drank Marco Polo by Mariage Frères
33 tasting notes

Okay okay, so I finally see what all the fuss is about. And now that I have tried it, I am torn.

First, this is an awesome tea. It is essentially the closest thing to my all-time favorite black tea (TWG 1837 Signature black) I have ever had. It has all the rich and dark wild European berries you’d find from blackberries in Germany’s Bavarian woodlands to the prized bilberries people hunt for in Lithuania’s peat-covered pine forests where they filmed “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves”. It successfully muddles them with fresh black Vietnamese sugarcane you’d buy at a roadside vendor on the way from Hanoi to Mai Chau. It’s got that unique hint of wild and rare flowers in the background. The black tea adds that subtle but perfect touch of tannins, as if you brewed your cuppa in some monastery’s old wood barrel they once used to age berry wines for decades. It’s fragrant, it’s fruity, it’s rich, it would have earned a perfect score of 100 and made it to my all-time top list, were it not for the fact I was already spoiled and had tried something a little bit better.

Marco Polo’s berries are ripe, dark, and sweet, but they’re missing that handful of indulgent over-ripe berries, the kind that fall apart with the slightest agitation and dye your hands deep blue and purple hues. It’s also missing that hint of hot caramel your mom would make on the stove with fresh cream and butter from the farmer next door. And this is why I am torn. TWG’s 1837 seems like a copy of Marco Polo (don’t let the 1837 fool you as those guys only started in 2008), but it’s not some cheap Asian knockoff. They actually managed to improve the already decadent flavors and even enrich them.

So, I love this stuff but it doesn’t dethrone my current favorite (scented/flavored) black tea. Bonus points, however, as this is much more readily available and cheaper, and I can have MF ship it direct to my house. Downside of 1837 is that I’ve tried the bags from Dean & DeLuca and they don’t do any justice to the stuff you buy at their salons in Asia.

I can’t wait to try them side by side, that should happen in about 6-7 weeks once I restock the 1837. But for now, I am sooooo happy to have over a pound of this in my cabinet, I will be drinking it daily for sure. I’m liking Mariage Freres more and more with every new tea I try from them – and while I haven’t moved on to their “purist” (read: not scented/blended/flavored) teas, it’s something I will definitely have to consider next time I order or drop in on them.

Flavors: Berries, Flowers, Jam

200 °F / 93 °C 3 min, 0 sec 2 tsp 12 OZ / 350 ML

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Musician, pilot, philanthropist, tea lover. Nothing beats a spiced oolong at 10,000 feet. Except maybe a cuppa dian hong with my feet next to the fireplace. Or some fresh bai hao yin zhen before bedtime. My rating system is pretty much like this:

1-20 : ‘Blech’ cuppa. Didn’t even finish the one I brewed, rest went in trash. That bad, at least for me.

21-40: ‘Meh’ cuppa. Finished it but threw away the rest of the tea or used it for other purposes like baking, gifts for in-laws, or serve to unwanted houseguests. Kinda like Twinnings or Lipton bag tea.

41-60: ‘Standard’ cuppa. Won’t buy any more, but will certainly brew all that I have left. Probably will use it to blend with other teas or as a base, or large quantities of iced tea for parties and such.

61-80: Good cuppa. Now we’re talking. Worth buying more if at the right price, love blending some of these too. Sometimes a few oddballs will find their way into this score just because I liked the fruity flavor or having it as an iced tea. Also my starting score range for new kinds of tea until I develop a good feel for my preferences or learn to better distinguish quality characteristics.

81-99: Awesome cuppa. You’ll probably find this in my pantry pretty regularly, unless it has been discontinued or I’m waiting for my next trip to Asia or Europe to pick up some more. Holds up well to multiple infusions (unless black/herbal), and will typically drink it unadulterated/straight. I’ll gladly pay premium prices and chances are I’ll be ordering and tasting a bunch of other teas this producer/company offers.

100: Cuppa bliss, oh where have you been all my life???! I will burn frequent flier miles and journey to the ends of the earth while paying nearly any price to make sure I have this stocked at all times. Over time as I discover some magical new teas, a few may fall off this list. Try to keep it max 1 per type of tea.

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