a tendency to think of loose leaf teas (because this technically counts, ‘temple’ or not) as occasional treats to be supped with reverence but, ultimately, not a replacement for PG Tips or what have you. But this is not so far away from the supermarket blends and makes me want to drink it every day. The depth is much woodier, the zing much more pronounced, the roundness on the middle of the tongue much more noticable.

Ooooh, I like it! Perhaps it is just fine tea after all? Now I’m left wondering if I made the wrong choice in ordering the slightly more esoteric options from them. Time will tell!

Ben was drinking teapigs’ English Breakfast Tea, available from £3.49 for fifteen ‘temples’.
Dan was drinking Whittards vanilla flavoured loose leaf black tea, available for £3.25 for 125g.



  1. Incidentally, my brother has bought some Whittards peach “flavoured” black loose leaf if ever we get desperate. Eurgh.

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