Do you know what you are drinking? Name vs. brand

In yesterday’s posting, LTR asked readers which two tea bags out of the four pictured had the same name. If you picked the traditional paper teabag  and the cotton muslin tea pouch  you were right, sort of.  Now the question is: what kind? If your choice was Earl Grey, good show! Traditionally, Earl Grey is black tea flavored with bergamot oil, from the peel of a type of citrus from Italy. They should look and  taste the same, right? Below, both cups were brewed with boiling water for three-four minutes.

If your eyesight is good, you probably noticed that the label of  tea on the left reads Mariage Freres from France;the much darker one on the right reads Twinings. How can two teas, called by the same name, look– and taste –so different. It’s all in the type of tea, recipe and process.The Mariage Freres version , Earl Grey Imperial, is  Darjeeling tea from the West Bengal state of northeast India.  While its rich amber is much lighter than the tea on the right, it  has a much stronger aroma and concentrated flavor, almost too concentrated, than the tea on the right. And it’s much more expensive.

The Twinings Earl Grey is straightforward, what you’d expect from an Earl Grey out of the box. Nothing fancy, little to no aroma, but still satisfying. While the deep color might lead you to expect bitterness, it is well-balanced. This is not a tea to pay attention to while sipping. it’s a black tea, period. And it could go very well with milk and sugar.

Now we are going to cut open the teabags to see the differences:

On the left, you can see the Mariage Freres tea leaves. They haven’t unfurled yet, but they are long, multicolored and rolled.  On the right, the Twining tea looks like dark, uniform pellets. The Mariage Freres was processed by the “orthodox” method that keeps the leaf; the Twining was processed by the “unorthodox” method that a gives it the dark color and flavor.  This is called the CTC method for Crush, Tear, Curl. It was invented by the British and gives a full bodied, but not complex result. (More on different methods in future posts.)

Here’s a fun sip about Twinings Earl Grey, one of their best sellers.. Last year, the world renown company decided to tweak their formula, adding more bergamot and citrus to the recipe. The result: Outrage from Brits used to their beloved sip. A Facebook page with over a thousand followers cried ‘Bring Back the Original Twinings Earl Grey Tea’ Initially holding firm and keeping a stiff upper lip, the company soon bowed to popular pressure and started selling the the original on their website, renamed Earl Grey The Classic Edition. Coke Classic, anyone?

Change of Twinings formula notwithstanding, tea blends are recipes. Next time you have a fav tea, remember it is often brand, not name. Today, there are as many Earl Grey variations as tea companies. There’s even a drink called “London Fog” with Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and vanilla.

Next Post: Who was Earl Grey? 

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