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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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.

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.

Beaming

Southern Sunrise

If you’re raised on Australia’s east coast, the possibility of going to the west coast of any country and watching the sun set over an ocean is a tantalisingly exciting prospect.

So imagine my joy when I moved to Los Angeles, lived by the beach, and had a year’s worth of ocean sunsets to lap up before returning to the east coast of Australia. The thing is, I lived just far away enough from the beach that it was a planned walking expedition and not a leisurely stroll to the sand type affair, so I just kept putting it off. On my final day in LA, a friend asked if there was anything I wanted to do. I said, “Watch the sunset over the ocean.” My friend was a little hesitant, but obliged anyway. The sunset over the ocean was nothing special, because the thing about LA is, it is heavily polluted. So there is a point at which the sun hits the smog line, and all the romance of the idea dies right then and there.

A short while after I got back home, I watched a sunrise on the beach, and it was magnificent. No smog, clear air, the possibility of a new day, a crisp, summery breeze. It was a complete winner. And this is why I am convinced T2 have a ‘Southern Sunrise’ and no ‘Western Sunset’.

Southern Sunrise is a gorgeous summery tisane. It is bursting with tropical punch flavour: sweet pineapple, mango, paw paw, citrus in a balanced harmony. The overall effect is sweet, bright and fruity, making it a good candidate for iced tea. This brew is zingy and sherbety, perfect for summer days or nights when you’re after a refreshing hit.

Southern Sunrise: 4/5
Enjoy with: sunrise, sunset, or any other time of day.

Beaches

Bondi

I lived in Sydney a really long time before I ever went to Bondi beach. I’m not a huge fan of the beach, but when I told people not from Sydney that I lived in Sydney, they would inevitably asked about Bondi. So, one day, I went. Well to be fair, it was night. It was kind of exciting to see the fabled beach before me, it’s buildings and artwork that make it iconic. But on the whole, it’s pretty underwhelming. The sand is dirty, there’s a stack of rubbish, and the beach itself is nothing special.

I felt the same when I went to Kona, Hawai’i. I was in Hawai’i! On the beach! The salt and pepper sand beach with almost no swell, polluted water, and sketchy weather. Again, I was there in winter, so probably not optimal time for all things Hawaiian, but still. The beaches were nothing special.

I also lived in Los Angeles for  a good while. In an area known as,”The Beaches”. I lived on Manhattan Beach. It sucked. The sand was the grossest thing you could imagine. The water was probably the second grossest thing. People were ‘surfing’ in the one foot swell. I didn’t spend much time there.

There are three beaches in the world that I’ve been to that didn’t have something wrong with them, and they are all in Queensland: Coolum, Amity Point, and Burleigh Heads. I’m not saying these are the only good beaches in the word, but I’m very picky about the beach. I don’t like getting covered in sand, and worse still if the sand is dirty. I don’t like when the water is too hot or too cold. I don’t like strong rips, jellyfish, crowds, or seaweed subcontinents floating in the swell. None of these things are acceptable.

But T2 insisted on creating a blend to immortalise Bondi beach, and so I braced myself for something, even though I wasn’t sure what. I just know I don’t like the beach, so I had no high hopes for the tea.

The tea has a strong, fresh, lemony smell, that is instantly inviting (unlike Bondi beach). It’s followed by a light, refreshing brew of eucalyptus notes and lemon myrtle. There’s a strong herbal flavour, while still maintaining a mellow balance. This is probably due to the aniseed balancing against the variety of fruit flavours. It’s summery and sunshiney and very misleading when you consider how dirty, crowded, polluted, and generally unhappy I found Bondi. Still, it’s a perfect summer tea: bright, light, and fresh.

Bondi: 4/5
Enjoy with: a warm summer evening with a cool breeze blowing.

Gotham

New York Breakfast

I love New York. Cliched as that may be, it’s true. It seems like everything you could ever want to do, anyone you could want to meet is somewhere in the city.

Like all kids raised int he 90s, I watched plenty of television and movies. I used to talk about wanting to go to the places I saw onscreen. My parents told me these places weren’t real, but I knew better. I knew New York, at least, was out there. And if it was exciting enough a place to set Seinfeld, Home Alone 2, and Baby’s Day Out, it was good enough for me.

The very first time I went to the city (that’s what the locals call it, because there is no other city), I was a fresh-faced au pair on a bus tour in the middle of January. It was late in the afternoon and freezing, and I loved every second of it. Face pressed agains the window, my eyes drank in every detail. The raging bull statue in Wall Street I’d seen in For Richer or Poorer. The train station with the iconic clock from Men in Black. The Empire State building, from literally every single New York based piece of entertainment. It was real, it wasn’t a set, it wasn’t an illusion, and it wasn’t going to vanish when the tv turned off. If I wasn’t already swept away at the magic of it all, it began to snow. For the first time in my life I was witnessing falling snow, and I was in New York. No matter how many rude people, terrible smells, or delayed subways the city offers up, I can’t possibly hate it after my first experience.

New York hosts the full spectrum of almost anything, all at once, and often within a couple of blocks of each other. Illustrious wealth is tethered to immense poverty. Opulent property juxtaposes tiny, bricked in studios. A luscious, extraordinary park in the middle of bustling, polluted metropolis. And the food experiences only the richest can afford, as well as some of the cheapest food imaginable.

The cheap food is wily. Some of it is disgusting and ought to be avoided at all costs, and some of it is incredible. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the two before you get a morsel in your mouth. Sure, it might seem like a daft idea to buy doughnuts from a car wash, but they are hailed as some of the best doughnuts in the city.

Picking a diner in New York is something I have struggled with at every visit. One thing you can be sure of though, is that a good diner doesn’t smell like a particular thing. It should smell a bit like everything they make: frying oil, coffee, vanilla, and pastries (pancakes or doughnuts especially). These diners are normally set up so that you can see the people cooking your food. It’s good for keeping an eye on the kitchen hygiene and its good for atmosphere.

Somehow, New York Breakfast tea has captured the essence of the hustle and bustle of the city and blended it with the atmosphere of a New York diner. It’s a strong black base, and a tiny bit bitter (like the air in New York). The overall profile is sweet, like you ordered pancakes at that diner. It’s woody, earthy, musky, and has the slightest bitter dark chocolate note in the aftertaste. This tea is perfect black, and will hold its profile with milk added. For a sweet treat, a drop of maple syrup brings a masked vanilla note to light.

New York Breakfast: 5/5

Enjoy with: heady atmosphere

Oui Oui

French Earl Grey

The French have had many things attributed to them, that I daresay they have absolutely no idea about:

  1. French fries (definitely not French)
  2. French onion soup (pretty sure they just call it onion soup)
  3. French onion dip (it’s American)
  4. French salad dressing (American again)
  5. French toast
  6. French cricket
  7. French Earl Grey tea

That being said, you jam the word ‘French’ on the front of anything and it instantly becomes more sophisticated and snooty. For example: bread (ok), French Bread (ooooooooh).

French Earl Grey is a blend that has sky-rocketed in popularity since T2 started selling it. It jostles with Melbourne Breakfast for first place in the popularity stakes. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve been discussing tea with someone and they say, “I like French Earl Grey. What else should I try?”

Here is my list of teas that are worth giving a shot if you like French Earl Grey:

  1. Monk Pear
  2. Terrific Toffee
  3. Black Rose
  4. Green Rose
  5. Milky Oolong (because everyone should try Milky Oolong)
  6. Melbourne Breakfast
  7. Gorgeous Geisha
  8. Jade Mountain
  9. Madagascan Vanilla
  10. Rose Earl Grey (not from T2, but worth the order from Pine Tea and Coffee!)

As for the tea itself (in case you are still, somehow, uninitiated), it hits you with a floral, citrus, bergamot aroma that entices as it brews. A 2 minute brew is enough for me, because it contains *ugh* hibiscus, and longer than 2 minutes makes regret my choice of tea. The sip itself has a strong black flavour, met equally by a floral flavour with citrus notes and an overall bright flavour. The tea can accommodate milk, and cow’s milk is probably the best (if you can have it), but for the most part, I recommend having it black, because some of the floral quality is lost when milk is added. Rest assured, this is one time you can trust the masses. This brew is divine.

French Early Grey: 5/5
Enjoy with: Your snootiest afternoon tea spread (including fine bread and cheese!)