Posted by: dan | February 3, 2009

will grey fade?

(Title with apologies to Charlotte Hatherley)

Dan: I woke up on Saturday morning in the mood for tea. My plan was to get all the important things done in the morning, and then spend the afternoon mucking around trying to make a new banner image for the front page of this blog. Now I had the teapot and the tea, I could take a photo that was more appropriate, and I could use it as an excuse to have some new tea. It was only fair, after having had the dreaded vanilla pawned off on me. Ben and I had already agreed that the Earl Grey would be the first tea we properly reviewed, so that was the candidate.

But then, as I faced the first cup of the day, I couldn’t take the same old bag of powdery dust. How could I, when there’s loose leaf earl grey waiting to be drunk? So I fetched the bag of leaves, even though we weren’t supposed to be reviewing them just yet. But the main reason we got them was for drinking, not reviewing. Reviewing is an extra bonus. And so, at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning, I brewed my first cup of loose-leaf Darjeeling Earl Grey.

I was thirsty and excited, and I greedily helped myself to two heaped teaspoons of the flowery-scented leaves, so I could sit back and have two cups of it. This way I’d really get a feel for the flavour, and could judge it properly. As last time, I rinsed my mug (still unreplaced) with hot water, and brewed the tea. Watching it slowly blend was fascinating. All the leaves floated to the top in one big clump, and then unfurled one at a time before sinking back down again.


Left: Brewing; Right: Brewed

I’m sure the novelty of this will wear of with time, but seeing how tea should infuse properly for the first time was satisfying to watch. I’m easily pleased sometimes. I left the tea brewing for about four minutes or so, until the water had turned from a light caramel to a clear gold.
After pouring, it should really be left to cool. To start with, there was little smell, and not so much flavour. But after it had settled for a minute, the woody aroma came forth, and the flavour intensified. Suddenly the Twinings Earl Grey I had been used to seemed tame and somewhat chemical by comparison. This was an unblemished taste, and very enjoyable. As the cup goes on, the flavour strengthens, and the taste lingers for a long time. I could still taste it an hour later, while walking my dog.

One more thing I noticed about it while out walking was my good mood. I’m generally grumpy person, I will admit. If I don’t, someone else will.

Ben: I can attest to this. He’s a cynical, grumpy bugger.

Dan: But I was full of energy and enthusiasm, which is very rare for me, even when I’m looking forward to something. It must have been the tea, nothing else had happened to account for it. After I had revisited the Teapigs’ Earl Grey webpage, I noticed it said

“Good if you’re feeling: Bored, lethargic and in need of a lift”

I had written this off as a typical marketing tactic, a stretched version of the truth. I thought maybe it would give you a bit of a boost, due to the caffeine in it, but here I was with a full-blown good mood.

I had not added any milk or sugar, as usual. The teapigs’ website claims that a slice of lemon works quite well, but as I didn’t have a lemon to hand, my tea was drunk straight, and I’m quite glad it was. A delicious tea, and I could even consider replacing my everyday teabag version with it.


Ben: Working on Saturdays is rubbish. It means I don’t get a full weekend – I do get the Friday off instead but that means I have an at-work, off-work alternating pattern for a few days, which isn’t really a break. I feel cheated out of a proper break and generally spend the last day sulking about having to go back to work the next day.

Sunday morning means much deserved lie-ins, usually followed by a rushed quick breakfast before a smug lunch (you know – a panino in Starbucks surrounded by Guardian-reading ponces wearing Gok Wan glasses). As Dan had rushed out a few hundred words on teapigs’ darjeeling earl grey, extolling the wonder of supping it first thing to add pep to your step, Grumpy Ben decided that he would not be outdone. No, he’d try the tea and be equally as pepped!

I dug my trusty Bodum glass teapot out, a little worn after four years of tannin abuse but still servicable. Taking out the teapigs box, there was a very noticable difference. Below is a picture of two different takes on loose leaf earl grey: the teapigs version is on the left, another ‘unnamed’ blend is on the right.


Left: Teapigs; Right: unnamed

The ‘standard’ blend is a black heap. It’s not dusty and makes a perfectly nice cup but visually it looks like a mound of charcoal shavings. The teapigs blend is completely different – the blue cornflowers are present, sure, but the leaves themselves look much different. The no-name brand is even in colour and looks like the result of a controlled factory-produced effort whereas teapigs’ blend has the uneven colour of a homemade effort. It’s the difference between the even colour of a store-bought cupcake and the wonderfully mottled crust of a homemade victoria sponge.

Teapigs insinuates that fifty grams of this stuff should make twenty cups or so, which I make to be two and a half grams per cup. Being the diligent sort, I carefully measured this out using some kitchen scales, though using a teaspoon in the torn plastic the leaves were in resulted in the tea going everywhere. I’ll have to invest in some sort of storage. I added a little more, what with this being the weekend. Two cups – six grams. Seemed fair.

It was remarkably pale whilst brewing. I left it for longer than the prescribed three minutes but it still seemed nowhere near as strong as I’m used to. The leaves had uncurled and occupied the space I’d expected. I felt a bit of a heavy heart at this. The bergamot fragrance I’d expect was there, so it couldn’t be too bad, surely?

A 6g measure of Earl Grey

A 6g measure of Earl Grey

I poured a cup and added a tiny splash of milk and a little sugar (I know – I’m a heathen). I let it settle and, tentatively, tried a little.

And… it was good. It’s not a revelation by any means. What it does is add subtlety – whilst most Earl Greys you’ll try bombard you with bergamot, this has light lavender-ish flavours and stimulates every part of the tongue. The leaves – presumably not dried as long as is normal for commerical tea-making – add a greater depth to the taste.

Is it enough for me to replace a no-name brand? Hmm, I’m not sure on that front. It’s certainly an improvement on regular Earl Grey blends but it change is not vast. At the price, you want the teapigs blend to be a seachange, and whilst it is a million miles away from the teabag-based version you’ll get at any cafe, it’s too expensive to justify a regular purchase. By all means do buy it and enjoy it – because you will enjoy it – but don’t expect to add it to your regular shopping list.

Ben and Dan were drinking Teapigs’ Darjeeling Earl Grey, available from £2.69 for 50g.


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