Modern scientists as well as centuries of Chinese doctors assert tea increases health and vitality and concentration at little cost sleep or nerves. I'm going to try to move back after an extended coffee phase (coffee does disrupt sleep). Coming off a week of cold and fever, anything to increase health and vitality is high on the list. In line with cutting coffee and improving health and still enjoying delicious hot beverages, I bought a bunch of new teas on the weekend while I was out.
The Teas on Trial
Here are three Marks and Spencers teas I tasted:
- Luxury Gold Loose Tea: Exceptional Quality, Fresh from the Tea Garden
- Darjeeling Loose Tea: Premium Grade Large Leaf Teas, Picked in the 2nd Flush for Exceptional Flavour
- Earl Grey Loose Tea: A Traditional Recipe Made Using Slightly Smokey Large Leaf China Teas, Infused with Natural Bergamot Oil
If you're in a hurry, here's the bottom line: Marks and Spencer are abusing England's good reputation as a blender and purveyor of the world's best teas. If you have a bit of time, here are my tasting notes, along with methodology, detailed notes on the teas themselves and some more general related notes on marketing.
- filtered tap water (Brita): normally makes an excellent cup, much better than normal unfiltered hard water
- Ikea Russian glasses
- single mix with silver teaspoon for colour and taste
- water at boiling point (no vile French tea here please: made with hot water, not boiling)
Marks and Spencer tea colour: left to right as packs above -
Luxury Gold Loose Tea, Darjeeling Loose Tea and Earl Grey Loose Tea
Colour and Tasting notes:
Luxury Gold Loose Tea: Exceptional Quality, Fresh from the Tea Garden
Deep red colour. Quite nice to look at. Unfortunately Luxury Gold is not loose tea, it's fannings or tea dust swept up from the floor of some reasonably good tea factory. The taste is round and strong, not too bitter. But you end up drinking a lot of tea sediment (it's dust in that water). It's a lot like Lipton Yellow. Enough so, that it wouldn't surprise me if they are made in the same place with the same tea dust, but with Lipton Yellow bagged and Marks and Spencer shoveled into the "luxury" packaging. Deceitful, horrid marketing. This is not luxury, this is not gold, this is not premium, this is bog standard poor man's tea. Fortunately I bought it at 20% off and can either throw it out or put it into the office rotation and with some luck, we'll drink through it there.
Avoid this tea dust like the plague except for ice tea where it would be quite serviceable, making a strong brew which would mix well with strong lemon flavours: even then be careful to let the tea stand long enough that all the dust and sediment falls to the bottom of the pot and then pour it off very carefully before mixing.
Darjeeling Loose Tea: Premium Grade Large Leaf Teas, Picked in the 2nd Flush for Exceptional Flavour
A nice light orange colour when brewed. You can see the In the hand, it's relatively small twigs and leaves, but there are signs of slightly greener ones mixed in. Significantly heavier than a really good Darjeeling, Marks and Spencer Darjeeling loose tea is closer to a traditional black tea. Second flush turns out to be mature leaves. If you want that really light and gentle Darjeeling taste you need to buy First Flush. So we'll throw away the Darjeeling designation and just judge the tea on its own merit. A little bit smokey, reasonably rich taste but no real after taste. An adequate but forgettable cup. If you are making ice tea without much sugar or lemon, this tea would be wonderful as there's a bit of freshness in there and the flavour is not overpowering.
Apparently, there is 40,000 tonnes of Darjeeling sold every year and just 10,000 produced. Hopefully M&S is not involved.
Earl Grey Loose Tea: A Traditional Recipe Made Using Slightly Smokey Large Leaf China Teas, Infused with Natural Bergamot Oil
Very similar colour to Marks and Spencer Darjeeling when brewed (from same factory - see above), but the leaves don't bush out as much. Significantly less tea flavour: makes a very weak cup. What you can taste is Bergamot. Like every other value Earl Grey I've tried in search of a Twinings Earl Grey replacement, Marks and Spencer Earl Grey tastes like someone poured half a flash of Bergamot oil into your cup, without the fusion of a strong and fine tea with a subtle flavouring. It appears Earl Grey mixers are counting on Bergamot to cover up mediocre tea leaves. That is not how a good Earl Grey blend is made. Just buy Twinings yellow tin if you really must have Earl Grey on a relative budget (it's about three times more expensive, not ten or twenty times) and drink more Ceylon or even Darjeeling when you don't need the Earl Grey flavour. For a real tea lover Earl Grey fatigue sets in soon enough anyway. This tea has nothing to recommend it, as either tea or Earl Grey or even iced tea. If I can find the bill, I'll take it back. Just buy yourself some Bergamot oil, if that's what you want and mix it with hot water.
Marks and Spencer Darjeeling Loose Tea, Luxury Gold Loose Tea ,Earl Grey Loose Tea
(from left to right)
This is a pretty rough ride. Nice packaging, nice marketing, really crappy products. When will companies learn that misrepresenting products just makes consumers/clients angry and less likely to buy your products going forward. There's always some sharp pencil in operations trying to destroy a brand's reputation with a short cut or another.
Marks and Spencer Luxury Gold Tea: oh for heaven's sake Marketing Department,
these are fannings and dust: not "hand picked for this blend" and there's no sign of
"gentle handling, careful selection" or "undamaged leaves"
I think it's because most accountants have little sense of taste or smell or enthusiasm for life. They just rot in their cubby holes making all of our lives more miserable (or easier if you have good ones defending you from the government ones). Like street cleaners, accountants are a necessary evil but when you let them near premium product lines or conversely put your top marketers near value product lines, havoc is sure to ensue.
These Marks and Spencer teas should have been marketed as value teas and not as premium teas. Then those who want to save money and make compromises would be happy. Or the same packaging should have been used on really good teas, dedicating a fanatic clientele and bringing new people into the stores as the word went out among tea connaisseurs about your fabulous teas on the High Street for competitive prices.
Those who know me well will be asking what brings me to a Marks and Spencer. As above, Marks and Spencer has the best French bread in Bratislava (usually I prefer Austrian dark loafs but occasionally I like to remember what it was like to live in Paris and Bordeaux). Marks and Spencer also offer some great value port wine lines.*
I keep expecting Twinings teas to be relatively ordinary, similar to these generic teas. Strangely and marvellously, Twinings quality does remain a notch above. So when I tire of drinking mediocre tea I go back to Twinings Earl Grey or Darjeeling. In Ceylon and dark teas (Prince of Wales Blend, English Breakfast Tea) for instance, the generic tea makers (special mention to Sir William brand in Spar supermarkets in Austria), do just as well.**
* Buy Marks and Spencer's least expensive tawny port: it does not differ much from their most expensive ones. I.e. the least expensive are terrific value on sale and in a six pack (10% more off) and the top end are not great value, you'd be better served trying the labeled brands.
** Curiously a Bulgarian scientific evaluation of Twinings tea came to similar conclusions: Twinings Earl Grey is steller and so is their Gunpowder Green Tea. Twinings heavily flavoured teas dip in quality.