Saturday, 21 January 2017

Teatourist



The Concept

Teatourist is a monthly subscription service for tea. The concept is simple: sign up to get 'surprise selections of loose leaf teas from some of the hottest artisan tea companies' delivered to your door, once a month. These teas are selected from specialist tea companies - people who know one end of a tea leaf from the other - and are brands that you won't find in the shops. 

But Teatourist - a brand new venture - style themselves as far more than just suppliers of tea. They see themselves as the doorway to a tea adventure, your conduit to a voyage of tea discovery. On signing up you become a tea tourist, ready to experience teas from across the world. Their lingo, (passport, adventure, exciting, discovery), and their hot air balloon logo and promotional pictures, all speak to the romantic vision of the explorer, and the thrill of discovering something new.

This is an appealing concept for a tea enthusiast, if perhaps rather grander and requiring of an imaginative leap, than the reality of receiving a box of tea in the post. However, Teatourist have kindly sent me some of their tea to review, so I'm happy to buy into the idea and see where it takes me.



The Boxes 

The boxes, when they arrive, look exciting. The outer sleeve slides back to reveal a slim box containing 6 perfectly packaged teas.

Each tea is presented in a clear plastic packet, firmly sealed for freshness, with not even a hint of scent escaping. Each resealable packet is attached to a helpful information card that details the type of tea, its characteristics, ingredients, notes on potential allergens, serving size, and a little background on the company that supplies it. On the other side of the card is a detailed brewing guide: cup size, amount of tea to use, water temperature, and how long to steep for. And then there is a space for you to review your experience with comments and a rating out of 5.

The amount of each tea supplied - 3 or 4 cup's worth - is just about right; enough to give it a fair trial, or share with friends, but not so much that if you hate it you're stuck with it. If you love it you can buy more from the individual tea companies, and if you don't then you haven't wasted money on a whole bag. It also avoids stockpiling tea merely to try it out once or twice.

Teatourist say that subscription (currently UK only) is flexible, runs month to month, and can be cancelled or paused at any time. So you could sign up for just one box and see if you like it. Subscription costs £14.95 per month for 6 types of tea, which works out at just over £2.49 per pack. This initially seemed like a lot to me, looking at the amount of tea in each pack. However, at 3 or 4 cups per pack - let's say one large pot - that's comparable to what you'd pay in a proper, well-stocked tearoom. And if you don't have a local tearoom to frequent, then this could be a nice alternative. (Update, March 2017: Teatourist have now re-jigged their prices. A one-off box or a month-to-month rolling subscription is now £15, a 3-month subscription is £40, or a 6-month subscription is £72.)

Delivery is in a 'letterbox size' package, which means you won't have to chase around after your tea if you're out when the post arrives.

So far it all looks great, but the real test is in the tasting of the tea, so let's get down to business.



Reviewing the Teas

Since each pack makes 3 or 4 cups, I decided to share my tea exploration with family and friends. So, tasting and reviewing here we have:

Me - tea enthusiast, enjoys a wide variety of teas and tisanes.
D - dislikes most black tea, drinks a lot of herbal and green.
A - not really that into tea, but happy to try whatever is served.
M - generally drinks black tea, not a fan of herbal or green.
 
Not everyone tried each tea, but they all participated on this tea adventure, and I've included their comments and ratings along with my own. 

I stuck strictly to the suggested 8oz per cup serving size in order to get the correct strength of brew. However I don't currently have a tea thermometer or variable temperature kettle, so I had to estimate when the water was at the correct temperature for each tea. (Update: After testing the first box I got myself a tea thermometer and checked the temperature before brewing!)


Tea Boxes November - February

Marzipan Rooibos by Hoogly Tea
Rooibos, almond pieces, mallow flowers, vanilla pieces, flavour. 
This tea has a strong marzipan scent, and only a slightly less marzipan taste. Less watery than I was expecting, and fuller bodied. I would try for a slightly stronger brew by steeping for a little longer than suggested, or perhaps adding some extra tea. But overall this was a lovely tea, and one to savour. Perfect for a wintery day. I'd buy this again. 4/5

"Warm, tasty and comforting. 4/5" - D
 
"Quite watery, not very marzipany. Could be tastier, with more flavour" - A, who isn't really a fan of tea or marzipan, but still gave it 4/5

"Tastes like Christmas cake! 5/5" - M 

Peppermint by Cheshire Tea
I was initially sceptical about the inclusion of peppermint in an artisan tea selection box. It's so ubiquitous and - forgive me! - dull, that I wondered what it was doing here. However, this is not the usual weak toothpaste water that I have come to expect when someone serves me peppermint tea. This premium peppermint is incredibly intense and full of flavour, brewing the type of tea that leaves your tongue tingling. I'm not usually a big fan of peppermint but this was flavoursome enough to change my mind. I gave it a 5/5. 

"Loose leaf, so tastes fresher and stronger than teabags. 5/5" - D, who drinks a lot of peppermint tea.

"4/5" - A


Yoga Tea by T-Tox
Chinese white tea, with ginger, lemongrass, rose petals and nettle. 
This is a very subtly flavoured tea, and one that needs to be sipped slowly to be fully appreciated. I'd suggest finding a quiet place to drink, contemplate, and let the flavours roll over you. 3/5

"Flowery and pleasant. 3/5" - D

Gingerbread Chai by Tugboat Brews
Rooibos, vanilla, ginger, cinammon, natural flavouring.
I had the wrong expectations of this tea. I know that chai just means tea, but it has become synonymous with, and shorthand for 'spiced chai'. So when I see 'chai' I tend to expect something with a bit of a kick. This led me - wrongly - to at first assess this tea as rather underwhelming. Once I was reminded that it was supposed to be gingerbread chai it made a lot more sense to my tastebuds. However, even sticking strictly to the brewing instructions I still found it rather too weak, like a second steeping, and if I had it again would try putting an extra spoonful or two in the pot. I think the addition of sugar or honey, as suggested in the serving instructions, might make the difference here in bringing out a fuller flavour, but I can't tolerate sugar so couldn't test this out. The info card suggests making it into a Gingerbread Latte, or, in other words, heating the tea mixture with milk, as is traditional when making spiced chai. I'm not sure that I would buy this tea again, but I might experiment with making my own mixture. Mild and pleasant. 3/5

"Smooth and mild. 3/5" - D 

"This tastes like when Dave made us go see Avatar. 2/5" - A, helpful as ever

Shiraore Green by Momo Cha Fine Teas
This is a very pretty looking tea, bright green and inviting. The info card describes it as 'grassy and fresh but creamy', but it didn't go down too well here. I tend to drink a small amount of loose-leaf green tea, and D drinks quite a lot of bagged green, but this didn't really suit either of us. Now - for transparency - I have to say again that I don't currently have a tea thermometer, so I had to guesstimate the right temperature, and this might have made a difference to the taste. We all found it to have a very strong smell, earthy with a hint of - oh dear! - rotting vegetable, and this was slightly off-putting. D and A didn't couldn't finish their cups and it got some rather harsh remarks. For me, the flavour was earthy and grassy - definitely intense but really too strong for my taste. I liked it better on its second steeping, and I imagine that the third will be even better. If I had it again I'd reduce the amount of tea used in each pot.

Citrus Ginger by Lulin Teas
Herbal tisane. Lemongrass, lemon zest, orange zest, ginger pieces.
A pleasant tea, but I felt that the lemongrass overpowered the other ingredients. Which, actually, I don't really mind, as I rather like lemon. Smooth, and doesn't have that bitter aftertaste I've found many citrus teas have. 3/5.

"Warming and lovely ginger taste, without being too strong. Don't usually like citrus but it's subtle enough for me. 4/5" - D

"Can I rate it in halves? 4½/5" - A
 
Winter Spice by Chash the Fine Tea Company
Apple, chamomile, orange, aniseed, lime blossom, rosehip, ginger, elderberries, sage leaf, cinammon, fennel, cardamom. This is an incredibly well-balanced tea, and full of the complex flavours that I have come to expect from Chash. Take your time to savour the many different notes as the tea rolls over your tongue. I would definitely buy this again. 5/5.

"Warming spices, unusual taste. Would be nice to drink by the fire on a cold day. 5/5" - D

Reggae Refresh by Born Wild Tea
Apple, papaya, mango, lemongrass, ginger, banana chips, goji berries, lavender.
Fruit teas so often smell amazing and then are a sore disappointment on actual brewing. But not this one. This one makes good on its promises. Reggae Refresh is a complex blend of tropical flavours, at first sharp and zingy and then soft with a sweet edge. Absolutely refreshing and a total tongue tingler! 4/5

"Fruity and slightly sweet, pleasant taste. Not usually keen on fruity teas but this is nice. " - D

Tummy Rub by Tea Box
Peppermint, liquorice, chamomile, fennel.
This is a beautifully balanced tea, especially surprising since it only contains four ingredients. Brewed lightly, the chamomile comes through strongly; brewed a little longer the liquorice comes to the forefront. Fragrant and fresh! 5/5

"Reminds me of a peppermint and liquorice tea that I often drink, but stronger and more flavours. Really nice. 5/5" - D

Malawi Peony by Baraka Teas
White tea from Malawi. The info card describes this as 'delicate' with 'sweet buttery notes' and 'peach and apricot flavours'. I found it to be a very pleasant and mild tea, but sadly far too subtle for me. I'm not particularly familiar with white tea, and the flavours escaped me.  3/5

"Mild. Couldn't taste the fruit notes mentioned." - D 


Gunpowder Tea by Morgan's Brew Tea Company
Green tea. This was pleasant enough; a standard gunpowder green tea. 3/5

"Smoky taste. Strong green tea. 4/5" - D 



Japanese Kukicha by Shibui Tea
This is an interesting looking tea, consisting of lots of little brown sticks, and is 'made from the branches and stems of the plant'. It's described as 'nutty, smoky' and 'midway between a green tea and an oolong'. I really liked it. It was rich and malty, with an almost coffee-like flavour. I'd definitely drink this again. 4/5

Pure Ceylon by Exclusivitea
A light and fragrant Ceylon, great for an everyday cuppa. 3/5

Rooibos Earl Grey by Tea Leaf London
This immediately struck me as an interesting tea, and 'a modern twist on a British classic', as the info card says. And - it certainly was an interesting taste! I'm not sure that I liked it. Without the strength of black tea to balance it out it tasted almost medicinal. If you can't drink black tea, or want to switch to rooibos for its caffeine-free benefits then give this a go, but I think I'll stick to classic Earl Grey.

Scotch Acorns by Nothing But Tea
Ingredients include: black Ceylon tea, cocoa kernels, cinnamon, carob, coconut, almonds, cardamon, macadamia nuts, vanilla, scotch whisky 1%, oak wood extract 0.5%. This is a tea that you can smell when you walk into the room, and one that I'd been itching to try. The strongest flavour that came through for me was chocolate, with hints of vanilla and definitely some whisky too. My second cup, brewed for longer, tasted far more of whisky. A really unusual mixture, enjoyable for its taste as well as its novelty value! 4/5
 
"5/5. I don't know what you could have it do better other than sing to you. What type of whisky is it?" - A

Brockley Breakfast by Good & Proper Tea Co.
Strong! Which is just what I like in a Breakfast tea. The flavours of each tea come through: the strength of Kenyan, slightly malty notes from the Assam, the smoothness of Ceylon, and a lift from the Darjeeling. You can smell that this will be a good cup of tea! 4/5.

Orange Blossom Oolong by Easy Teasy
I LOVED this! Smooth and floral, without the harshness often found with citrus teas. Delicious! 5/5

"4/5. Nice and orangey!" - D

Ben Shan Oolong by Tea in the City
This is just beautiful. It doesn't look particularly exciting, but if you let it, it will take you on an adventure. Breathe in the floral fragrance as you add water to the leaves.Take a moment of reflection, gazing into the golden liquid in your cup. Taste the smoothness and fullness on your tongue, and appreciate the fresh nutty taste. If you have a glass teapot, you can even watch the leaves unfurl as your tea brews. This is a tea to savour and slow down with. Top notch. 5/5.


Recover Tea by Blendology
Nettle leaf, peppermint leaf, burdock root, dandelion root, artichoke leaf.
As you might guess by its name, this is an infusion created to be 'the perfect detox and hangover remedy'. I'm reviewing it based solely on flavour, but I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not. It's strong and bitter, and possibly something of an acquired taste, but it would be very easy to believe it was doing you good. If you want something strong, green, and caffeine-free, then this might be for you.

Black Tea & Dandelion by Oteas
This is another tea created to be a 'detox brew'. I don't buy it. Taste-wise, this is just... wrong. I tried it with and without milk, and both ways were equally as bad. This can be an issue when a tea is blended primarily for the 'detox' market. The priority often becomes the perceived benefit of the tea, rather than the overall flavour. Maybe the dandelion was supposed to be a lifting flavour, but it widely misses the mark, only adding a bitter aftertaste to the black tea. Sorry Oteas - I just can't recommend this blend.


Matcha Green Tea by Teaologists
This is actually my first experience with Matcha. The little tin of green powder is enough for 4 cups of tea, so I had the opportunity to work on my brewing technique, which involves whisking for best results. A smooth and verdant brew, it has an interesting taste, extremely earthy, and I detected a slight bitter aftertaste despite using the correct temperature of water. I enjoyed it more with milk - my usual sweetened-soya turning it into a Matcha Latte - and this took off the bitter edge. It wasn't something that immediately appealed to me - I think it may be something of an acquired taste - but I'd try it again. No strong feelings either way, but pleased to have tried something new!

Blend No 45 by Edgcumbes Tea Blenders
Orthodox Assam, Darjeeling, Keemun, Lapsang Souchong.
A heady blend! A strong and smoky brew, with malty undertones. Best served without milk. The info card suggests adding 'a pinch to your favourite daily black tea', and I think this would go down really well, giving life to basic black tea. 3/5.

Gunpowder Tea by The UK Loose Leaf Tea Company
This is the second Gunpowder that Teatourist have included in their boxes. It's not a favourite of mine, and so not something I feel particularly qualified to compare and contrast, but this seemed to be another standard pleasant brew.


Cherry Sencha by Cheshire Tea
Sencha green tea, rose petals, natural cherry flavour.
Cherry sencha is one of my all-time favourites, so I was rather excited to see this included in my box of tea. The alluring spring-like fragrance is released as soon as the bag is opened, and the pretty leaves brew up into a pale yellow tea with a light and lifting flavour. The sweetness is very subtle, and personally I'd like a few actual dried cherries in the blend, to lift it a little further. But overall this is another winner from Cheshire Tea, a refreshing cup of relaxation and elegance. 4/5.

"Smells amazing! Cherry taste, but not sweet." - D

"Cherry-fic!" - A



Tea Box March

Turmeric Root Chai by Chai Kai Tea Co.
Chinese green tea, turmeric, ginger, cinammon, black peppercorns, Taiwanese Oolong, coconut flakes, calendula petals, sunflower petals, flavouring.
An unusual chai, based around green tea rather than black. Delicate and lightly warming, with spicy-sweet hints. A gentle tang on the tongue! 3/5.

"Gorgeous, unusual taste. 5/5." - D (who kept the rest of the pot and subsequent re-steeps all to herself!)

Honey Lemon Morning Blend by Teagime
Rooibos, bee pollen, lemongrass, elderflower, elderberrry, liquorice root.
This is scented morning sunlight, sweet to breathe in and sweet to the taste, with different kinds of sweetness coming through with each sip. Pleasing. 3/5.

"Soothing. Liked it. 4/5." - A

"Strong taste, with a sweetness. 4/5." - D

"Creamy. Taste lingers - in a good way. 4/5." - Guest taster DL.

Mulled Apple Brandy by Nothing But Tea
It might be called mulled brandy, but for me this is more mulled cider. The white tea gives body to the apple and almost overwhelming cinnamon flavour. This is a great warming brew, and I wonder if it might also be nice as iced-tea, or cold-brewed, on a hot summer day. 4/5.


Rose and Strawberry Red Bush by Spice Kitchen
Rooibos, thistle petals, rose petals, blackberry leaves, strawberries.
With each sip I can taste the strawberry, with hints of rose, against the background of the redbush. Rather like Turkish delight, but also makes me think of marzipan. This is a pleasant tea, but rather watery and without much body to it. If I had it again I would brew it for much longer than the recommended three minutes, and see what happens. 3/5.

Wilderness Honeybush by Leopard Friendly
Honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) isn't something I had heard of before. The internet tells me that it is a South African-grown plant, so named because its flowers have a honey-like scent to them, and that the taste of the tea is supposed to be similar to rooibos but with a natural sweetness. If I had it again I'd brew it stronger and longer than suggested on the info card, but I found it to be a pleasant tea, sweet and subtle. I haven't so far focused on the tea companies in these short reviews, but I feel I should mention Leopard Friendly. A proportion of their sales go towards funding conservation projects for the endangered Cape Leopard. A worthy cause and an interesting company concept. 

Chocolate Orange by Nelson and Norfolk Tea Co.
Black tea, cacao beans, cacao nibs, cocoa shells, chocolate chips, apple pieces, orange blosson, rosehip, hibiscus, orange peel.
I've tried a few chocolate teas in my time, and often been disappointed. But this - this is a full-on chocolate experience in tea form! Look at that ingredient list - could they cram any more chocolatey bits in there? I think not! I tried this tea with and without milk, and it was good both ways. I didn't get the orange coming through at all, but my other tea-adventurers said that they were getting hints of orange. I wonder if brewing for a slightly longer or shorter time might make the difference, finding the precise brew point where the orange oil comes through most strongly. This was a big hit, and I would definitely drink this again. 5/5.

"Nice flavour with chocolate hints. 4/4." - D

"I think this is my favourite tea yet." - A



Thoughts and Suggestions

I've heard of at least two of the companies whose tea has been included, and I'm familiar with one of them as providing top-notch blends, but the others are new to me. I'm still working my way through the teas that I've been sent, but overall, so far, I am impressed with their variety and quality. However, I do wonder about the balance of contents, and what kind of tea enthusiast the company will ultimately appeal to. My main interest is in black tea, but only 2 of the 18 types of tea sent out so far are black: one a pure Ceylon, and one a blended and flavoured tea. And a full half of the teas supplied aren't actually Tea (as in Camellia Sinensis), but are actually fruit, herbal, or rooibos tisanes. Overall the three boxes contained: 2 White teas; 3 Green and 1 Matcha Green; 5 Herbal; 1 Oolong; 2 Black; 1 Fruit; and 3 Rooibos. Obviously it's impossible to please everyone, but perhaps Teatourist could look at a more balanced box in terms of content. Or how about an occasional 'theme' box: all flavoured black tea, or all herbal, promoted in advance? (Update: subsequent boxes contained more black teas, and, I would say, an overall better selection.)

I do have a quibble over definition. Teatourist say that they supply 'loose leaf teas', and yet the second box that I received contained teabags. Now, I have nothing against teabags, but I'm getting rather tired of seeing companies market their teabags as containing loose leaf tea. How is it possible to sell loose leaf tea in a bag? Have I somehow seriously misunderstood the concept of loose leaf tea? Surely loose leaf is just that: loose, and therefore not in a teabag, or a tea envelope or any other variation thereon. I wonder if what is meant by companies that market their teabags as containing 'loose leaf' is that they are full leaf, or whole leaf - something that many quality loose leaf teas are. But these terms as not interchangeable. Tea cannot be both 'loose' and bagged at the same time. Bagged teas (caged teas?) cannot be loose-leaf. In this case the teabags are from Hoogly Tea, who say that they are 'tea bags with loose tea inside'. Don't all teabags have loose tea inside? Aren't we all naked, under our clothes? Please, tea companies, stop confusing people and just say what you are actually selling.


I've mentioned the information cards already, and I was impressed with these. They contain everything you need to know, and it was really fun to review and rate each tea with family and friends. They're also useful to keep for reference, to know what to buy again (or avoid!). However, the third box that I received had different  info cards. The space to add your own review notes is gone, and replaced with a pointlessly large pictorial 'tea profile'. This details whether the tea is high, medium, low, or no caffeine. It lists the country or countries that the tea is from. And it adds a big check mark, or tick, and a ridiculous one word note, presumably pointing out - spuriously - what the tea is good for. Matcha? Health. Herbal? Detox. Rooibos? Diet. Come on Teatourist, don't buy into this pseudo-scientific rubbish. I'm happy to know where the tea is from, and how much caffeine it contains. This is interesting and useful, as is the extra info on how best to prepare the tea. But no one needs to know the supposedly magical properties of each tea, so please, stick with the facts! If your concept is a tea adventure then I'd rather hear more about where the tea comes from, its grading, who picks it, how it gets here, and so on. Or just put back the space for comments: it was a really fun part of the tea experience. Clearly this is something that needs a tweak. 

As of March 2017, Teatourist are offering various discount codes for you to buy direct from the companies whose tea they include in their boxes, so that you can explore further, or just drink more of what you love. This is a nice little extra, and I would imagine good for everyone involved.
 
I did find myself wondering if Teatourist has an ethical or environmental policy, about the teas that they supply, or the packaging that they use. Are the tea pouches recyclable? The card boxes are, and maybe they could have a logo on them, indicating this. Could Teatourist look for Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance Certified teas, and specifically include them in its boxes? I'm all for ethical tourism, even if I'm an armchair tourist, and I know I'm not the only one.

So, to sum up:
Nice concept. I've really enjoyed trying such a wide variety of teas, and I like the idea of being surprised by teas that I might not ordinarily have bought. On balance, good value for money, although might not be for you if you just want Tea rather than tea. The design and content could do with a few tweaks.


Discount
Teatourist have given me a special discount code for 30% off your first box when you start a monthly subscription. If you like what you've read here and want to give the tea adventure a try, just remove the default discount at the checkout and apply the code FOXGLOVE30.
I don't get commision for this, it's just a treat for you.

If you've already tried a Teatourist box, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.