Why does my tea taste like soap?
August 14, 2013 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I drink good-quality tea (Harney & Sons, loose, black), brew it in a clean and thoroughly rinsed pot, and drink it from a clean and thoroughly rinsed mug. Occasionally, my cup of tea will taste like soap. I have noticed this with two different orders of the same blend brewed in two different pots (one glass, one ceramic). What's going on?
posted by before and after to Food & Drink (20 answers total)
I find Early Grey tea tastes like soap and this is due to bergamot oil being present, could that be it?
posted by Snazzy67 at 11:17 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Are you oversteeping your tea? If you brew tea too long, the bitter tannins in the tea tend to overpower the other flavors. Maybe that's what you're tasting?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:19 AM on August 14, 2013

Could it be your dish soap? Many of them are so perfumey that it's nigh impossible to rinse the stink off.
posted by Corvid at 11:32 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

A Brit would say it is improper to ever wash a teapot with soap. Ever.
posted by bq at 11:36 AM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Could be the ingredients. Rose petals are rather perfumey, as are orange blossoms, and both are used in tea blends.

Some people have a genetic predisposition toward coriander leaves (cilantro) tasting like soap, but that's not usually a component of tea blends.
posted by duffell at 11:40 AM on August 14, 2013

I don't drink Earl Grey or anything perfumed (the blend I drink is two black teas with nothing else added). No problems with cilantro, either.
posted by before and after at 11:45 AM on August 14, 2013

Do you mean that the occasional pot tastes soapy or that an occasional entire packet of tea will taste soapy? If the latter, then you'd have to suspect that the people who are selling it to you are selling you some poorly stored leaves. If the former then it could be different steeping times or different water temperatures or, possibly, variation in the water. Do you ever use water from different sources? The hardness/softness of the water will make amazing differences in tea. Does your local water supply possibly vary for one reason or another (ours switches at certain points in the year from one source to another and one is much harder than the other). Could you have a water-softener in the house that is playing up in some way? Or could the "soapy" taste come when you've just replaced the water-softener filter?

Some avenues to explore, anyway.
posted by yoink at 11:51 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

So does this happen occasionally, to tea made from the same batch of one blend,

or does it happen to an entire new batch every now and then?

If the first, you're perhaps using some shampoo, soap, perfume/aftershave, hand moisturizing cream, etc. in irregular patterns, in relation to your tea drinking schedule. Rinse your hands before drinking tea (I'm serious), and check possible other similar influences.

If the second, change your supplier because they seem to stock their teas in uncouth containers (mine seems to like putting Yunnan into old Lapsang tins. Terrible).

Other reasons might be the changing quality of your tap water (use a filter), or inconsistent brewing techniques (Here's mine, using a porcelain pot with a porcelain sieve insert, pre-heated with a splash of boiling water; I discard that water and put in the tea leaves; I fill the sieve thingy with boiling-hot water, letting all the water run through before pouring on some more, so that fresh hot water keeps being poured over the tea, instead of blending with the previous fill; I proceed until the pot is full. No detergent will ever touch my pot...)
posted by Namlit at 12:02 PM on August 14, 2013

Take another look at your mugs and pot. Just washing with soap and water sometimes doesn't remove all residue. If you find this is a problem, try soaking with some white vinegar, then cleaning with soap, water, and rubbing with a dishrag.
posted by amtho at 12:31 PM on August 14, 2013

When bringing it home from the store, do you ever place it the same grocery bag with fabric softener sheets? I swear those things permiate everything around them, even if the box is sealed.
posted by sleepykitties at 12:33 PM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Some people have a genetic predisposition toward coriander leaves (cilantro) tasting like soap, but that's not usually a component of tea blends.

There are also people who have a similar issue with ginger. Ginger and cilantro both taste like soap to me.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2013

Are you pouring water out of the teapot's spout, or the top? Maybe it's getting caught up in the spout.
posted by hooray at 1:09 PM on August 14, 2013

My guess is that, since it's just one cup out of the batch, it's not an off-taste of the tea itself. Thus, it's probably soap. I like hooray's idea that the rinse water might not get all the soap out of the spout; spouts are hard to clean. That's probably one of the reasons behind the British "never wash the teapot" thing. I assume that if you used a tea-ball, you'd mention that it was also clean and rinsed; mesh is also easy to accidentally hold soap film. The one thing I'll say is, it's probably not the mug... Next time this happens, go and get a clean cup, rinse thoroughly, and pour yourself a new cup from the same brew still in the pot. If it's soapy, then the problem's most likely in the pot.
posted by aimedwander at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2013

If other people have access to your teapot and teaball, someone may be using it to prepare a strongly scented tea. If these things weren't thoroughly rinsed after anyone else might have washed them, that could be a factor.

I have noticed this with two different orders of the same blend

So the whole of the tea you received in one package is doing this? Heat and light will oxidize tea and give it off flavors of various sorts. I've tried brewing some tea that I'd inadvertently stored in a warm area for several years, it was terrible, and somewhat reminiscent of soap.

Something's probably gone wrong in storage or shipping. Ideally, tea should be in air-tight and light-tight containers. Many tins aren't very airtight, you can check yours by filling the empty tin with water and turning it upside down for a while.
posted by yohko at 1:45 PM on August 14, 2013

Also, if you are using the teapot in different locations, or have some sort of filtering or softener system, tea will taste different with different water.

Water softeners sometimes result in water that varies in hardness as refiling the chemicals gets forgotten.

If you have soft water, soap does not rinse off as easily either.
posted by yohko at 1:50 PM on August 14, 2013

I try not to wash my cups/tea/coffee vessels with soap for this reason. Try to clean those things with lemon rind or vinegar instead.
posted by estherbester at 5:54 PM on August 14, 2013

I've stopped buying bottled dish soaps that claim to be "antibacterial" because it's so hard to rinse the soap off the dish - are you using that type of dish soap? I also think lavendar tastes like soap and I know they put lavendar flowers in tea sometimes. My granddaughter loves lavendar everything, but to me it all smells and tastes like soap.

Good luck - it would be a revoltin' development to get a swig of soap water when one is expecting a warm, delicious tea.
posted by aryma at 7:28 PM on August 14, 2013

This sounds weird, but I mention this because it happened to me: Are you storing your tea anywhere near a scented candle? Even just on the same counter? If it's a Glade or similarly low-grade candle, that will infect EVERYTHING. It took me *forever* to figure this out, too. RIP all my soap-tasting tortillas that lived on the counter. You were disgusting.
posted by Charity Garfein at 11:07 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have a water softener? Water out of the faucet at different times of the day can vary in saltyness/hardness (how long it's been since recharge).
posted by 445supermag at 6:19 AM on August 15, 2013

Thanks for all the replies! I think this is likely a combination of my water softener and using soap to wash the tea things.
posted by before and after at 6:51 AM on August 15, 2013

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