We spent an afternoon testing black tea in anticipation of my mother-in-law’s annual visit. Husband Patrick was assisting. The salesman at La Mesa’s All Things Bright and British said that it’s important to prepare tea with a rolling boil, so our kettle boiled for an hour straight as I poured cups and Pat sipped.
“‘When there is a diem in front of you that absolutely must be carped, reach for a cup of Tazo Awake,’” I read from the package, setting a cup of Tazo Awake tea ($3.49 at Target for 20 bags).
Patrick groaned at the tortured Latin as he sipped. “Strong enough,” he said, “but I could use stronger.”
“How about this one?” I asked. “‘Celebrating people, planet, and pure tea,’” I read off of the Numi Organic Breakfast Blend ($6.49 for 18 bags at Whole Foods).
“I like it,” Pat answered. “A pleasant smell with a rich herby spice to it. A cozy tea.”
Choice Organic English Breakfast Tea ($4.49 for 16 bags at Whole Foods) lacked the aroma. “Kind of robs you of half the pleasure,” noticed Pat. “As with coffee, the smell is half the pleasure.”
“What about this PG Tips tea? It claims to be ‘England’s No. 1 Tea,’” read Patrick ($7.99 for 80 bags at World Market).
“Well, Sophia [our British friend] says her dad is fond of PG Tips, but as far as she can tell, it’s not too far from Lipton. And, she says, ‘I refuse to refer to anything Lipton puts out as tea.’”
“She’s correct. The flavor is like Lipton tea, but in a bigger way,” Patrick said, sipping. “It’s sort of like India Pale Ale — intentionally bitter.”
I poured a cup of Typhoo for him ($6.99 for 80 bags at World Market). “I like this one. It feels virile — strong, masculine, virtuous.”
“Okay, tough guy. It’s a keeper.”
Dilmah Tea ($3.99 for 50 bags at World Market) was not a keeper. “Tastes like the tea you get at a cheap diner.”
Twinings Irish Breakfast Tea ($3.49 for 20 bags at World Market) suffered the same fate of flavorlessness. “It’s colored hot water,” said Patrick.
Patrick gave a B grade to both of the Trader Joe’s teas. English Breakfast Tea ($1.99 for 48 bags) and the Irish Breakfast Tea ($2.99 for 80 bags). “Not going to set the world on fire, but decent.”
The Allegro Breakfast Blend set Patrick’s world on fire. “I’m chugging this down,” Patrick oozed ($4.99 for 20 bags at Whole Foods). “It has an unusual smoky flavor, which I find delicious.”
The tin of Republic of Tea British Breakfast came next ($11.79 for 50 bags at Whole Foods). “I like the spiced wine smell it has. Like a holiday cider. But is it worth the price?” Patrick asked.
The two Barry’s teas: Gold Blend ($7.99 for 80 bags at World Market) and Classic Blend Tea ($8.99 for 80 tea bags at All Things Bright and British) sparked a discussion of proper tea flavor. “These make me want to lick the back of my teeth or pucker my lips,” complained Patrick.
“I love that in a tea,” I replied. “The tea needs that edge to cut through the flavor of the cream and sugar.”
“Why would you ruin tea with cream and sugar?” he asked.
“Your Irish nana, God love her, would roll over in her grave to hear you speak of tea with no cream or sugar.”
We moved on.
The last group of teas was by Taylors of Harrogate, and only their English Breakfast Tea failed the test. “This tea is a little bit sharp,” said Pat. The Scottish Breakfast Tea brewed up with a fresh herby smell and a round, balanced flavor. But it was their Ceylon Tea that had Pat waxing poetic. ($7.99 for 50 bags at All Things Bright and British for English, Scottish, Ceylon.)
“This tea has me feeling like Bilbo Baggins sitting by his fire in the Shire. Big, round flavor, soothes my whole mouth, goes down with a warmth of flavor. It pleases the whole mouth, as opposed to that pointed flavor punch that you like.”
I ignored the argument bait and passed him a cup of Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold ($5.99 for 40 bags at All Things Bright and British). Patrick smiled. “It tickles the nostrils, fills the mouth with flavor, and finishes with a tingle. It leaves me with a feeling of health, happiness, and goodness.”