Twinings English Breakfast: organic teabag or loose leaf?

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:

447px-Her_Majesty's_Gracious_Smile_by_Charles_Knight

“A cup of English Breakfast? One should say so! What a jolly day this is turning into.”

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?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

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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.

harald-prince-philip-and-the-queen

King Harald V of Norway, Prince Philip, and Queen Elizabeth delighted to inspect the range of tea options on offer at Chez Lorna.

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.

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Categories: HM The Queen, Leaf tea, Organic, Photography, Tea, Tea tasting, Teacup, Teapot, Whisky | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

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52 thoughts on “Twinings English Breakfast: organic teabag or loose leaf?

  1. katiewritesagain

    Lorna,
    I myself get loose tea when I can for two reasons” flavor, and less waste. I do everything I can, in my small way, to lesson my impact on the environment. It also lessons the impact on my pocketbook. I don’t produce nearly so much garbage because I don’t buy processed foods, and I spend much less money.

    Loose tea does seem, to me anyway, to be more flavorful. Maybe because it isn’t constricted…like people are so much happier when they aren’t wearing constrictive clothing. An odd thought, maybe, but a thought.

    I think it would be lovely if the royals dropped in for tea. I imagine the conversation would be as refreshing as the tea!

    • That’s an interesting angle on it, using leaf tea to reduce waste. I compost all teabags and tea, but there’s no denying that a considerable amount of paper must go into teabags. On the other hand, this English Breakfast leaf tea comes in a cardboard box with a plastic packet inside, whereas the teabags come only in cardboard, with no plastic. Which is better, I wonder, a small plastic bag that’s difficult to recycle, or quite a bit of paper that composts? Hard to say, I would assume the paper is the more environmental option but then trees are being chopped down for that aren’t they, so maybe not?

      Another interesting thought about the free-flowing leaf tea and the non-restrictive clothing – you’ve certainly offered me a new perspective!

      I have no idea what we’d talk about if the royals dropped in for tea. I hope they’d be interested in talking about tea, but maybe it’s not of particular interest to them. I’d have a bash at the topic all the same though.

  2. I loved this one, especially your captions on the photos! Rogue apostrophes and spelling errors on packaging are one of my pet peeves. I’d like to take a red pen, correct it for them, and send it back. But, free tea is free tea :)

    As far as loose vs bagged tea, I feel the same way. I always wonder if it’s marketing at work when I feel one is more robust than the other. I also really appreciated your thoughts on Earl Grey & English Breakfast, as both are favorites.

    • Thank you kindly. I do get a bit irate about punctuation and spelling mistakes but unfortunately I know that I make the same errors myself, which is somewhat irritating.

      It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on with tea in teabags, is it the same as leaf tea, or is there some difference in the processing that destroys some of the flavour? I have tried ripping open teabags in the past, and what’s inside often looks more powdery than leaf tea, but I don’t know why that is. A cynic would say it’s due to the sawdust mixed in with the tea, but I don’t quite believe that. It remains a mystery to me.

  3. I congratulate you on your scientific methods, Lorna, and on your attention to the inevitable variables. It seems that you were raised by some very discerning tea drinkers, which makes your fascination with tea quite understandable.
    And for what it’s* worth, I truly believe that the British Royalty could do no better than to take afternoon tea at Chez Lorna.

    *properly punctuated

    • Thank you Robin, I think my delightful assistants would agree that tea is a very important part of family life. Most kind of you to recommend that the British royals would do well to take tea with me. If any of them arrived on the doorstep gasping for a cuppa, I would of course invite them in and put the kettle on post haste. Your correct punctuation is noted and appreciated.

  4. What a delightfully light-hearted post, it had me smiling throughout :-)
    I love my tea but I’m afraid the good old teabag has to do most of the time. I like the loose variety but it is a bit of a mess cleaning up afterwards. I am guessing that a lot of what goes into teabags is perhaps not best quality, hence perhaps the powdery appearance.

    • Thank you! There’s nowt wrong with a good old teabag and, as you say, it certainly makes brewing tea a less messy business. My way of clearing out tea leaves is to put some cold water onto the leaves when the tea’s been drunk, swirl the mixture around in the pot so that the leaves are floating in a sort of whirlpool and then lob the lot out with gusto on the garden. It makes clearing out the leaves considerably more pleasurable than scraping them out with a spoon, and it’s good for the garden, to boot.

  5. You enhanced my morning cup of tea immensely with this post. By the way, I am having a lovely loose leaf English Breakfast tea (with milk) as I write this comment. It’s (apostrophe intended :-) ) as if I were having tea “with” you. I loved your scientific method for tasting too — and the seriousness of your assistants is admirable.

    • How wonderful, thank you Linda! I like to think I’m sharing my repasts with my fellow bloggers, both when I post about them and also when I’m actually having them. Whenever I whip out my camera, I’m thinking about taking shots that might end up on here. My assistants are delighted to hear that you admire their seriousness. I am, of course, biased but I think they’re pretty splendid individuals.

  6. I like your cups, especially the ones with butterflies and daisies. I like how you take tea-drinking seriously and don’t just plop a tea bag in some random cup, as I am wont to do. sad, I know. I will have to work on that. I do find tea leaves to generally have a more robust flavour, almost as if they are less processed. I am no tea expert but I am appreciating your series on the Twinings. Awaiting your next installment. Thanks, Lorna!

    • Thank you Alison, those teacups belong to my delightful assistants, who have a large collection of that china. The other ones are some I picked up in a second hand shop for a snip. I’m not always so intense about my tea drinking, I’d be worn out if I was given the amount of tea I drink, but sometimes it’s nice to concentrate a little and give some serious consideration to the beverage in hand. I’m no tea expert either, just a gal who likes a nice cup of tea. :-)

  7. You certainly went to a great deal of trouble to ensure a genuine testing of the teas. I think my tea tasting would be a bit like my wine tasting. If I enjoy it then it is a great wine. I have difficulty is telling whether it is fruity or peppery or hints of blackcurrant etc. As to whether I could tell what grape variety, well you have completely lost me there!
    I enjoy my tea and I know when I taste one I don’t like but other than that I would be no good as one of your assistants. :-)

    • I like your style Heather, no messing. Knowing what you like is the important part after all, isn’t it? Personally, I think you’d be an excellent assistant, feet on the ground and no nonsense. :-)

  8. I need to re-read this as I’m only just up, but thank-you for the laughs so far :) Your photo captions have been cracking me up. I’m also impressed by your father’s comments. So precise. Lovely reading.

    • Thank you for such generous comments, I struck very lucky with the photos when I did a Google search for them. My father is certainly a fellow who enjoys attention to detail and he’ll be chuffed with your assessment.

  9. Very interesting post Lorna! I missed your previous post . I will go check up on that next. I will try the Twinings this week. I may have tasted it but don’t remember. Great write up as usual!

    • Thank you Aparna, I’d love to know what you think of your Twinings tea. When I was putting this tea away in the cupboard I found some boxes of Twinings at the back, hiding away, that I’d forgotten about. They certainly provide me with a large proportion of my tea.

  10. Oh Lorna, you make me laugh. And your delightful assistants, as well. I love the notes and the explanations of the subtle differences!

    I have to say that as my usual tea is loose (Yorkshire, to be precise) I find tea bags not generally strong enough for my liking. But I don’t think I have the trained palate of your assistant no. 2!

    • Thank you Christine, and may I commend you on your excellent taste in tea. That Yorkshire brew is marvellous. Is it the regular red packet you have, or the gold one? I’ve tried both and I don’t honestly see the reason for the difference in price. Strangely enough, I prefer the cheaper red pack to the gold, but perhaps I need to taste again. Maybe I could ask them to send me free samples to compare. Have you tried the Twinings Assam tea in a teabag? I also like strong tea and I find their Assam most satisfying, although I respect your decision to stick to loose leaf.

      • You’ve hit on one of the great mysteries of the world of tea here – what IS the difference between the red and the gold Yorkshire loose tea packets? My husband says he thinks the gold is slightly finer, and that he usually gets it “because he’s a snob” (quoting him). But he also has noticed that sometimes the gold is cheaper than the red. I myself was puzzling over it all just last week in the supermarket. Do let me know if you get any closer to sorting it all out. Or maybe it’s one of these things that our limited human minds will never fully comprehend.

        I haven’t tried Assam tea in a long time, but remember enjoying it. When we lived in the States in the 1980s, we would come back from England with suitcases nearly full of the black packets of loose Twinings tea, including the Assam. They were unobtainable in most places in the States back then. Nowadays I’m sure you could get Twinings there.

        We’ve become very dull in comparison these days and don’t have a huge range of black teas. Perhaps I should try the Assam tea bags.

        Oh and you should definitely get Yorkshire to sponsor a taste test on your blog!

        • How interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the gold one cheaper than the red. Perhaps a communication with the Yorkshire tea bods is in order, to get the low down on just what the difference is. Some freebies for tasting would be jolly nice, too. Suitcases full of tea sound like my kind of luggage! :-)

  11. What a delightful experiment! Do you think the fact that one was organic and one not, made a difference? I love the detail assistant #2 put into his findings. I see an engineer perhaps in the makings. (Or maybe a scientist!)

    • Thank you Darlene, you’ve mentioned something that I was curious about myself, viz. does the fact that one is organic lead to any difference in taste? I would really need to compare a packet of organic teabag and ordinary teabag to find out, I suppose. From this tasting, I couldn’t be sure. You’re bang on with your ideas about delightful assistant no.2, he is a trained scientist, with an active interest in engineering. I greatly admire his methodical approach, although I fear I usually fall short of it myself. Still, he is an inspiration and a jolly helpful assistant.

  12. One of these days I am going to kidnap your two delightful assistants, I love them so much. Assistant number two deserves to be knighted for such a wise and important sounding report in that beautifully gracious handwriting you don’t see anymore. It shows his acute clarity of mind. I am reblogging this very wise post of yours, if you don’t mind. Earlier this year I was in India and met with several tea tasters and got the real scoop on tea tasting. Working on a post…

    • Your comment made me laugh out loud Shona! Thank you for the reblog, most kind. The delightful assistants were quaking in their slippers at the prospect of being kidnapped, but I’ve reassured them that if you did nab them they’d be well treated and supplied with a steady stream of tasty tea, so that’s calmed their fears somewhat. Delightful assistant no.2 is chuffed to bits that you think he deserves a knighthood, and is already practising his bowing in readiness. Delightful assistant no.1 has been practising her curtseying as well, just in case any royals drop by for tea. I think they’re going to be a bit disappointed if they don’t get a royal visitor soon, but perhaps I can arrange for some minor royals if I can’t get the Queen herself.

  13. Reblogged this on Tea Buddy and commented:
    A lovely post from my tea blogging buddy Lorna. I just love her quirky insights!

  14. You must have the only photograph of VR with a smile :-).

    When EIIR drops by for tea do you serve it in a mug or a cup? Which does she really prefer when there are no cameras? I reckon when’s just back from a hard days shooting on the grouse moor she would go for a pint mug of builders tea.

    • Isn’t it marvellous, VR with a smile? She ought to have smiled for the camera more often, I’d say. She looks lovely, just the sort of monarch you’d like to invite in to tea.

      As for the Queen’s taste in china, I suppose that’s open to speculation, but I do like the idea of her swilling builder’s tea from a pint mug after a day’s shooting. She drives a Range Rover in wellies, so anything’s possible.

  15. One hopes that ones MBE will be but a formality now!

  16. This is a great lesson for me, and much more interesting than something you learn in school!

  17. How very fortunate that you have two lovely assistants to help you in this endeavour. I have a freshly baked batch of bread in the oven and it will be accompanied by a freshly brewd cuppa (of course!)

    I seem to be on an early grey kick at the moment, but I’d gladly raid your tea pantry because something tells me there are more gems, yet to be discovered there!

    • I couldn’t agree more Alice, my delightful assistants are a positive boon! The thought of your freshly baked bread is making my mouth water. Here I am, drinking a nice cup of tea just wishing I could tear off a bit of your new loaf, butter it and wolf it appreciatively.

      You would be most welcome to raid my tea pantry, I found some decaf Earl Grey in behind the ordinary stuff, as well as some other teas I’d forgotten about at the back.

  18. Lorna, I truly love your blog! I read a lot of blogs but I think I look forward to yours the most. :) My grandmother was of English descent but alas, I never thought to ask her of her heritage. I didn’t even know of her heritage until she was gone. It wasn’t until I decided to start having afternoon tea with my children that a relative mentioned my grandmother’s heritage.

    I truly enjoy afternoon tea. Today I had a cup of almond tea and it was a little bitter. I remembered some of your writing about adding milk to the tea and tried it. It was wonderful! So now instead of dumping a cup of slightly bitter tea down the drain, I shall add milk to it! Thank you for sharing such delightful posts. Cheers from across the sea.

    • Thank you Julia, your comment has cheered my morning no end! Almond tea sounds intriguing, I’m puzzling about how it’s made and what’s in it. I’m very glad that you’re benefitting from the milk option, it’s good to be reminded of the choices available, as we tend to get stuck in old habits. I’m raising my teacup to you now and wishing you happy tea drinking across the foam! :-)

  19. A brilliant post, Lorna! I don’t know where to start. Firstly, both your delightful assistants more than live up to their titles with their charming analysis, but your Dad seems to be a natural tea connoisseur. I know exactly what he means when he describes a tea flavour that evokes the outdoors. Tea drunk outdoors always has a different taste – I was reminded about this only recently when we had a brew out in the Perthshire glens. I love your debate about which tea to serve visiting royalty, and the accompanying photo suggests the perfect combination of surprise and delight on their faces. Thirdly, I don’t think I have ever seen a photo of Queen Victoria smiling, until now! What a lovely smile she had. And finally – I couldn’t agree more about misplaced apostrophes, and if they appear in advertising there’s really no excuse, so good luck with your offer to Twinings!

    • Thank you Jo, for all your kind comments. I agree about the tea and it’s the same with food outdoors, isn’t it? A picnic tastes different from the same food eaten indoors. A brew out in the Perthshire glens sounds wonderfully romantic! It’s a real shame Queen Victoria didn’t smile more, but I suppose that was the culture at the time with portrait photography. No word from Twinings yet, but you never know…

      • I should also have said, I think this is one of your best ever posts (not that the others aren’t always wonderful!) I just loved it.

  20. I’m certain that the Queen’s glee upon visiting Chez Lorna was rivaled only by her Jubilee celebration. (Who wouldn’t want to spend the afternoon sipping tea with you and your delightful assistants?) This taste test was inspired because the debate between loose leaf or teabags has been raging for centuries. (Leading to fisticuffs at times, I imagine.) And Delightful Assistant # 2’s note, “with outdoor picnic overtones,” immediately made me understand exactly what it was like to sip that particular tea. Looking forward to the next tasting…bottoms up!

    • You are a one, Lucinda! :-) At least Her Majesty would be able to sit quietly if she came here for tea, rather than having to listen to raucous music she probably has no interest in, as happened for part of her Jubilee celebrations. She’s well on in years and ought to be treated gently, I think, although she might not take kindly to that sort of patronising talk. I believe she’s quite a feisty dame (no disrespect intended). As you say, the debate over loose leaf v teabags continues to rage. I’ve witnessed people getting quite het up about it, which is never a pretty sight. One more free tea to taste from the Twinings box, and I’m looking forward to it!

  21. On the weekend I brew with loose tea, but on those busy weekday mornings I settle for a bag… I must admit I have several favorites, but will now add this Twinings variety to my routine! Love the pen holder!!!

    • That sounds to me like an admirable way to progress, a bit of both depending on time constraints. I hope you’ll enjoy the English Breakfast taste, it’s a nicely balanced blend. The pen holder’s great, isn’t it? I think he made it over 30 years ago, it’s part of the furniture now.

  22. Great post Lorna, but I must confess I’m a coffee man myself.

    • Thanks Mark, there’s nowt wrong with a nice cup of coffee. I like coffee too, and I read somewhere recently that it’s the world’s favourite drink so you’re in good company!

  23. I’ve never thought of “reviewing” different types of tea before…I just brew and enjoy, maybe with a good book or a friend.
    For the last couple years I’ve stuck with chamomile until I found some tea bags of English Breakfast in the back corner of a cupboard — and I fell in love. Unfortunately I used them up rather quickly…I need to go tea shopping.

    I love love love the concept of your blog! I’m so glad to have found it! :)

    • Brewing and enjoying with a good book or a friend sound to me like perfect ways of drinking tea. Thank you for your kind comments, delighted to have you here, and I hope you can find some nice tea to try. There is a lot of choice out there, and trying out different teas is a most pleasant little hobby.

  24. I enjoy Twinings Lady Grey … I find the Earl Grey too intense!

    • A fine choice, the Lady Grey. I usually prefer it to Earl Grey, too. Perhaps if you make the Earl Grey quite weak you might enjoy it more? Just a thought.

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