Friday, June 4, 2010

Decaf-tea taste-tests

Elaine and I traveled to our test-kitchens yesterday afternoon to sample and score the six decaffeinated black teas we have on hand. We prepared all teas in the same way: five minutes steeping before removing the bag, then another five minutes to cool. All tasting was as blind as we could make it: after putting numbered Post-it Notes on cups and writing names and numbers on index cards, we soon lost track of which cup held which tea. Elaine used a cup of non-decaffeinated PG Tips in her judging. We tasted, made notes, and ranked each tea. No peeking. When we compared notes, we were surprised by the ways in which our tastes diverged and converged. Here are the overall results, from least favored to most favored:

6: Red Rose. Elaine doesn’t like regular Red Rose, so her low mark here is no surprise. I’ve always liked regular Red Rose and found something to like in the decaffeinated version. Elaine ranked this tea last. I had it in third place.

5, 4: A tie between Twinings English Breakfast and Twinings Irish Breakfast. We were in agreement that these teas were undistinguished. To our tastes, Twinings decaf teas have very little of the flavor that makes regular Twinings teas so pleasurable. Elaine ranked these teas third (Irish) and fourth (English). I ranked them fourth (English) and fifth (Irish). I was surprised to find myself preferring English Breakfast to Irish Breakfast.

3, 2: A tie between Lipton and Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast. Here our tastes were at odds. Lipton was Elaine’s most favored tea. She found in it “a bit of an edge” and “tea aftertaste, or finish, if you will.” (Yes, she was kidding around.) I on the other hand had Lipton dead last. “Tastes like hot water,” I wrote. We diverged a little less dramatically on Trader Joe’s: Elaine had it in fifth place; I had it in second. What struck Elaine’s taste buds as “pale” and “weak” struck mine as somewhat hearty. Then again, I didn’t have a cup of PG Tips for comparison.

1: Tetley British Blend. The surprise champ: Elaine had it in second place; I had it in first. “Deeper — more minty, but no finish,” said Elaine. “More tannins, aroma, more flavor, much better,” said I. I suspect that removing caffeine from tea leaves removes some of the tannins that give tea its pleasantly astringent quality. The Tetley package notes that British Blend tea bags contain more tea (2.5 g) than “standard” tea bags (2.0 g): perhaps that accounts for Tetley’s stronger flavor.

Nothing fancy here: aside from Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast, these teas may all be had in most American supermarkets. As I do more hunting and gathering, I’ll share more taste-test results.

While writing this post, I remembered listening to a story on NPR about tea-auctions and tea-tastings in Kenya. You might want to listen.

A related post

comments: 6

Ben said...

This sounded really fun!

Michael Leddy said...

It was. Let’s have another tasting when you’re in the test-kitchens.

Rachel said...

I <3 this post!

Michael Leddy said...

Rachel, you too are welcome in the test-kitchens. I wish I’d thought of a tea-tasting when you and Ben were home.

Caroline said...

I discovered the Tetley British blend decaf in the supermarket this winter, when I was sick of herbal teas after having gone off caffeine. It was the first decaf tea I tried that tasted like "real" tea to me. I've been using it during warm weather to make iced tea, and the flavor stands up there, too. Thanks for the reviews!

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Caroline. I like the idea of an underdog tea coming through as Tetley has.