I have recently been forced to come to terms with the true extent of my tea obsession. The necessity of moving my worldly possessions across Europe in the back of a van recently has thrown into sharp relief several things I already suspected, but was vehemently denying: I have too many clothes, cookbooks and plates; I hoard convenient ‘travel size’ toiletries; there are too many odds and ends of bread in my freezer. I didn’t quite realise how out of hand my love of tea had become until I found myself packing my collection into not one but three boxes. Recent trips to India and Japan have hardly helped, adding at least twelve more items to the collection, and I was also recently sent some wonderful samples from the kind people at Bluebird Tea and Tea Shirt to broaden my extensive repertoire. Nothing makes me sadder than a person for whom ‘a cup of tea’ signifies simply a mug of tannic black brew adulterated with milk and sugar. The world of tea is expansive and glorious, so I’m going to share some of my favourites in the hope that I may turn you too into a ridiculous tea lady like myself. Or, at least, encourage you to try something new and exciting. The tea I drink on any particular occasion depends a lot on the time of day, my mental and physical state at the time, the particular type of tea that appeals, whether I want it to be on the sweet or savoury side, whether I need caffeine or decaf, et cetera. So here’s a tea menu for all hours and all moods. You can order most of these online, and many are available both as loose leaf teas or teabags.
(Also, I have apparently also recently developed a strange fastidiousness regarding the vessels in which my teas are served, and a particular fondness for glass mugs. Below is my favourite, a souvenir from the fabulous Rangoon Tea House in Yangon, Myanmar).
For a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, instead of cake or chocolate (notice a theme here - many of these teas are inspired by classic desserts)
Bluebird Tea’s Spiced Pumpkin Pie, a gorgeous blend of black tea and spices reminiscent of the now ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte. It has the warmth of chai tea with a slight sweetness that makes it perfect for a caffeine boost in the afternoon, and it’s as satisfying as a piece of cake so will fulfil your post-lunch cravings.
Another tea named after a baked good, Gingerbread Chai by Bluebird is also fabulous. It’s decaf, with a rooibos base, but the spices and slight sweetness make it as satisfying as a dessert. It really does taste like gingerbread, with a strong, warming flavour. They also do a Cherry Bakewell which I love, which features a white tea base with cherries and almonds, apples, rosehip and cranberry, and is every bit as delicious as the actual dessert.
Tea Shirt’s 40 Thieves is a wonderfully sweet blend of candied figs, sultanas, vanilla, almonds and dates that smells a little like cherries or marzipan and has a gorgeous, lingering sweet-smoky flavour. No need for dessert when you have this – it’s similar to Cherry Bakewell above but darker and stronger.
Lupicia’s Decaf Apple Tea is the best I’ve tried. Apple tea can sometimes have an unpleasant sourness to it; this one is perfect, the black tea giving depth while mellowing the apple sharpness. It’s decaffeinated so won’t leave you buzzing, but the sweet, honeyed flavour is definitely enough to boost your energy. Note: the site for this one is in Japanese, but I think they deliver to various countries.
Even better: two chocolate teas
Bluebird make an absolutely luscious blend called Dark Choc Chilli Chai, which blends warming chai spices with a hit of chilli and mellow cocoa tones. It’s like a chocolate cake in a cup, with the chilli adding enough kick to stop everything cloying. The flavour is refreshingly strong, too, unlike some chocolate teas which can be a little watery.
Tea Shirt’s Chocolate Orange is exactly that: a drinkable version of the famous confectionery, but not too sweet and with a lovely mellow cocoa flavour punctuated by the rasp of sharp orange. It’s pu’erh tea blended with cocoa shells, orange peel, chocolate drops and orange petals.
For a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, with your cake or chocolate (!)
Bluebird’s Earl Grey Crème is a smooth, luxurious blend of bergamot, black tea and vanilla. Slightly sweet, it complements the flavour of baked goods and/or chocolate beautifully, with none of the tannin you get from cheap Earl Grey. I also love their Rooibos Earl Grey, which is a decaf alternative that has that classic Rooibos aroma, lifted by the perfume of bergamot.
For fruit lovers
Mittal Teas, an Indian tea company that I discovered on my first day in Delhi, make absolutely stunning mango and lychee teas. Where sometimes fruit-flavoured teas can taste cheap, synthetic and sickly, these taste unbelievably of the fruit. The lychee version captures all the heady perfume of the juicy, aromatic fruit, blending it with black tea for a light, exotic and captivating brew that will transport you to the east. The mango version is similarly punchy, floral and sweet without being overpowering, and the quality of the tea shines through too. Highly recommended.
For a bracing breakfast
I love Skinny Minny by Bluebird (though not so keen on the name, I must admit!) which blends ginger, fennel, ginseng, oolong and pu’erh tea for an ‘energizing, metabolism-boosting, stomach calming elixir’. It’s perfect the morning after a substantial dinner, when your stomach needs a little calming, or if you feel even remotely nauseous – ginger is great for nausea. The caffeine hit is perfect in the morning, but this is also a good one to drink post-lunch or with a piece of cake – the ginger cuts through everything nicely.
Yum Chaa’s Mango Sunrise, which blends green tea with fruity mango, is one of my all-time favourite teas. The mango flavour is beautifully strong and sharp rather than cloying, blending gorgeously with the grassy green tea. It’s great in the morning, providing a little sweetness complemented by the wake-me-up bitterness of green tea.
I also like Yum Chaa’s Chilli Chilli Bang Bang, which blends rooibos with chilli, peppercorns and spices for a lovely bracing, throat-tingling chai blend that’s caffeine free.
Nilgiri tea is grown in the southern area of the Western Ghats in India, and is intensely fragrant. With a flavour somewhere between green and black tea, this unusual brew has a flavour unlike any other. It is pure, a little grassy, slightly smoky and floral. I love it because it combines my favourite properties of both green and black tea. My favourite version is from Mittal Teas.
For a moment of calm
I love Bluebird Tea’s Nearly Nirvana, which does exactly what the name suggests. A gorgeous blend of white tea, spearmint, orange blossom, green tea and jasmine, it has the stomach-calming benefits of mint while mellowing the flavour with aromatic green tea and jasmine. Slightly savoury and infinitely satisfying, this is a perfect one to sip slowly during a busy afternoon.
In a similar vein is Tea Shirt’s White Bamboo, which has lovely aromatic, slightly toasty notes to it with the underlying sweetness of pomegranate.
Balance by Tea Shirt is a calming, nourishing blend of rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, lemon balm, lemongrass, fennel and ginseng. If you find chamomile a rather overpowering and cloying flavor, try this – the other flavours mellow it out and add a depth that is rather lovely, and it’s a perfect one to sip for sweet dreams before bed.
For a decaf after-dinner digestif
Tea Shirt’s Apple and Grapefruit recently won a Great Taste award, and its bittersweet flavour is just right. The sweet apple and sharp grapefruit blend perfectly (it also features strawberry, rosehip, hibiscus, lemongrass and orange), and it’s excellent at waking your tastebuds up after a rich meal.
Revolution Tea make two wonderful blends, White Pear and Citrus Spice. Both are aromatic and earthy, with a fruity kick. The latter is spiced rather like chai, with the warmth of orange, and the former really does have a wonderfully nutty, perfumed pear note. They are both decaf or low caffeine, and wonderful after dinner to sip slowly and savour.
Heath & Heather make a lovely apple and cinnamon blend that is satisfyingly aromatic and spicy with a slight tang from apple. It’s caffeine-free and a little like apple pie in a cup – perfect for autumn evenings.
P.S. This is only a summary of my many favourite teas out there – check out my Instagram for further updates as I work my way through my extensive collection!