Eddie’s Tea Chronicles: Confessions Of A Flavored Tea Lover

Eddie Pensier writes:


I love flavored  tea. There, I said it.

Bona fide tea snobs will shudder at this statement. These days it’s all about the pure, the single-origin, the unadulterated. It’s more sincere and authentic, and as we all know, sincerity and authenticity trumps all nowadays. The rare, the unknown, the hard-to-find are prizes: the common is, well, common, no matter how pleasurable it is. And flavored tea is often seen as a pretender, a faux-tea-product for novices without the refined taste to know any better.

Sure, I can appreciate the brash maltiness of an Assam, or the winey complexity of a Keemun. In fact, if you’re in the beverage racket like I am, you’d better be at least passing familiar with most of the commonest varieties, as well as some of the more esoteric and expensive ones. And I’m certainly the last person to deny the pleasure of the hunt for a little-known delicacy. But I’m probably happiest when I’m consuming a big mug of flavored tea.

It does help to know the basic character of the base tea, in order to determine what tea will take which flavorings best. A strong flavor-bomb tea like Yunnan is best enjoyed alone, and by the same token, a delicate and costly Darjeeling would probably be wasted with flavoring added. But if you’re drinking a garden-variety black or green tea, some flavoring can punch it up and give a bit of variety.

It should also be noted that teas you might not ordinarily like, might become downright delicious with the addition of flavoring. I’ve known confirmed green-tea haters who became passionate devotees after tasting fruit-flavored Senchas dressed up with pineapple, peach or berries. The grassiness that turns many people off green tea can be substantially mitigated, not to say disguised, with a little fruit. Similarly, I’ve never been a fan of rooibos, the South African “red tea” which is all the rage among healthy types. The earthy, wood-chippy flavor always put me off. But chuck a little chocolate or caramel or vanilla in there, and the earthiness becomes your friend: as a base for sweet dessert flavorings, it keeps your rooibos multi-dimensional.

There are two big-daddies of flavored tea: Earl Grey and chai. Earl Grey is simply black tea seasoned with bergamot oil, and if it’s good enough for Captain Picard, it’s good enough for you. “Real” Earl Grey should have bergamot and nothing else, as venerable UK tea merchant Twinings discovered to their detriment when they tried to jazz up their EG. Common EG variants include Lady Grey (also known as Miss Grey or Girlie Grey), which adds lemon and orange, and French Earl Grey, with floral notes to downplay the citrusiness.

It’s said that there are as many recipes for chai as there are people in India. I do have a fondness for the powdered drink mix that comprises most of the “chai” you get at fast-service shops, but I don’t kid myself into thinking it’s real chai. If most of your chai has been of this variety, do yourself a favor and try the real deal. A really skillfully blended chai won’t even need milk, just a drizzle of honey to soften and blend together all the spice notes. Of course, a chai latte is one of the world’s great inventions, so go ahead and milk it if that’s how you like it.  (Incidentally, chai is the only tea I drink with milk. All other black teas I drink black, and of course green and white teas should never take milk. Even soy milk, which I normally find repulsive, is usually acceptable in chai.)

If you can’t find flavored teas to suit you at your local/online tea merchant, try making your own. Get some concentrated flavorings such as Capellas or Flavor Apprentice. Start with a small amount of an inexpensive tea, so you’re not out too much if it turns out awful. Try making it two ways:

1) Add one drop of flavoring to a cup of hot tea (this also works excellently with coffee); or

2) Take a large Ziploc bag and add three drops (to start) to the empty bag. Smush it in your hands until the bag is thinly coated with flavoring. Add 6 ounces of your chosen tea, seal the bag, and shakeshakeshake vigorously. Let the flavor continue to seep into the tea for a few weeks, or what the heck, try some right away, so you can see how it changes over time.

You can also add chunks of dried fruit, flower petals, or cocoa hulls to your tea, of course. Some guidelines to heed or disregard as you see fit:

Black teas are fantastic with pretty much any flavor.

Green teas take especially nicely to fruit flavors.

White teas are lovely with florals or fruits, but take care not to overpower them.

Oolong teas are inherently nutty and therefore make excellent bases for dessert/candy flavors.

About Eddie Pensier

Television junkie, opera buff, connoisseur of unhealthy foods, fashion watcher, art lover and admirer of beautiful people of all sexes.
This entry was posted in Food and health, The Good Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Eddie’s Tea Chronicles: Confessions Of A Flavored Tea Lover

  1. Will S. says:

    Do you like Lapsang Souchong? I love the wood-smoke taste; it’s like drinking an Islay Scotch, in tea form!


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  3. Ann K says:

    Very interesting! Thank you for posting!


  4. Excellent tips, and nice to hear from a tea expert who’s got the popular touch. I’m a tea-drinker and a tiny bit of a buff — have read a couple of books, hung out in some stores, yakked with some experts, etc. But I don’t really know much. I get the impression that the tea world is as extensive and full of magic-talk as the wine world. Is that fair?


    • I get the impression that the tea world is as extensive and full of magic-talk as the wine world. Is that fair?

      It can be. Anything that comes in lots of varieties (wine, beer, coffee, tea, tobacco, etc) can attract its share of bullshitters as well as genuine experts. You can drink what you like and venture no further, or you can dive down the rabbit hole of grades, regions, fermentation processes, leaf shapes, etc.


      • Will S. says:

        I think I’m in a similar situation as Paleo Retiree. I haven’t yet decided what I think of ‘single estate teas’, whether it’s just a marketing gimmick, copying single malts and small batch, top shelf bourbons, etc., or whether it really makes a difference… I only know that I once had a box of loose leaf ‘single estate’ Ceylon tea a few years back, and it was the best tea I’d ever tasted, thus far.


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