In mid-19th century England, cyanide via Prussian blue dye and yellow gypsum made up a half pound of every hundred pounds of tea imported from China, according to a wonderful book, All the Tea in China, by Sarah Rose. Considering that the average Brit drank a pound of tea annually, that was a lot of poison to drink with a cuppa. The object was to intensify the color.
Don’t feel too complacent yet, dear tea drinkers. LTR asked a group of tea experts for their take on horrible tea. Their answers below:
“Sometimes people make teas worse by applying additives and unfair manufacturing practices,” writes Nipun Wisnagalage, an executive at Heritage Teas (Pvt) Ltd.“To make the teas blacker a few manufacturers add things like Potassium permanganate, iron. Meanwhile, for a better twisting appearance, manufacturers add gelatin, sugar etc. These contaminated teas are the worst for me.”
Then there’s just bad tea: “End-season tea which is reprocessed and burnt – I don’t think it can taste worse!” says Inderjit Singh Uberoi, profit center head at LACON Certified, Sustainable Organic Tea Estate, Assam.
According to Manish Kumar Bhartia, it’s “tea sold at Indian railway stations.” Did Mr. Bhartia, Assam green tea entrepreneur at www.exoticassam.com know about a report from a 2013 issue of the New Indian Express? A priest went to the Kollam station to pick up his wife, ordered tea — and found a lizard in his cup. Said the vendor: “an isolated event.” The priest was having none of that: The Railway subsequently shut the canteen down. Then there is the far-fetched, too horrible to be true story that’s made the rounds on the web for years of a passenger finding that the tea on board was made from toilet water and heated next to the toilet. On to gentler ideas of bad tea, please:
“Any tea sold in tea bags!” says Neelabha Chatterjee, student at Coca-Cola Enterprises.”I think people need to learn how to get the optimum flavour from different types of tea. There are so many wonderful varieties.”
“Cheap english supermarket teabags – own brand – I won’t name and shame but I threw the rest of the box away,”” comments Julie Cavey, director at Rosie Lea Ltd.
” I tasted a flavored tea bag which was technically expired of vanilla flavor and gave me a very unpleasant taste that stayed in my palate for days, ” says Pramudith Bodikotuwa, executive at Beta Tea Kenya Ltd. .“It tasted like rotten mangos — I wish I had never tasted it.”
For long-time tea expert Victoria Gonzalez, Owner of VictoriAnna’s Teas, smoky teas were her least favorite. “As a tea lover, enthusiast and retailer, I think they are just awful!”
“Not from the tea plant, but Kuding tea Is my least favorite,” says tea shop owner Angela McDonald. No wonder, it’s known as “bitter nails.” Really.
“It’s all a matter of individual taste and culture,” says Mette Svanberg, owner of Bohea Ap, in Denmark. “For me, it’s a horrible experience to get a strong very black breakfast tea! I don’t like my cuppa with milk and sugar… it gets way too strong and nearly knocks me down.”
For Alexis Elizabeth Kaae, Chairman at Danish Tea Association, her least fav is clear: “Flavored teas with oils!”, while for Sunil Sivaraman, president, Poddar Plantations, it’s two words: “Instant Tea.”
Cyanide, toilet water (and we’re not talking about eau de toilette), lizards, additives, and who knows what else. But consider the alternative: You could be drinking phosphoric acid, eroding your tooth enamel, risking bone fractures, obesity, and diabetes: common ingredients and side effects of sodas.
Thank you to all the tea mavens who responded : You are not only experts, but good sports too!