Oh, Republic of Tea. Where do I start with you?
As I fished out the [admittedly free] packet enclosed with your catalog, I began to think about your company as a whole. You boast a rather catchy concept in an Old Navy kind of way [coincidentally, they are a sister company of half of RoT’s entrepreneurial past – Banana Republic], thoughtfully designed packaging and imaging, well-written copy, and what I imagine is a pretty powerful marketing team as I’ve seen you prominently displayed in [but not limited to] Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Balducci’s. Indeed, you have cornered the market at Crate and Barrel.
But I most often find myself wishing that your tea stood up to all the hype. I am even in the middle of your book, which while a great deal insightful in its own right and a very interesting read at points, I find mainly overbearing, self-indulgent, and a bit obnoxious. Do you really believe that your tea is the best tea that can be found? That you are traveling to the ends of the earth to bring the most selective quality of leaf to the people of the “Republic”? It’s fascinating, because your levels of confidence are clearly not ultimately displaced, as you all seem to be doing very well for yourselves, but at some point do you not find yourselves pausing to ask, “…Seriously?”
Now that the RoT has begun carrying loose leaf, I suppose it might be worth while to give a tin a try to see how they hold up on that front. But, as I sit here drinking this “sip by sip” as they like to put it, I find myself becoming angry.
This tea is so far past even mediocre, it’s almost insulting. What makes it worse is that a) it smells like a carbon copy of hot apple cider and b) I can see how this might impress a long time drinker of Lipton.
The taste is weak and watery, and I thought it may have been because I only let it sit for three and a half minutes, but given how long others have steeped it that does not seem to be the issue here. The flavors that do emerge are dull and unimpressive. When I think about this tea compared with the also “light” Nishi Sencha that I drank last night, it’s like thinking about the difference between a sloth and a stallion; a Ford Pinto and a Bugatti Veyron; Psyduck and Pikachu. It’s simply not fair to do so.
The tea starts off with a lackluster, bland flavor akin to…argh. I don’t even know. It reminds me of the time when I bit into an Apple Gone Wrong [as I called it] – a fruit that wasn’t bad in that it was mealy and rotten, but truly was an apple that had no apple flavor in it whatsoever. No sweetness, no crispy tartness, nothing. Just watery blahness that was met by the disgusted faces of the people who I made try it. Following that is an unimpressive spice-like flavor and an aftertaste that tastes like some kind of bizarre mix of hot lemon water and chamomile.
And therein lies the reason why it’s proving so difficult for me to get through the RoT book. It would be a quick and easy read if their tea lived up to all the lovely promises portrayed by the eager authors, but when I drink something like this, it makes me wonder. Is this simply an earnest effort made by people whose opinion of tea is truly that far misplaced by my own tastes? Or is it a marketing ploy constructed by a team of people who learned from experience that in the American market sometimes all you need is a cleverly crafted image to sell a shoddy product, therefore resulting in a ridiculously high profit margin?
I can’t even rate this higher than the “devil tea” [Tazo’s Wild Orange] because that at least had flavor. The inaptly named “Comfort and Joy” is just…is just…a flaccid excuse for a tea. The only reason I would recommend to a friend to keep this around would be if they were selling their house during fall or winter and they wanted to have something sitting around to make it smell homey and inviting but they didn’t want to waste good cider. And in all seriousness, that is hardly a reason to buy tea.
Just for the sake of discussion, and for the more practically minded of us out there, let us consider something. Comfort and Joy can be purchased in the amount of 50 tea bags [2.8 oz, says the tin] for $11.50. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, we’ll say that this weight reflects only the tea and not the bags. So, you are essentially paying $4.10/oz [rounding down] of this tea. A brand perhaps considered notoriously expensive in the tea world, Mariage Frères’ Marco Polo can be purchased on average at $20 for a tin, which holds 100 g, or 3.5 ounces. Comparing this in the same manner, you are looking at $5.72/oz. However, let’s assume that you resteep this tea [I have had success with one resteeping], not even all the time, but about half the time that you make it. Already you are down to $4.29/oz [rounding up]. Yunnan Golden Bud is a tea that I typically resteep about three or so times on average when drinking, but even considering it being resteeped only twice, it’s down to $5.88/oz [jumping down to $3.92/oz for three steeps per use]. If I were to buy Comfort and Joy [and I won’t be] it is most definitely not a tea that I would find use in resteeping. Tea bags rarely lend themselves to this kind of use anyhow, as I find most of the flavor is typically extracted during the first steep and besides, it’s a bit psychologically disconcerting to reuse the dried, wrinkly, mushy bag another time. Even my parents, who are avid drinkers of bagged tea, do not reuse their tea bags. The convenience lies in the ease of the use-and-toss.
This is a point I want to make because, while we all hear about how fairly inexpensive tea actually is when you price it per cup, who here actually sits there and makes these calculations when you are buying tea? I certainly don’t. And even then, I very rarely go on tea buying benders where I buy teas from several different companies at the same time.
I believe that most of us subscribe to the idea that we are willing to pay a little bit more for things we like more. Comparing an $11.50 price tag to a $20.00 one or especially a $47.00 can seem like an incredible difference, but when you think about how much you will use these teas realistically [not even comparing opinion of flavor at this point], it truly becomes much less of a price jump. In life, I am one who considers it more cost effective to pay a little bit more in the beginning and get something of quality, than to save money at the point of sale and have to replace it more often later on down the line. This does not mean that the higher price point always belies a proportional difference in quality and that you shouldn’t research things – especially life’s bigger purchases – but all in all I find that the philosophy holds and it has served me well. Granted, there will be some people who enjoy Comfort and Joy, or who will always balk at the prospect of paying an undeniably higher price for something up front. That’s fine, but this point is, certainly, something worth considering.
Lastly, because I couldn’t resist, I decided to document this admittedly contemptuous account with a picture. For your viewing pleasure, please behold Comfort and Joy as compared to Mariage Frère’s Marco Polo and Samovar’s Yunnan Golden Bud. | http://bit.ly/bUcdVC