Posted by: ben | March 11, 2009

no cheap thrill

(title with further apologies to Suzanne Vega)

Ben: How does this sound?

Quality teas from around the globe expertly blended for a full flavour and refreshing taste. Perfect for any time of the day.

Hmm-hm! Quality tea? Expertly blended? These must surely be the tealeaves of the gods!

Actually, no. These are the tealeaves of T foil wrapped loose leaf, available at a mere sixty-seven pence from Tesco.

Dare to read on?


High quality box

High quality box

For your sixty-seven pence you get two-hundred and fifty grams of what the box helpfully describes as tea. No indication of type, variety, age or region. Just tea. There is talk about the contents being blended from five different regions by artisan master blender Richard Thomas but without citation this feels like marketing gumpf. In actual fact, there’s no description of where the leaves originate from at all – the five listed places (Kenya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malawi and India) are merely places where Mr Thomas has worked.

Opening up the inner foil bag, my heart sank. Jing and teapigs have spoilt me! Their leaves are long, curled things which unfurl as they brew, leaving a mass in the teapot four or five times their original size. Mr Tesco has opted to desiccate the leaves, making the contents one big bag of dust. Rather than the elegant leaves I am used to, I am instead presented with something which looks rather like gunpowder and smells astonishingly like cardboard.

These are not loose leaves. These are grains.

These are not leaves. This is soil.

These are not leaves. This is soil.

This is the aftermath.

This is the aftermath.

Undeterred, I put two spoonfuls into the pot. Pouring on the boiling water as directed by the instructions resulted in an absolute disaster: the Bodum teapot I use, normally excellent for purpose, has holes in the infuser which are much, much larger than the tea grains. The result is that initially the grains pour through into the main body of the teapot then clog the infuser holes, resulting in an infuser quickly full of foamy grainy sludge and a teapot with little water and a lot of grit.

Appetising, no?

Stirring the infuser contents with a spoon eventually declogs the holes and sends more grain into the teapot body, allowing me to pour more water through. I got about a cup and a bit of water in, put on the lid and left it.

The temptation was to leave it for good. Man, I was ticked off! One of the questions I’m asked a lot when I talk about loose leaf teas to people is if I can recommend a good “builder’s tea” – something strong, black and normally served with three or four spoonfuls of sugar. I normally make a few polite noises and promise to look into it.

But I don’t.

Loose leaf teas should be about exploration, about something you cannot normally get through any other means. You can get very nice blends in teabags nowadays – Twining’s range of Earl Greys are especially nice – and similarly you can get very nice everyday tea in loose leaf form. But what’s the point of having loose leaf tea that is, for all intents and purposes, exactly like a normal teabag?

This is the tea that Tesco brewed

This is the tea that Tesco brewed

Because that’s what this is. After pouring the tea (through an additional strainer), adding a little milk and sugar and sipping rather reluctantly, it dawns on me that this is all this product is. It’s the same stuff they put into teabags. Exactly the same leaves, process and manufacture, leaving off the ‘putting into teabags’ bit and dumping them into a foil bag instead. And it’s not a particularly nice ‘normal’ brew either – it’s coarse and without body.

I genuinely cannot see the point of this product at all. If you want normal tea, surely you must have some PG Tips, Clipper, Tetley, Yorkshire or Twinings in the cupboard? Why faff about with teapots and infusers that just don’t work with tiny grains when you have the convenience of the bag? Why pay good money for this watery, unremarkable brew when the brands listed above make similar, superior blends? Who are Tesco aiming this product at? What idiot would want to buy it?

(Other than for review purposes, obviously.)

Avoid avoid avoid.

Ben was (reluctantly) drinking Tescos’ T Loose Leaf, available for 67p per 250g. Though even that’s a bit of a rip off.



  1. It’s soil with a high humus content. In fact it’s soil organic matter. The thing is, I imagine the nutrient content isn’t that great, so what you have here is the dessicated remains of a Brazillian forest fire, four years on.

    • Have you tried some? I’ve been spared the horror, thankfully. Your description reminds me of Lapsang Souchong, though.

  2. I’m not sure I need to.

    • I don’t think anyone needs to.

  3. very interesting, it really shows the difference between proper loose leaf tea and what sometimes purports to be loose leaf

  4. It really is a shame that marketers think that the public will be fooled by just taking average tea dust out of the bag and calling it “quality”.

    At least I hope the public won’t be fooled.


  5. I hate to alarm you but PG tips loose tea has now gone the same way. I have complained to their website. Shall now avoit it.

    • That is a shame. PG Tips is such a well known brand that they should be ambassadors for quality teas. They could get a bigger market and more money. Why create something so inferior?

  6. I don’t know Tesco’s tea and I have no idea what it tastes like but given the fact that it’s a foreign (to me) brand, I don’t trust it already.

    but that’s probably a bit hypocritical of me, because I use the Indian equivalent of that, pretty much. Well, if Tesco’s a supermarket chain then it’s not a home brand, it’s a standard brand of tea that I pick up from Indian groceries around here. It’s just not a – there is no way of identifying where the leaves are from, the packaging only reveals their cut. But that’s okay by me. I almost only have masala tea and for that you need a strong black tea which doesn’t lose its taste when it’s subjected to combinations of ginger and cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, cloves or pepper. You can’t mess with english brekkie or darjeeling* or anything where you have to appreciate the flavour of the tea alone.

    (*I came across a ‘westerner’s’ version of masala chai on the internets where he subjects two TEA BAGS of Darjeeling to a ‘heaping demitasse spoon’ of cardamom – I nearly died of horror)

    • You’re very lucky not to know Tescos. Think a UK equivalent of Wal-Mart or something similar. They’ve got a big expansionist policy going on right now meaning they’re coming to a country near you…

      Masala chai is difficult to make properly. I made one once in a glass teapot and the smell of cardomom, cloves and cinnamon is still present in the (thoroughly washed) plastic infuser part months later.

  7. Glad to have found your blog via the twitter link you sent me! Even better to have found another blog that doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is. Kudos for that!

    I had nearly this same experience with an Irish Breakfast (I know!) from Teavana a few months ago – most unpleasant coffee ground looking stuff. Aside from what I used for the one cup I reviewed, the rest went into the garden. Makes excellent compost fodder, just FYI. 🙂

  8. *sigh* The dangers of having too many twitter accounts (I have *ahem* two). Posting again to clarify the account you might actually recognize: @TeaOnTap.

    • Thanks, Jamie! I wasn’t going out of my way to be deliberately provocative with this post – I saw the product, I wanted to try it, I bought it, I was disappointed. We have a policy of trying everything that anyone sends our way – tea-based or music-based – and we don’t refrain from being honest at all.

      We do try to be polite though…

      Love your site, too!

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