Twinings, you’ve broken my heart. After fifteen years of love and dedication, I can’t help but feel that there is some sort of je ne sais pas pourquoi . . . a distance growing between us. Where once every brewing pot was a joie de vivre, the thrill has gone and the experience is flat and uninspiring.
Take Earl Grey for instance. This was my Grandma’s tea of choice for everyday drinking; my Granddad was an anachronism – born a Scot but a Slav to the core, he preferred his Russian Caravans and his Lapsang Souchongs, brewed strong and black. It had to be loose leaf teaf and her preferred brand was Twinings and God help you if you served the tea in a mug or with milk. And so, over time, Twinings Earl Grey had also become one of my favourite blends. In fact, much as I enjoyed Russian Caravan, Prince of Wales and Ceylon Orange Pekoe, Earl Grey was my absolute favourite above all else and consumed throughout the day whereas the other blends were restricted to certain periods of the day.
If there was one thing that my ever so English Grandma despised – well, alongside the Scots despite marrying one, and the Irish despite having an Irish daughter-in-law and two Irish grandchildren (myself included – it was milk in Earl Grey. I actually enjoyed a splash of milk – it tempered the bergamot and I rarely drank tea black until the last year or so.
And therein lies the rub.
Milk and sugar tempers the tea, it eases the astringency and the tannins and harmonises the various flavours and tones much like salt does in food; and like salt, milk and sugar can also hides a multitude of sins – poor quality tea and ingredients, artifical or chemical tasting flavours and overpowering fragrances. Many teas which I use to enjoy with milk, I have found just not particularly enjoyable without. I can forgive blends like English and Irish breakfast, CTC blends or some of the Assam teas which are designed to be consumed with milk but I can’t turn a blind eye to a relatively expensive – although by no means a luxury or premium – brand that markets a tea designed to be consumed black.
There has been a lot of talk in the last couple of years of Twinings changing their Earl Grey blend in the UK and allegedly reformulating to a lesser extent their blend in other markets. There has also been mention of a gradual decline in Twinings products in the last ten years or so. I don’t know if this is necessarily true and perhaps my tastes have changed along with the way I consumed tea, but I now find the Twinings blend to be dull and flat. I love citrus fruits and the essential oils, whether it be eating the flesh of a blood orange, or a few drops of lemon or lime juice on food or in tea, the zest in salads and sweets, or the essential oils massaged into my skin on a summer’s day. Nothing seems to distill the essence of spring and summer like the fragrance of lemons. The scent is immediately uplifting and vivifying, so it seems wrong that a tea with the scent of the bergamot orange should be flat.
So I have started looking around for the perfect Earl Grey and will probably edit this post when I do a side by side comparison with three or four Earl Greys. Ideally, I would be looking for a strong bergamot which is pleasingly bitter and brisk, with an equally good strong tea base.
First on the list is the T2 Earl Grey. The very helpful lady in the Parramatta store gave me a whiff of the various Earl Greys available and suggested their standard EG blend. I tried a cup last night and I wasn’t overly impressed by it but I am sitting down now with another cup for review.
A few people had recommended a shorter brewing time with more water, so I steeped two teaspoons in 500ml of water rather than my usual 400ml. After three minutes, I took a few mouthfuls and while the bergamot was pretty close to perfect, the tea was so weak that I was essentially drinking bergamot oil in hot water, so I steeped for an additional minute.
The fragrance is beautifully strong which is just how I think it should be. Some people have commented that it is overwhelming, but this is down to individual taste and I love bergamot as noted above. The tea is serviceable, but the bergamot is the dominant taste – piquant and zesty, with gingery and slightly peppery tones, slightly bitter but an enjoyable, palatable bitterness. The colour is a strong, dark amber and the aroma is almost indentical to the taste.
I can’t say I enjoy the tea base, as this really needs to be full-bodied to stand up to and complement the bergamot. This tea base is mild with no real identity, which is all well and good if the bergamot was not as strong. I believe a strong bergamot really needs an equally strong tea base like a Ceylon Pettiagalla, but not as strong as, say, an Assam or a slightly smoked Chinese tea.
I will try my next cup with less water and brewed for three minutes and see if that makes a difference.