London Calling

London Breakfast

I spent two days in London, and saw everything you can possibly pack into that timeframe. I felt the need for quantity over quality. I will know better next time, and next time, London won’t simply be a stopover.

While on this trip, Main Man and I decided to pick up London Breakfast from a T2 in London, and New York Breakfast from T2 in New York. The gesture was a little ridiculous since both teas were readily available online and in my T2 near home. As I made the purchase in London, I thought, “This would be so much more momentous if you could only get London Breakfast in the UK.”

Well, Unilever must have been reading my mind, because since last year, a number of breakfast teas have now been geographically locked. Not all of them, obviously. Singapore Breakfast, New York Breakfast, and Melbourne Breakfast you can get anywhere in the world. But London Breakfast is stuck in the UK. Scots Breakfast is in Glasgow ONLY. And I’m not 100% certain Auckland Breakfast is even still a thing. Does anyone know?

I am not currently travelling, so this cute idea to limit the teas to their namesake locations is a lot less fun for me. Thankfully, a friend of mine went to London a little while ago and kindly picked me up a box of London Breakfast. You can tell from the photo, the box has taken a long haul flight. I think they’ve altered the blend slightly, but I have no real way of knowing.

This version was a smooth black, and a little bit smokey. It’s like a toned down Russian Caravan. London Breakfast is complex in the same way I imagine certain types of whiskey are complex. You can taste chicory as you draw it into your mouth, but if you let it sit in your mouth a moment, it becomes a fresh pine flavour. When you add milk, the tea retains its smokey smell, but it mutes the smokey flavour, so what you’re left with is like English Breakfast with depth instead of tannin. It’s a big winner in my books.

London Breakfast: 4/5
Enjoy with: Your UK travels, because you aren’t getting it any other way anymore!

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All Together Now

Pai Mu Tan

I have been watching Queer Eye, the Netflix reboot. I never watched the original show, because I was in high school and had no interest in watching men getting made over. Clearly, as I have aged, my appreciation for real life Hans Christian Anderson tales brought to life has grown. (I didn’t just want to say ‘Ugly Duckling’, because the point is the swan at the end, both in the story and on the show).

Without being able to say anything about the original series, I adore this reboot. It makes me think, it teaches me greater compassion, and I learn more about fundamental human needs the more I watch. The show has very little to do with outward makeovers, and much more to do with being your genuine self. If you boil the show down to one aspect, it’s that all men need a space where they can be vulnerable with other men they trust.

These men demonstrate a beautiful model of what true community can look like. A group of marginalised individuals (in this instance, gay men), bring together their professional strengths and their authenticity, asking the world to accept them as they are. They find someone who generally is not in the same marginalised position they are (though it’s not always the case), and share their skills so that the subject can learn to embrace authenticity. This is a group of people, sidelined by society, who say, “We would like to offer the best of ourselves, and for you to connect with the best of yourself.” In doing that, they bridge the societal divide, and prove that they are no different, no less acceptable, and no less loveable because of a single, inconsequential aspect of themselves. It’s pure poetry.

Another rich, complex, and enjoyable thing I have been getting into is the white tea, Pai Mu Tan. This white is smooth, and smokey. It has a leafy aspect that gives it a green tea like quality. The flavour is woody and mushroom, with rich earthy notes in every sip. This is a savoury white with a strong umami aftertaste. Pai Mu Tan is the earthy white tea answer to White Flowery Pekoe. If you want to try both sides of the white tea coin, this is the dynamic duo you’re after.

Pai Mu Tan: 5/5
Enjoy with: The Queer Eye reboot.

Eurasia

Turkish Apple and Cinnamon

I was so excited to drink tea in Turkey. In the lead up to my trip I was imagining having small, hourglass vessels of tea every spare moment I had on my travels. I was expecting exotic blends I had never imagined, and a new brew waiting for me every time I had a chance to sip. In the cities, I assumed getting a cup of tea would be as easy as finding coffee in Melbourne.

When we arrived at our first hotel in Istanbul, they served complimentary afternoon tea and biscuits twice a week. And our short stay happened to coincide with one of these bound to be delightful occasions, and we were not on tour when it was happening.

So I show up at the foyer at the advertised time, requested afternoon tea, and waited in anticipation. For a beautiful hourglass vessel of…Lipton. Plain old Lipton black tea. Of all the black teas, Lipton! And the biscuits were nothing to write home about either.

Not to worry, it was a free afternoon tea. You get what you pay for, right? so that evening I went to one of the local shops to look for tea and I found the flavoured sugar kind (like T2 has), which is known as ‘tourist tea’, and Lipton. You cannot move in Turkey for all the Lipton on offer.

See, the thing about Turkey is, it is in both Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus River divides Europe and Asia and it runs right through the centre of Istanbul. So in a country I’d hoped would be brimming with tea culture, it was still wrestling coffee for a place on the table. So I drank ‘tourist tea’ and took several boxes home as well.

T2’s Turkish Apple and Cinnamon is one of the better flavoured sugar tisanes, because it has more depth than the varieties without any spices. It is sugary, sweet, fruity, and apple flavoured, but the cinnamon latches on at the end, adding woody and spicy notes. This gives the overall cup some nuance and would be delicious in place of a dessert.

Turkish Apple and Cinnamon: 4/5
Enjoy with: the anticipation of travel.

Regret

Chilli Berry Boom

I’m glad for the adventurous, and those who break the mould,
They bring such great advancements to the tired and the old.
But for this ‘tea’ I am not grateful,
This indictment on my lips,
It worsens and it burns the longer that one sips.
For people who drink gravy or pepper in their brew,
Or for those who munch on chillies,
Then perhaps this tea’s for you.
The berry is veiled,
On this cup I have bailed,
There is no way forward I can see.
Life is too short,
I have to report,
To keep drinking this rancid tea.

Chilli Berry Boom: 1/5
Enjoy with: a sense of immense accomplishment if you actually finish a whole cup.

It’s All About Taste

Strawberry Bliss Chai

If you pay any attention at all to the side bar (or hiding window if you read this on your mobile), you’ll notice the total number of teas on the list keeps fluctuating. This is because the T2 offerings alter slightly throughout the year as they discontinue old blends and introduce or reintroduce others. So, in an effort to keep up, I update my own list as often as possible, and it’s a bit sad to think there are some teas that will never get an outing. I have one of the last boxes of Orange Zing, but it’s not on offer anymore, so there’s no point trying to squeeze it into the blog within this year.

One thing T2 do that is a mixed blessing is turning limited editions into regular orange box teas. This was a stroke of genius in the case of Jade Mountain, but not so much with Strawberry Bliss Chai.

Not a single one of those words accurately describes the assault in a cup I tried earlier this year as a limited edition, and now I feel compelled to include because some bright spark welcomed it into the orange box fold. Let’s break it down. There is only the faintest, faintest hint of strawberry in this cup. It is drowned out by the battle royale that is cardamon, ginger, cloves, pepper, and chilli. Who said, “Hey, let’s mix up all these overwhelming spices and toss a fairly mild fruit in there, and name the tea after the fruit.”? That person needs a lie down. These flavours are a celebrity roast in your mouth, with zingers flying all over the place. Very much not the idyllic picture of ‘bliss’ you might expect. And to top it all off, it’s a green base. No. Just no. I have made my opinion of green based chai fairly clear. Stop chai-ing to to make green chair work.

To make matters worse, the limited edition popcorn chai released in winter, that tastes like a caramel nutty dream, has not made its way in the permanence hall of orange fame. Who is making these decisions? What is the deal? I’m suitably unimpressed.

Strawberry Bliss Chai: 1/5
Enjoy with: a knife fight, or another equally pleasant activity.

Borders

Turkish Cherry

I had a blast when I visited Turkey and Greece. While I was in Turkey, I knew I wanted to try and get some Turkish tea glasses, but everywhere I went, I couldn’t find any that came in a set. I felt as though I kept stumbling into the Turkish equivalent of a $2 shop and finding nothing suitable. Many were plastic, which is outrageous. There were lots of individual ‘glasses’ with hideous prints on them, but there were no sets that I was excited about drinking tea out of.

Then, at the Turkish-Greece border crossing, we had the opportunity to check out the obligatory souvenir shops. It gave a new meaning to, “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. We were given 15 minutes before we had to be back on the tour bus. Nearly everyone opted to stay on the bus, but I got out and meandered aimlessly through the abandoned, airport-esque shopping strip.

And there they were, sitting on display. The perfect set of Turkish tea glasses. A set of 4, not covered in the world’s most garish print, not identical so you’d get the glasses mixed up, and actually made out of glass so you could pour hot liquid in. I was so happy, and so short on time, I immediately purchased them without another thought. And the exchange in the shop took longer than I thought because I possess the great weakness of only speaking English. I seem to do ok with picking up a bit of a local language through immersion, but I’m fairly hopeless otherwise.

To this day, those tea glasses are possibly my favourite souvenir from any of my travels.

And I do enjoy drinking Turkish Cherry from them. That said, there is very little to write about Turkish Cherry. It is flavoured sugar. So it tastes like sugar and cherry flavour. That’s what it is. Nothing to add. It’s fun to drink a small glass of, but as with most of T2’s ‘Turkish’ range, they shine best as mixers with other teas, especially iced tea.

Turkish Cherry: 3/5
Enjoy with: a cool souvenir.

Speaking of

White Flowery Pekoe

It is late at night as I’m an writing this, and it is criminally hot. I don’t think the humidity level should be allowed to rise after the sun has gone down. It’s ridiculous. Some days I’m certain I would only be happy if I was living somewhere perpetually frozen in the far north of the Yukon. But if I did live there I’d still gripe about trying to sleep in summer because the sun would never truly set and I’d be just as miserable.

Speaking of miserable, I’m sure that word was created for ear infections. On the rare occasion I do have something wrong with my ear or ears, the only word to sum up how I feel is miserable. It conjures images of persistent discomfort that requires involuntary horizontal positioning until the feeling passes. My deepest sympathies to anyone who suffers from routine ear infections.

Speaking of sympathy, that word always reminds me of soup. Is there such a thing as sympathy soup? I need to look this up… nope, no sympathy soup recipes, just a bunch of websites that will send a sympathy hamper including soup. I guess that’s my association. I like soup, but I know lots of people don’t like soup, and for some people it’s a way of saying, “I know things are not good right now, here is the worst food in the world.” Thankfully, I like soup, I will gladly accept soup during acceptable soup weather (otherwise known as acceptable weather), for sympathetic reasons or just because.

Speaking of hot liquids that bring comfort, White Flowery Pekoe is delicious. If you are knew to white tea, this is a brilliant place to start. It is also a small jump from many green teas, so if you’re looking to branch out from green without going crazy, this is the sip for you.

White Flowery Pekoe is a crisp white, making it a good jump for green tea drinkers, especially as some white teas can be very earthy. It’s a bright and floral brew high, pale woody notes, as opposed to dense and earthy wood notes. It’s a smooth sip with a sweet aftertaste. This is one to sip slowly and savour.

White Flowery Pekoe: 5/5
Enjoy with: soup or sympathy or sleep.