Teatonics is a very young company, founded just a few months ago, in March 2014, by biochemist Charles Grummit and Spanish translator Rosie Marteau. Inspired by their encounters with tea in South America, Rosie and Charles decided to create Teatonics. Their aim is to blend 'innovative brews that both taste incredible, and do something amazing for you'. In short: 'delicious teas with purpose'.
Now, let's be clear about what we mean by 'tea'. We all know that tea, actual tea, is from the Camellia Sinensis plant. But a whole range of botanical infusions are also marketed under the name of 'tea'. This makes some people cross. I am not one of those people. We all know the difference between Tea and tea, so let's move on...
Teatonics have so far released two special blends, a complementary pair, to refresh and relax: Mind-Awakening Yerba Mate, and Laid-Back Botanicals. Although either tea can be enjoyed at any time, they are marketed primarily as a health tonic best taken as a course, and this is reflected in the pricing and distribution. A one-off box containing a two-week supply of each tea is £14 (including postage), a three-month subscription of 6 boxes drops down to £12.50 per box, and drops down further to £12 per box if you sign up for a rolling subscription. I was asked to do a two-week trial of the 'teatonics effect', and I was interested to see whether these teas could really energise or relax me.
Many of us self-medicate with tea, most of the time without even realising it. We reach for the caffeine as a stimulant - How many of us can't function without our morning cuppa? - and use peppermint for indigestion, chamomile as a relaxation aid, and so on. But a growing number of teas are marketed with rather extreme claims of various health benefits, and over these I like to cast a wary eye. Teatonics don't make any particularly wild claims about their teas, but it would still be nice to see some links to further reading or studies on such claims as 'Better cognition and sharpened focus throughout the day, thanks to the yerba mate plant’s triple stimulation of caffeine, theobromine and theophylline', 'Unique profile of antioxidants, vitamins and micronutrients to boost your immune system' and 'Aid for weight loss: yerba mate activates your metabolism and reduces hunger'. Results don't always speak for themselves, so some evidence would be nice.
Now to the teas themselves...
Let's start with Mind-Awakening Yerba Mate: mate pronounced mat-ay, to rhyme with satay. Yerba mate - Ilex paraguariensis - is a relative of the holly plant, and a popular drink in South America. Mate contains caffeine, but one of its health claims is that its overall chemical composition is such that it will stimulate and energise without creating unwanted physical side-effects such as racing heart and shaking hands. It is commonly brewed in a wooden gourd and sipped through a metal straw. The brew is topped up with hot water throughout the day, so it starts off as rather potent. This has been my sole experience of mate, and I found it rather too strong and bitter for my taste.
Teatonics have created a very difference mate-experience. They've taken a small, measured amount of mate, and put it into a teabag along with grapefruit oil, citrus peel, peppermint and rosehips. The teabag is meant to be brewed only once, and so is far milder than the loose mate I had previously tried. It has a gentle, earthy flavour, sharpened by a dash of citrus. When brewed, the citrus is the scent that rises most strongly from the cup. The recommendation is to brew at 80°C, either by using water that's just off boiling, or by adding a splash of cold, and to leave the bag in for five minutes. I followed these instructions, and was also able to get a second brew from the bag, weaker, but much greener in colour than the first cup. My partner, who is used to drinking mate in the traditional way, found this blend to be rather bland, but as a mate novice I found it to be an ideal introduction. Mind-Awakening Yerba Mate - as the name suggests - has been blended as a morning drink, for 'vitality and focus - without the jitters'. Sadly my trial pack only contained 12 teabags, rather than the 14 it should have, but I don't think this made any difference to the outcome. I can't say that it had any real positive effects on my energy or concentration, but I did find it to be refreshing and uplifting as a morning drink, and I very much enjoyed trying it.
If you want to cold-brew your mate on a hot day, Teatonics suggests the following method: 'Make up a cup of iced water and put one of your teabags in, stir and cover for 5 - 10 minutes until the colour of the water changes noticeably. It tastes really refreshing and the flavour of the mate comes out in a different way... A few mint leaves or crushed raspberries can turn it into a delicious long summer drink.'
Laid-Back Botanicals is a naturally caffeine-free blend of green rooibos, hops, elderflower, chamomile and lavender flowers. This is a soothing blend, recommended to 'aid digestion' and 'for mindfulness and calm at the end of a busy day'. The brewing recommendations are to 'steep for two minutes, with water straight from the kettle'. I should have paid attention. On my first brewing I left the teabag in for around ten minutes, as I would with other herbal and fruit teas. This was a mistake. It created a tea that was overwhelmingly floral, with the bitterness of lavender eclipsing everything else. Try again! On my second attempt I was careful to time how long I left the bag in, and was rewarded with a perfectly balanced tea, with clear but gentle notes of sleepy lavender, very pleasant to drink either hot or cold. Laid-Back Botanicals also stretches to a second brewing, although it isn't as well-balanced in flavour as the first brew. This blend, I think, actually did work for me as an aid to relaxation and restfulness, and I would recommend it as an enjoyable evening wind-down drink.
Overall thoughts? Yes, I liked both teas. They were nicely blended and nicely packaged. I liked my introduction to mate, and I very much enjoyed the lavender blend. I would recommend them for flavour rather than for effect. But at £14 per box - that's £7 per bag, or £1 per day - I think that perhaps they are a little out of my price range, as much as I might want to continue drinking them.
Photographs by Neil White, used with permission of Teatonics.