Posted by: ben | February 6, 2009

pop will drink itself

Ben: Have you been affected by the snow? It’s struck me especially badly – not only do I live in a very rural area but my place of work is some forty-five miles away down the M4. This morning, BBC News were reporting that the stretch of motorway I normally use to commute was one of the worst affected. So, for the third day this week so far, I’ve been stuck at home and feeling pretty miserable with myself.

Luckily, I still had teapigs’ popcorn tea in the cupboard waiting to be sampled. On a bored Tuesday afternoon, I could think of nothing better.

After the leaf-flicking disaster of my last brewing, I had invested in some little plastic tubs I could keep each tea in. Opening up the one for the popcorn tea is a visual treat that put a smile on my face. According to teapigs’ website:

Back in the day when tea was too expensive for your average Japanese peasant, they’d mix it with toasted rice to make it go further.

Tea Ball, or Tea Infuser

Tea Ball, or Tea Infuser

The result of recreating that traditional infusion is a mix of very coarsely cut green tea leaves with little buds of toasted rice.

Some of those rice grains have popped whilst being toasted; dotted throughout the tea are tiny little buds of popcorn. It looks amazing, probably the furthest you could get from the traditional idea of what tea should be. It’s more of an alchemist’s attempt to make the ultimate breakfast cereal rather than dusty leaves in a tin.

Seeing as I was trapped at home alone I solo-brewed a cup. My teapot is no good for making one cup so I resorted to my scissor-strainer-ball thing.

I’m sure this has a technical name but I’m damned if I know what it is. I was rather less scientific then last time and put in what I considered to be enough. I like my green teas weaker than black teas so just under a teaspoonful was put into the strainer.

Dan: It’s a tea infuser, or, as it’s more commonly known, a tea ball.

Ben: Ta. I think I might’ve known that. Maybe.

Pouring the water into the cup released the most amazing aroma. The teapigs marketing implies a sweet richness but the smell was more like a wholesome breakfast cereal. It’s curiously reminiscent of Shredded Wheat.

After letting it brew for a few minutes, it took on a languid yellowy colour. That was offputting – the last drink I tried of a similar colour was Mountain Dew, something which vanished of the shelves in the UK within a year of being introduced. Uh oh.

But the taste! Oh, it’s amazing! It has a lot of the character of a wheaty breakfast cereal and, importantly, is sort of sweet. It’s not a sugary, cola rush that assaults the front of your tongue but rather a brannish sweetness that sweeps over the front and sides of your tongue and clears the roof of the mouth. What is curious is that the taste changes the further down the cup you get – the first sip is predominantly green tea in flavour but the wheaty sweetness is more pronounced as time goes on.

The taste lingers in the mouth for a while after drinking. It was only then that the popcorn analogy occurred to me – there is a taste of unflavoured, air-popped popcorn ten minutes later. It’s a little misleading to advertise this as ‘popcorn tea’ because it doesn’t evoke that taste immediately.

What it does do is have me craving more. A few hours later I wanted to go back and have another cup and, two days later, I’m still thinking about it now.

If you like green tea I highly recommend it. It’s a blockbuster. (Look, I had to get a movie pun in there at some point, alright?)

~~~

Dan: I have had fewer problems with the snow, the only exception being that I still had to go to work. As such, it was a few days later that I first tried the popcorn tea. I had received my fancy new Bodum Assam Tea Glasses and now I had the perfect opportunity to try them out. So I added one and a half teaspoons of the tea to the teapot, and brewed away. Again, the leaves float, unfurl, and sink. This time, they left a layer of rice floating on the top, which was pleasing. What was not so pleasing was the smell. What had smelled quite wonderful in the bag had been transformed into camel-chewed seaweed. It did not have the aroma of popcorn, or anything sweet. Nevertheless, I took a sip.

The colour is closer to a lime green in daylight

The colour is closer to a lime green in daylight

It is incredibly smooth, and seems to polish the mouth. The taste is not a strong one, as you’d expect with green teas, but what is there is a hint of fresh chlorophyll amongst the wheaty flavour. As Ben said, it tastes a little like Shredded Wheat. Which would be fine if liked Shredded Wheat. And even though I don’t, the tea is still drinkable, but it hasn’t had the same impact on me that it did for Ben. The taste of popcorn does appear after about half a cup, but it doesn’t really strike out. If you weren’t aware what kind of tea it was, I doubt popcorn would be the first thing you’d think of. It’s closer to a subtle, underlying taste, which is understandable, as plain popcorn hasn’t got a particularly strong flavour anyway.

I hadn’t been converted after the first cup, so I’m now sitting here, the following day, listening to Beirut’s Gulag Orkestar and sipping my second cup. It all seems to accompany the cold weather, and while I’m not over-enthused, I can see that it would be very satisfying to others with a lighter palate, perhaps. I have quite a sweet tooth, and tend to prefer stronger flavours. I was able to detect the similarity to Sugar Puffs, as advertised, but for me the taste failed to linger for more than a few minutes. Whilst this is definitely a well structured tea, and worth investigating if you have a taste for some of the plainer cereals, I can’t see that I will be adding it to my regular tea list any time soon. And it made my Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon taste like Sake, which was an unwelcome surprise, even though I do like Sake.

Ben and Dan were drinking teapigs’ popcorn tea, available from £3.49 for 50g

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