Earlier this year, I imposed a tea moratorium: not another box, pouch, brick or bag would I buy until my drinking was under control. Until my stash no longer took up its own kitchen cabinet. Until I no longer had more varieties than the grocery store. Until I could look at my supply and reasonably say, "Uh-oh, better buy more tea before I run out."
It wasn't easy. I ran out of my favorite blends one by one. I used up my runners-up. I forced myself to pitch the try-it-outs that didn't work out. But finally, in November, my stash was down to one basket on the kitchen counter. Sure, it was holding about a pound of tea, but seven or eight varieties, and most of those green, and
shut up, I don't have a problem, you have a problem!
with cold weather coming, I decided some black teas were in order.
Long story short: I've got new sippage, so you get new tea reviews!
One of my new regular vendors is the English Tea Store
, purveyors of bulk tea and snackage from the UK. One of the teas I ordered was 4 oz of blackcurrant 'naturally flavored' loose leaf black tea, to see how it stacked up to my custom currant-y blend from Adagio Teas
. I love the custom blend, but Adagio botched it twice in a row and their customer service leaves one wishing for the care and attention of, say, Charter or AT&T.
I also regularly order from Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company
, because they own the Eastern Shore Tea Company, seller of loose leaf tea in white paper pouches with nifty labels and reusable muslin bags. I don't remember where Eastern Shore and I first met, but after a long dry spell, they turned up again sporadically in the shop at the Missouri Botanical Garden
, tucked behind items on random shelves like
they'd been stocked by someone who's never worked proper retail before
little surprises. Though it's been a few years since I had their blackcurrant tea, named Black Raven in honor of Poe, I purchased a pound because I remembered it fondly.In the Bag:
- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant contains blue and yellow petals--cornflower and sunflower, probably, since they're popular fillers these days. (I guess hibiscus has been retired.) The petals aren't in the sample photo and the ingredients only list black tea and 'natural flavor' (i.e. flavoring sprayed on the tea leaves), so either the site is outdated or you only get uncut tea in larger amounts.
The bag smells like perfume with a whiff of berry behind it, and the reviewers describe it as 'smooth and fruity', much like you'd expect from people who've never tasted blackcurrant-flavored anything before. Put the two together and it doesn't bode well.
- Eastern Shore Tea Co.'s blackcurrant is just flavor-spritzed tea with no petals or mystery bits, so it's already a step ahead. It smells like malty black tea and Ribena. Taste buds puckered, I had a brief flashback and wondered what Mark
's up to these days. Good signs!The Steepening:
Plain cold tap water boiled in the electric kettle and a little hot tap water in the pots to swish off any dust from the tea--a general hazard of dried plant matter rubbing against itself in packaging. Each tea steeped long enough for me to put on coffee for the non-tea drinkers, and each poured mug was sniffed and sipped hot before cream and sugar, for thorough comparisons.
- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant is ridiculously floral, almost like a berry chamomile, with a strange oily mouthfeel. Maybe the base tea is too bright--it's all perfume and no fruit, especially as it cools down. The effect is less a nice blackcurrant tea than it is sipping regular tea out of your great-grandmother's powdered cleavage.
- Eastern Shore's blackcurrant is already gone. I finished the cup before I could write anything down. Dark, malty and tart and perfect for cold mornings and long novels.The Verdict:
Oh, Black Raven, I'll never let you go again.
Meanwhile, a quick trip to Google [turned up a now-defunct link that] confirms that it's not me: the English Tea Store's blackcurrant tea is all wrong. Not just cornflower and sunflower petals, but blackberry (not blackcurrant!) leaves, which are the special ingredient that gives Celestial Seasoning teas its gritty "How do you fuck up herbal
?" astringency, and mallow flowers, which Google proclaims floral and earthy, and which is on the list of ragweed relatives (along with chamomile) for allergy sufferers to avoid--which explains why I had to suck down ibuprofen and sinus meds after breakfast.
And, again, none of these are listed as ingredients on the packaging or the website, but now I've got an inkling why their Earl Grey left me sick as a dog...Update:
The now-defunct link was to a blogger who had requested a full list of ingredients for the tea. The blog's MIA, but the English Tea Store itself now lists ingredients, so that's good.