In the second of my Twinings free tea tasting posts I would like to introduce that stalwart of British tea culture: English Breakfast.
English Breakfast is a blended tea, the contents usually being some mixture of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas, and it became a popular brew in the 1800s.
Whereas our present Queen is said to favour the Earl (Grey) in her teacup, her great great grandmother, Queen Victoria, was more of an English Breakfast kind of gal. Here she is having just been offered a nice cup of tea:
Amongst my free samples, I was sent a box of Twinings English Breakfast leaf tea and a box of Twinings organic English Breakfast teabag tea:
My delightful assistants were on hand to assist me in the tasting.
I was interested to see if they could a) taste a difference between the two teas, and b) identify which was which.
I brewed the two teas in two different teapots, in great secrecy, and then presented each pot with its own set of teacups. (This was mostly in order to avoid me getting confused about which tea was in which cup):
In the green teapot corner we had one type of tea, and in the white another, but which was which?
Both assistants tasted their teas and made comments.
Delightful assistant no.1 declared that the white corner seemed more flavourful than the green, although she added that she could discern very little difference between the two. On being asked which she preferred, she said she would be happy with either, since they seemed to her to be virtually identical.
Delightful assistant no.2 made written notes regarding his thoughts on the subject, as illustrated below. (The little shepherd fellow is a clay pen holder my brother Donald made at school many years ago.)
When I quizzed him about his tea notes he said: “If I was having it [tea] as the liquid accompaniment to a meal, for example a spicy soup, I would like this one [the white teapot tea], but if the tea was on its own, particularly if there was a window open and a draught blowing, I would go for that one [the green teapot tea]“.
Elaborating on the open window, he explained that he considered the second tea to be an outdoorsy sort of brew. As he wrote in his notes, he found it to have “outdoor picnic overtones”, whereas the first tea was more of “an indoor tea”.
Although delightful assistant no.1 tasted virtually no difference between the teas, delightful assistant no.2 noticed a considerable difference. Delightful assistant no.1 claimed that this dulling of her taste buds was due to an affliction with catarrh, and certainly delightful assistant no.2 had no such problem, quite the reverse; I don’t think I have ever met a chap who went in for such frequent bouts of sneezing.
In terms of which tea was which, not surprisingly delightful assistant no.1 declared that she couldn’t tell the leaf tea from the organic teabag variety. Delightful assistant no.2, on the other hand, had a stab at the stuff in the green teapot (“outdoor tea”) being the leaf tea, and the stuff in the white being that of the teabag.
He was quite right.
Since I made the tea myself, I knew which tea was in which pot, but I did notice that the leaf tea seemed to have a stronger, fuller flavour and was the more robust of the two.
Mind you, since I generally expect leaf tea to have a fuller flavour, was I predisposed to think that? On first tasting, I was more impressed by the leaf tea, but while drinking from both cups at random rather absentmindedly, it was the organic teabag tea I finished first.
This might have been due to the tea, or perhaps due to the teacup. I used a more delicate teacup for the teabag tea, and that might have had a bearing on which tea I gravitated towards. I appreciate that I have not conducted this experiment as scientifically as I should have done, but I’m happy to report that we all enjoyed both the teabag and leaf versions of Twinings English Breakfast tea.
The big question remaining is, of course, which would I serve to visiting royalty?
Well, it would depend on which royals were dropping in.
If HM Queen Elizabeth II (of England, but I of Scotland) popped in for a brew, naturally I would offer her some Earl Grey.
But if, for example, King Harald V of Norway turned up, I think I’d crack open the English Breakfast teabags. I sat a couple of rows behind him once on a flight from Aberdeen to Bergen, and he struck me as a down-to-earth, teabag-in-a-mug sort of monarch.
If they both happened to call in at the same time, and brought Prince Philip with them, I think I’d go the whole hog and get the leaf tea out too.
I have the distinct impression that the Duke of Edinburgh would appreciate a robust outdoors sort of tea, the kind you might slip into your hip flask with a tot of whisky.
Incidentally, anyone who read my previous post might recall that there was a rogue apostrophe on the Yunnan tea package I was sent. As far as I could tell, the organic English Breakfast tea box was in tip-top condition from a proofreading point of view, but I did notice a spelling mistake on the loose leaf English Breakfast.
Not that I’m exempt from making such mistakes myself – far from it – but in case they feel in need of assistance, I have written to Twinings to offer my services as a proofreader.