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As someone whose kitchen cupboards are regularly packed with a baffling array of loose tea and teabags, the notion of a tea review made a lot of sense. The idea was to select a tea company to represent each county in Division One of the County Championship.
Blithely written down on a notepad one weekend, it sounded easily achievable but needless to say, there’s been more than a few challenges along the way.
In the end, I managed eight out of nine counties (sorry Northants, I did try but if there’s a local tea company in your county then they’re remarkably shy about promoting themselves).
Lancashire Tea seemed an obvious one but though they didn’t send anything despite badgering, splashing out 99p for a box of teabags in Home Bargains felt like the decent thing to do.
So, here’s who’s involved…
Durham – Ringtons
Yorkshire – Yorkshire Tea
Sussex – Kent and Sussex Tea Company
Warwickshire – Golden Monkey Tea Company
Middlesex – Teapigs
Somerset – DJ Miles
Nottinghamshire – Lee Rosy’s
Lancashire – Lancashire Tea
To clarify from the off. The point isn’t to pick a winner (though strangely, there was a favourite in our household, more of that later…) but to introduce you to a few new teas; have a bit of fun and at the end, give an absolutely massive amount of tea away.
A bit like cricket bat testing with batmen’s variance in weight and pickup; selecting a tea review winner feels fundamentally flawed given my tastebuds will differ entirely to yours and neither is right or wrong, it’s just the way you like your tea.
Nonetheless, there had to be some sort of broad testing criteria so myself and Mrs Cricket Yorkshire donned our lab coats (in retrospect, a pair of umpire coats might have come in handy) and conjured up some tea tasting notes.
Here’s what we were looking to assess:
Colour – pale gold to scorched earth and plenty in between
Nose – take a good sniff and ponder what it conjured up
Mouth – initial taste
Finish – silky smooth or battery acid? Perhaps a lingering aftertaste?
Ideal biscuit companion – a key question in any household surely
The builders tea verdict: What’s the view after adding milk and sugar?
If this tea was a cricketer: who best sums up this particular brew?
Getting into role, we implemented a few rigorous testing conditions: identical crockery used; all loose tea was brewed to perfection with our Sage by Heston Tea Maker gadget; teabags all got their optimum brewing time and we tasted each tea black then as I’d usually take it with milk and a dose to satisfy a sweet tooth.
If you do tea tasting seriously then I believe you’re meant to slurp and spit (and who knows, perhaps gargle with water to freshen the palate but that felt a step too far frankly).
When the tea tasting began, one thing became very apparent.
You can be a writer of many years and tackle all manner of subjects but putting into words the appearance and taste of different teas is about as easy as facing Mitchell Johnson at full tilt.
We tried their loose Northumbria Blend and it was very popular.
Apparently, they use orthodox ‘second flush’ Assam teas blended with West of Rift Valley Kenyan teas. No, that means nothing to me either but here’s our tasting notes:
Colour – redder than Paul Collingwood after two days in the field
Nose – malty, down to earth
Mouth – initial taste
Finish – peaty is the best I could come up with; smoother post-milk
Ideal biscuit companion – Cherry bakewell cookie seemed to do the job nicely
The builders tea verdict: Jackpot. Depth of flavour, decent brew for the start of a start to get you firing.
If this tea was a cricketer: Has to be the talented nugget that is Paul Collingwood
A firm friend and regular companion in the Cricket Yorkshire office. We’ve even started writing for their blog which is pretty cool.
A comparison with Mrs Cricket Yorkshire’s tasting notes might be enlightening here. This was early doors so I had yet to be fully embrace my inner tea taster.
Colour – Somewhat petulantly after minutes of trying to get creative, I wrote ‘dark brown’ whereas Mrs CY penned: ‘seer’s cauldron, ships and sunlight’ – (I’ll have what she’s having (the more vivid descriptions of tea in this article are invariably Mrs CY)
Nose – woodland trees or a hint of roobos
Mouth – strong, tangy and a touch bitter
Finish – Bitter
Ideal biscuit companion – choc chip cookie
The builders tea verdict: Tastes like home. Spices and punchy favour.
If this tea was a cricketer: Has to be Geoffrey Boycott. No nonsense.
Colour – deep red, autumn brown Nose – spices
Mouth – spring garden (red roses perhaps)
Finish – Mildly bitter
Ideal biscuit companion – Bypass biscuits altogether (perhaps a chocolate digestive) and bring the afternoon cake stand
The builders tea verdict: Mrs CY wrote: That is a classy cup of tea; relaxing in a summer garden.
If this tea was a cricketer: Jimmy Anderson (Mrs CY’s choice – I wonder why…) or Fred Flintoff
Kent & Sussex Tea and Coffee Company
Based in Britain’s supposedly haunted village of Pluckley, this is another family business with generations of the Smith family involved in the tea trade across Assam, Calcutta and Darjeeling in India.
Their website is an Aladdin’s cave of treats and just for 2014, there are new teas aplenty; all with intriguing names like Darjeeling Thurbo First Flush or Rosebay Willowherb Ivan Tea.
We tried their Blue Lady (so to speak) – a citrus scented blend of loose leaf black tea with exotic flowers. Here’s how we got on…
Colour – crisp dark red and orange autumnal leaves
Nose – punch of grapefruit; might make a wonderful pot pourri on its own to scent a room
Mouth – a citric kick; not as overwhelming as the scent but still a wake up
Finish – Tangy
Ideal biscuit companion – Something subtle so a bit of shortbread would do the business
The builders tea verdict: Works better without milk and sugar which compete with the lemon and grapefruit.
If this tea was a cricketer: For a tea that is sharp, punchy and extrovert, the Australian cricketer David Warner comes to mind for some reason, although with the Sussex connection then Matt Prior works just as well.
I wasn’t a fan of the Blue Lady overall – too overpowering for my tastebuds – but it’s quite a niche, bold tea and the good people at the Kent & Sussex Tea and Coffee Company seem to do just about everything so perhaps a more mainstream breakfast black tea might have won us round.
Their branding, packaging and online presence all scream sophistication and quality and one of our competition winners will get some Earl Grey to try extremely jealous on that front.
The Golden Monkey Tea Company
Our representatives for Warwickshire, the Golden Monkey Tea Company can be found on Smith Street, the town’s oldest shopping street and are a loose leaf tea merchant.
They generously sent tins of their finest black tea from China; it was probably wasted on us…
Colour – chestnuts and conkers
Nose – bitter, almost like a red tea
Mouth – Woodland (unfortunately that’s being literal rather than essence of)
Finish – Didn’t get the cocoa undertones some do; a bit nutty
Ideal biscuit companion – Chocolate hobnob
The builders tea verdict: Better with milk and sugar; still too bitter
If this tea was a cricketer: Given the bitter, twiggy aftertaste, tempted to say KP; not smooth enough to be Ian Bell so has to be Durham’s Mark Wood (see what we did there?)
There is that awkward moment when an expensive tea deflects off your palate like a fielder crashing into some hoardings and you have to call it as you see it.
Really didn’t like this tea I’m afraid.
Being critical of The Golden Monkey seems especially unkind given they share their name with this exclusive special tippy orange pekoe that gets its name from the leaves resembling monkey tails…but it wasn’t for me.
That being said, the delightfully–packaged tea that arrived at our office is still worth a go or one of their other black teas (and I counted 22 varieties on their website from Irish breakfast to Indian Spiced Chai).
This tea shop in Nottingham sells over 100 types of loose tea and while surfing online to find a brand for Nottinghamshire, I found my way to their neat little website.
A conversation or two later and two teas rocked up for tasting; their English Breakfast and their Sikkim Temi; an aromatic tea from the kingdom of Sikkim in the Himalayas.
We got sample pouches for the purposes of tasting but those who won our competition got tea in their glorious, limited edition gold coloured tins.
Sikkim Temi first…
Colour – a light honey
Nose – despite undignified sniffing at close quarters, strangely nothing picked up
Mouth – Woodland (unfortunately that’s being literal rather than essence of)
Finish – Woody, balanced, refreshing
Ideal biscuit companion – Lotus caramelised biscuit
The builders tea verdict: A refreshing brew to kickstart a day
If this tea was a cricketer: Tim Robinson (one for Notts fans or England cricket fans of a certain vintage)
Really enjoyed this tea; an unusual taste compared to more mainstream teas you might glug on a regular basis; light and well balanced.
Now for Lee Rosy’s English Breakfast…
You’ve got to love their description on the website which reads: ‘You’ve come all the way to Spain and you just want chicken and chips.’
Colour – dark, rich, almost coffee-like
Nose – strangely sweet and light
Mouth – strong, potent and bitter
Finish – More of the same
Ideal biscuit companion – Nice biscuits
The builders tea verdict: Much better with milk and sugar; a light brew where the taste of the sugar isn’t lost
If this tea was a cricketer: Ian Bell
Incidentally, the fact that Rosy Lee is Cockney rhyming slang for tea was entirely lost on us. Heathens I know…
Next up…we head down to the West Country to sample the delight of what Somerset has to offer with DJ Miles.
My old stomping ground is awash with cricket clubs in scenic spots and the West Somerset village of Porlock is no exception where DJ Miles have a factory shop.
The smart branding for DJ Miles is a surprise; I’m not sure what I thought it would be but an iconic elephant in bold fonts is more modern than I remember it but we are talking several decades back so over to the taste test…
Miles Original Teabags
Colour – honey with fringes of burnt orange
Nose – warmth, comfort; fireside
Mouth – Bitter
Finish – Wood dissipates to leave a clean finish (getting the hang of this at last)
Ideal biscuit companion – Abbey Crunch oat biscuits
The builders tea verdict: Silky, smooth and a light cuppa that quenches thirst rather than sticking to your bones. More afternoon tea than a mug to ward off a Siberian chill.
If this tea was a cricketer: David Gower. Or perhaps Mark Lathwell in his Somerset prime.
Both Mrs CY and I also tucked into the Miles West Country with its striking red and maroon (a nod to Somerset CCC colours?) packaging.
Blended in-house, it was another light cuppa – by that I mean as opposed to something like Yorkshire Tea which is stronger and lingers.
Mrs Cricket Yorkshire’s notes on this tea include: ‘Lovely, barky, in a nice way…’ – the jury is out on whether that description was referencing the tea or the husband.
It’s a remarkable thing when you can identify a tea brand by the design of the teabags and so we arrive last but by no means least with teapigs who are in our reputable list for Middlesex.
Their everyday brew is a cunning blend of Assam, Ceylon and Rwandan and their ‘tea temples’ – as they call them – contain whole leaf in their teabags which is distinctive from most teabags I’ve ever seen.
The first time I picked one up was in a smart London hotel; it was clearly the fanciest teabag ever created in this silken pyramid.
Colour – auburn
Nose – malty
Mouth – Bitter
Finish – Strong clout
Ideal biscuit companion – Fruit shortcake
The builders tea verdict: Veering towards being more like DJ Miles rather than Yorkshire Tea. Wins points for being a decent all-round brew for any time.
If this tea was a cricketer: Eoin Morgan
So, that’s your lot…go forth, explore, try new tea and see what you can discover…