Tea for the common man: good, better, best?
March 16, 2014 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Tea: I'm trying to figure out which are the best supermarket brands, and what might be a good kind of tea to try.

My grocery store sells mass market brands (Lipton, Salada, Red Rose, Tetley) in boxes of 100 tea bags for for about 5 cents a bag. They also sell Twinings and Bigelow which present as an upscale choice in small boxes for up to 20 cents per tea bag.

Q1: Are Twinings and Bigelow actually better? Of the two, which is better? Who are their peers in the tea market?

Q2: What's the next step up from all these supermarket teas, and where are they sold?

I should say I'm not looking for anything very special, or spiced, or fancy. I just want to try a better version of the ordinary. If I go into a health food store, or specialty shop, I see a host of brands and I have no way to choose between something good and dust swept up from the tea warehouse floor.

And, of course:

Q3: What do you like?
posted by SemiSalt to Food & Drink (49 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I like Red Rose for every day cheapo drinking. I like Bigelow Constant Comment for variety, but I don't find the basic black teas to be anything special. Not crazy about Twinings for some reason.
posted by Kriesa at 1:38 PM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like Twinings and Bigelow about equally. You can get a little more for your money if you buy a tea strainer and buy loose-leaf. Around here we also have Stash and Numi, which are a little more expensive and also very good. I got some Kusmi (loose-leaf) for Christmas a couple years ago and enjoyed that, too. Different tea flavors make more difference than brands, I think.
posted by chaiminda at 1:40 PM on March 16, 2014

If it's just plain tea bags (IE "green" or "black") I usually buy them in the big packages from the local asian market (I think it's Foojoy brand) and that's both cheap and usually tastes a bit better. I really don't like overly strong tea and a lot of the supermarket brands, particularly Stash, tend towards the overdone.

That said, we have a teahouse in town now and I've tasted properly steeped loose leaf tea and so am utterly ruined for teabags.
posted by selfnoise at 1:45 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I drink Stash tea often enough that I buy boxes of 100 bags from Amazon - ever since I quit coffee, I go through 3-4 cups of Earl Grey a day, and then in the evening I drink one of their decaf teas (usually pumpkin spice or vanilla chai).
posted by skycrashesdown at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Red Rose for an everyday black tea. I prefer Earl Grey and of all the varieties I've tried, I've liked Bigelow's the best and found it to be a better quality than more economy versions.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think Bigelow teas are fantastic and they're reasonably priced. Constant Comment and Earl Grey are my favorites, but the Vanilla Chai is also good (if a little weak for my taste).
posted by breakfast for dinner at 2:01 PM on March 16, 2014

I think Twinings is better than Lipton or Tetley, but Red Rose is fine in a pinch. Bigelows, meh.

Look out for PG Tips, if your supermarket carries it. It's packaged in a much more "supermarket brand" style, with a larger quantity of bags, and less overall packaging. I feel like a lot of what you're paying for with Twinings is the special box and the individually wrapped teabags and the little string and the cute label and all the rest.

The nice thing about Twinings is that you can pick which specific style of tea you want. You can have Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, etc. In my opinion, if you have specific tastes in tea, it's worth the $3.50 price tag to get a tea you actually enjoy vs. the generic "BLACK TEA" Lipton's experience. But if you like just regular old black tea, PG Tips is where it's at.
posted by Sara C. at 2:01 PM on March 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

Red Rose is cheap and awesome. I find that the water you use can make the most difference in how your tea tastes, so you might want to experiment with that as well.
posted by ravioli at 2:02 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Opinions will vary, but here is mine: The regular Twinings and Bigelow lines are meh, but they might have some fancier lines that are better. Republic of Tea is perhaps the next step up, but they specialize in having all sorts of crazy flavors so I haven't had a regular black tea of theirs. A good but not expensive kind that I like is Ahmad English Tea No. 1; it's black with a little bergamot but not quite an Earl Gray. I got mine at a Middle Eastern grocery. For my money, the best possible black tea that comes in teabags is Yorkshire Gold. Two bags per cup, steeped five minutes, I'd rather drink that than many loose teas. PG Tips is acceptable too, but tastes more flowery and less malty; I like malty. There is also regular Yorkshire, with the red label; it has a sort of earthy flavor to it, like a pu-erh, that I think is gross, but ymmv.
posted by clavicle at 2:04 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ahmad Tea is fantastic, if you can find it. A lot of Middle Eastern groceries carry it. I'm a fan of the Ceylon variety. It's not cheap, though.
posted by Sara C. at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you have a Russian grocery nearby? The one near me has an ever-changing selection of bulk teas, all Ceylon: Akbar, Impra, Riston, and most recently Sinbad. You can find these on-line as well, but the supply seems to be erratic. My wife used to drink Twinings Irish Breakfast (which is a fancy name for broken-leaf black tea) and has found almost all of these teas superior. We've been paying about $12 for a 400g container. The Sinbad is bagged and goes for $12 a kilo, the jury's still out on that one.
posted by mr vino at 2:14 PM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I get six-packs of 50-bag boxes of Twinings English Breakfast Tea from Amazon. It's $31.08 for 300 bags.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:34 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yorkshire Tea is TO DIE FOR. I love it - the regular or the "Gold" variety. You can find it in some specialty grocery markets and gormet stores, as well as Cost Plus World Market.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:39 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might want to explore different teas at Upton Tea Imports. They have a great selection and are really not expensive. You could try out some of their samplers, for example, the Assam Tea Sampler was really good. You can also order pretty much any of their teas in tiny little sampler packets for very little money so you can figure out what you really like.
posted by peacheater at 2:51 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Something to consider is what additives are in the tea and what the tea bags are made of—that might make a big difference in your choice. There's a great chart in this story about what's really in tea, and my takeaway is that out of the major tea brands, only Numi, Rishi, and maybe Choice tea are OK across the board, without toxic pesticides, artificial or unknown flavoring, GMOs, or leaching plastic tea bags. So those brands are all a definite next step up. Of those, I've tried Numi—it's what we stock by the hot water at work—and I really like it. Their blends produce a great, full-bodied tea, regardless of what flavor you go with.
posted by limeonaire at 2:58 PM on March 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you happen to have a Costco membership, there's a Japanese brand of bagged green tea that is very inexpensive (~$.01/bag) and quite respectable, although you have to buy it in boxes of 100. It has a sprinkling of matcha powder at the bottom of the bag that you're supposed to add in addition to the tea bag.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:05 PM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

For reference, I drink black tea with milk and I drink "plain" black tea. In particular, I don't drink earl grey by choice (but sometimes it's the only non-herbal, non-green option available, so I suck it up).

Twinings and Bigelow are not worth the extra cost. Same with Stash. Tazo is probably the best of the really mass-market brands, but tends to be expensive. Twinings Irish Breakfast is acceptable if you let it brew for quite a while. (The Irish Breakfast is a bit stronger than the English Breakfast, which is pretty weak.) When I was a kid, my parents mostly drank Twinings and put multiple tea bags in the pot. (I think it was two English Breakfast and one Darjeeling. Anyway, a single tea bag strains to make a strong mug of tea, never mind a pot.) Red Rose hasn't been available any of the places I've lived since I was a kid, so I have no real opinion on it. My dad used to buy it to take to work, so presumably he found it the best of the cheap bunch. (Lipton is okay. Safeway brand is foul.)

I've never seen Tetley's in the US, so if what you can find is imported, it's probably going to win among the cheap bunch. Otherwise, you can probably find PG Tips (Target here stocks it), which is fairly cheap per bag and perfectly serviceable. My best friend buys PG Tips when I visit and my brother (who inexplicably doesn't drink tea) has some for when my mother visits.

However, the real answer is Yorkshire, if you can find it. The regular kind (which has a red stripe on the box) runs about 10-12¢/bag from the co-op here.* Yorkshire Gold (which has a "gold" stripe on the box) is about 12-15¢/bag. They definitely taste different (I drink regular and my mom gets Gold off the internet) and I think Gold is stronger, but both kick the butt of the other choices.

If you live somewhere it exists, Peets has decent tea if you want to experiment with different varieties. It'll cost a bit more than Twinings, but I'd try Peets before I'd try Twinings. (I'm not even sure Bigelow makes the really standard teas outside of whatever the English Breakfast one is called and Earl Grey.)

*One of the more upscale supermarkets here stocks at least Yorkshire Gold. However, Minneapolis is the land of the outrageously expensive supermarkets, so the not inexpensive co-op is the place to buy tea.
posted by hoyland at 3:57 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

For regular black tea I think I prefer Tetley to Lipton. I'll make a point of trying Red Rose next.

For flavored teas, I really like Twinings Lady Grey tea (a citrusy Earl Grey) and Celestial Seasonings Cinnamon Apple Spice.
posted by cali59 at 3:58 PM on March 16, 2014

Stash is good. If you have a Kroger type store their Private Selections brand is really good. You can also probably find Tazo there. (Oh man, their Zen green tea is really good.)

Oh, and Harney and Sons is really good!! (I can find it at Starbucks/Barnes and Noble.)

Between Twinnings and Bigelow I don't have much of a preference. I've had both, though.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:11 PM on March 16, 2014

Best answer: If you're getting too far into the upscale teas it might be worth it just to buy a small teapot and drink looseleaf, because it is a million times better than anything in a box and surprisingly easy. I used to think these people were obnoxious until I became one, and there is just no comparison. Cost-wise it can range wildly depending on where you're buying, but some brands of bagged tea tend to be very weak, and if you find yourself using two bags per cup it evens out.

Of what's been mentioned Ahmad and PG Tips are OK. I remember Twinings being good but I think they might have declined in quality recently - my mother used to buy it growing up and I remember it being very good but every time I've bought it it's been startlingly weak. Tazo is what Starbucks uses, so you probably already have an opinion on it (but again, most Starbucks use two bags per cup.)
posted by dekathelon at 4:23 PM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tetley British Blend in the US is a good bog-standard "tea tea" teabag that I've seen in American supermarkets much cheaper than Twinings or the more high-falutin' options. I'd heard that Red Rose in the US was a different blend from the one sold in Canada, and whenever I've had it, it's tasted pretty weak, perhaps because each bag is designed for a dinky china cup and not a massive mug. Not recommended. (I'm always going to prefer Yorkshire Tea over PG Tips, and Yorkshire red over Gold, but I'm not going to pay $7 for a box of 80 bags.)

But nthing clavicle and Sarah C.'s suggestion: if you have access to some kind of ethnic grocery (Russian, south or east Asian, Middle Eastern) then you can find some good mid-price options. Ahmad is about $10 for 500g of loose tea, which goes a long way, and really not bad. Russian-market Ceylon blends like Akbar tend to be flavoured; the tea in South Asian groceries usually ranges from kilo boxes of CTC pellets (strong, unsubtle) to BOP Assam, Ceylon and Darjeelings.
posted by holgate at 4:29 PM on March 16, 2014

Tazo is what Starbucks uses, so you probably already have an opinion on it (but again, most Starbucks use two bags per cup.)

As a note, Tazo in Starbucks and Tazo in shops are different, as of a few years ago. Starbucks now uses Tazo bags with entire leaves in them, as opposed to your standard ground up tea. They taste the same to me, though.
posted by hoyland at 4:40 PM on March 16, 2014

I dislike most Bigelow teas. I'm also not a fan of Lipton or Salada. All have this slightly off note to me. Twinings is okay and Stash is fine for herbal teas. Overall, I think you get better results with loose teas, but if you're only using stuff at the grocery you can do a lot worse than 2 bags of Red Rose per cup.

If you're going all-American and drinking iced tea, then only Luzianne tea is acceptable.
posted by 26.2 at 4:43 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can occasionally find Dilmah black tea at Big Lots (!) and it is delicious. I haven't tried their other varieties but have heard good things about them.

Also, if you pursue loose teas, loose Lipton is much better than their bagged tea, and Lipton Darjeeling Green (which, confusingly, is black tea in a green box, sold in Indian groceries) is very good and the backbone of my homemade chai.
posted by workerant at 4:43 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I heartily second Harney and Sons teas. I drink them pretty much every day and have drunk I don't know how many gallons by now. Their many steps up from Lipton tea is Palm Court black tea blend. If you want to save some money you can get the loose tea and bag it up yourself. It's perfect go to morning tea. A little more adventuresome is Stash's Christmas Morning. The bags are fine, but suggest the loose version and bagging it yourself or getting an infuser. The loose blend is a little different and much better than the bags.
posted by sevenless at 4:50 PM on March 16, 2014

I have to parrot what others up thread are saying about loose leaf tea. It really is much better.
Additionally it is as cheap if not cheaper than drinking tea bags.
Finally, it is simple. You don't even need a tea pot: throw the leaves in cup or thermos, add hot water, drink. May take some practice to avoid drinking leaves using this method.

I highly recommend a Chinese grocery for purchasing the tea. If you do find one, do not worry about the price. The cheap teas are good too. Once you start getting favorites then you can explore up the price scale if you wish.

When you go to purchase the tea there will be some form of English on the bag, box or tin. That being said some times the English is of little help. You can always ask a worker for help and they generally will be glad to. There are only a few types of tea that you should know so you can get in the ball park of what you are looking for.

Black tea (sometimes may be called red tea) - this is your basic tea that is most analogous to Lipton, etc...
Pu-Erh (pronounced: POO Arrr - imagine you are a pirate explaining a need for the restroom) - this tastes like a pretty strong black tea with earthy undertones.
Oolong - Tastes kind of like a cross between green and black tea.
Green tea - if a Chinese brand it will generally taste a little less bitter than most people are used to from using powders or bags.
Everything else - there is lots of dried stuff that can be put in hot water the flavors are endless.

If no grocery is available Amazon sells all kinds of tea. Tianfu is a safe brand to purchase. It is a little overpriced for what you are getting, but it does have consistent quality. ONce you have figured out which variety, you like you can try cheaper brands.
posted by wobumingbai at 5:00 PM on March 16, 2014

Forgot to answer what I like.

I like most Pu-Erh tea for drinking in the evening. For getting me through the day I like a variety of Oolong called Tie-Guanyin (The Iron Goddess of Mercy). For sipping before dinner i like a green tea variety called biluochun. However, just like my above advice I can be satisfied with any of the generics from the categories above too.
posted by wobumingbai at 5:17 PM on March 16, 2014

FWIW, some of the major "common" tea brands have high levels of pesticide residues. The only one that came back pesticide residue free is Red Rose.
posted by Poldo at 7:20 PM on March 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

If I go into a health food store, or specialty shop, I see a host of brands and I have no way to choose between something good and dust swept up from the tea warehouse floor.

Stuff like Lipton and Tetley is the dust swept up from the tea warehouse floor. (Or, pretty close to it.) Twinings' is a step up, but loose leaf tea is best. And you can get it cheaply in any Asian market; I have a huge quart-size jug of green looseleaf tea I've been trying to drink through for a year and a half now, and I got that for only about five bucks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:35 PM on March 16, 2014

My great-grandmother, grandmother and mother all drank Red Rose, and there's something to be said for tradition! Tradition aside though, I think Red Rose tastes so much better than Lipton or Tetley that it's no contest. When my local supermarket stopped stocking it, I bought every box they still had on the shelf in the two nearby stores. When that ran out a few months later, I order a case from their website - more than 1300 bags of tea, which I am half way through right now.

You can have my Red Rose tea when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!
posted by platinum at 7:43 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge fan of PG Tips. Tetley is also good. I'll be the outlier and say that I don't really like Yorkshire tea at all (haven't tried the gold though). I only really drink black tea with milk, and to me PG Tips is a great everyday tea. I really don't like Liptons, Twinings or Bigelow because they always come in those tiny stapled little teabags with no room, so you have to steep for ages to get any flavour, and then its overbrewed and bitter. I'm a believer in the spacious teabag, which is what PG Tips and Tetley have. Loose leaf is the business, but I like the convenience of the teabag.
posted by Joh at 10:09 PM on March 16, 2014

I recently got Dilmah’s regular tea in bulk from Amazon after seeing it praised here on MetaFilter as well as elsewhere online. I’ve already gone through my first box of fifty bags and like it better than Lipton’s and other cheap teas available in U.S. stores.

On Amazon they have different bundles of different box sizes (and even loose, if that’s your bag), but I got the six boxes of fifty bags. I’ve noticed the price on Amazon fluctuates frequently (it took me over a year to get around to actually ordering it after looking many times), but currently I see that bundle as $23.66, or 8 cents per bag (rounded up).

Note also some tea brands have a bit more in each bag than others. The standard seems to be 2g per bag, but Lipton’s is around 2.2g. Tazo’s “Awake” black tea is about 2.5g. I was using Lipton’s before the Dilmah arrived and was aware that I’d be getting slightly less tea per cup, but after having had a bunch I’m fine with the Dilmah.
posted by D.C. at 1:47 AM on March 17, 2014

Stuff like Lipton and Tetley is the dust swept up from the tea warehouse floor. (Or, pretty close to it.)

It is true that the fine grain tea may consist of what is called "dust"- or slightly bigger "fannings" - and it is true that this is cheaper than larger grain tea leaves. But it does not necessarily follow that you will prefer the more expensive stuff. The finer grain tea leaf bits tend to go into bags make a stronger tea more rapidly than the larger bits. See "tea leaf grading".
posted by rongorongo at 6:52 AM on March 17, 2014

Came here to say Yorkshire Gold, but it looks like it has already been said many times! Red Rose and Tetley are also good. If you want to try black tea with milk and sugar (I use brown sugar! mmm) then treat yoself.
posted by stompadour at 7:17 AM on March 17, 2014

It is true that the fine grain tea may consist of what is called "dust"- or slightly bigger "fannings" - and it is true that this is cheaper than larger grain tea leaves. But it does not necessarily follow that you will prefer the more expensive stuff.

That's a fair point. But as the impression I got was that the OP was asking a) whether there was really an appreciable difference in quality between Lipton and Twinings, and b) whether it was worth at least trying the different brands, I was pointing out that yes, there is a difference. It's absolutely possible the OP could prefer Red Rose at the end of the day, but at least they'll have tried other things, which I believed was the point.

And to bring this around back to an actual second answer (sorry) - OP, you may be able to find Barry's in some supermarkets as well. A few visits to a friend in Ireland gave me a taste for it (it's kind of like the Lipton's of Ireland).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:19 AM on March 17, 2014

Response by poster: My thanks go out to all the commenters for taking the time to share their opinions and experiences. Here are my takeaways:

1. Lipton. No one stood up to speak in favor of the dominent brand in the US market. A lot of Lipton shelf space is devoted to powered tea mixes, which does not testify to a commitment to tea excellence. Some time ago (two decades?), it was discovered that Lipton was including powdered tea in some tea bags to give the impression that the tea was brewing quickly. Perhaps they still blend the product for the eye first, and the palate second.

2. Salada and Tetley. I was brought up with Salada; there was only one comment (negative) about it. There were a couple of favorable comments about Tetley.

3. Red Rose and PG Tips got a lot of favorable mention, and are the clear favorites among mass market teas. I'll be trying some Red Rose.

4. All the commenters that compared Twinings and Begelow preferred Twinings. That can't be coincidence.

5. A lot of people prefer loose tea. We do have a tea infuser of the two-part, perforated, stainless steel egg type. We don't remember where it came from, and it may be 50, or even 75 years old. It works fine. We also have a small teapot with a sort of tea basket insert. The pot requires two cups (bare minimum) of water.

6. Thanks to Crystalinne for the mention of Harney and Sons. I see one of their samplers in my future. Also, thanks to several commenters for mentioning various ethic markets. Our local Chinese market got displaced by a CVS construction project. I'll have to see if I can find where they went.

7. There is a lot of distrust of international marketing companies. A couple of people suggested that companies that have earned a good reputation at home might be selling lesser products under the same name in the colonies. If they do, I bet they say they are adapting to local preferences.

Finally, I'd like to make a shameless plug for the Ajiri Tea Company (www.ajiritea.com). They provide employment and support a school in Kenya. As tea goes, it's a bit expensive, but it's a good cause. The packaging is cute, and the tea is really good. Think about it for a stocking stuffer, secret Santa gift, housewarming present, or the like for some tea lover. (My connection with Ajiri is only that the founder and I attended the same college - 40 years apart.)
posted by SemiSalt at 7:52 AM on March 17, 2014

A tangential note after reading this:

A lot of people prefer loose tea. We do have a tea infuser of the two-part, perforated, stainless steel egg type. We don't remember where it came from, and it may be 50, or even 75 years old. It works fine. We also have a small teapot with a sort of tea basket insert. The pot requires two cups (bare minimum) of water.

I actually have had great success using my French press coffeemaker for looseleaf tea, as well. You can get a single-serving size French press for about $20 if you want to give it a shot (and, obviously, you can use it for coffee as well).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've enjoyed reading the variety of answers here, and thank you OP for for mentioning another interesting alternative. Upsettingly, Tetley brand has been implicated in the tea plantation scandal about low wages which the Guardian reported onrecently so fair trade tea is imo the way to go if you can, certainly with regard to popular supermarket teas. With that as a caveat, because in British supermarkets there's always fair trade tea in the same aisle:

What hasn't been openly stated is this: some people drink tea in order to regularly coat their insides with a rush of hot, dark, cafeinated tannin; some people drink tea in order to partake of a delicately refreshing cultural experience. Which of these two types are you? If the former, well, Yorkshire Gold. If the later, named teas ie Darjeeling from speciality tea merchants or at a pinch Twinings. If your speciality tea merchant is Chinese (I'm sure I've seen serious tea stuff online) there will be tons of sophisticated variety. Talking about a fairly refined hobby here.

And if you're somewhere in between, I've found some pretty good teas in ethnic Turkish shops. Tasty, not too expensive, large leaf black teas, mostly from India. Cheers.
posted by glasseyes at 8:27 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tea infuser. I wonder what that is. To brew tea you need an earthenware or china teapot as preferred, some insulation for it ie a tea cosy, and a small strainer or sieve. Actually any heatproof insulated pouring vessel will do. Steep tea for 2 minutes in the teapot under the cosy. Give pot a stir. Put strainer on top of cup. Pour tea. If you're that fussed about drips have an extra saucer on the table for the strainer afterwards.

If you don't need scalding hot tea you needn't bother with a cosy.
posted by glasseyes at 8:34 AM on March 17, 2014

If you can find Typhoo or Barry's Irish Tea, those are good. They make a quick, strong cup of tea, and I like to drink them as a good every day tea. Also, they both make a good decaf tea, which is important for me sometimes.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:36 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bigelow Jasmine Green is my favorite tea. I will choose it over the fancy loose-leaf jasmine greens at specialty shops. It's no longer available in my area (Tampa, FL), so I have my mom buy and mail it to me from Western PA.

I will always choose Bigelow over Twinings, though I do have both in my cupboard. I don't care much for the Tazo teas. Also, I rarely drink straight black tea; I prefer a little more flavor, so will go Earl Grey or Chai.
posted by dearwassily at 10:22 AM on March 17, 2014


I rarely drink straight black tea; I prefer a little more flavor, so will go Earl Grey or Chai.

This is another good point; the black-tea-vs.-black-tea-with-flavoring angle. Twinings and Bigelow are the only supermarket "cheap" brands I've seen thus far that get into this realm, so that's another thing to consider.

Actually, lemme give a quick-and-dirty tea 101 here: black tea, orange pekoe, and green tea all come from the same plant; the difference between them is in how long they roast the leaves before packing 'em. Green tea has been roasted the shortest amount of time; black tea the longest. ("Orange pekoe" doesn't taste like oranges, it just is the name for the middle-ground state.) Then among the black teas, some tea companies do what those fancy artisinal chocolate and coffee makers are starting to do now - they "source" where the tea's from, as that affects the flavor (tea from the Assam region of India tends to be stronger, tea from the Darjeeling region is a little more delicate, etc.) and make blends based on that. English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast are just these blends of black teas; Irish Breakfast tends to have a bit more Assam in it. And you can find Twinings Darjeeling tea as well.

Then they sometimes add flavoring to a black tea - by using herb leaves, spices, etc. Earl Gray is a black tea that's on the delicate side, with a little bergamot flavoring in it (it tastes kinda....lemon-y and mint-y at the same time? but very faint.) I think I've also seen orange and cherry and raspberry flavored black teas.

If you find chai tea bags, that's black tea with a lot of funky spices in it. But if you're looking for an easy DIY kitchen project, you can make your own "chai spice" blend of a bunch of different spices (whole spices, which you crush up a bit) and just keep it in a big jar at home, and use it to flavor any kind of black tea. (How you do it is: heat up about a half cup of milk first, then add a spoon of the spice blend and a spoonful of brown sugar and let it steep for about five minutes. Then brew a cup of tea, strain the spices out of the milk and add the milk to the tea.) Any kind of plain black tea (meaning, nothing that's raspberry or Earl Gray flavored) would work.

Finally: just a couple of funky observations about two kinds of tea, which are just plain neat:

* Lapsang Souchong is a black tea that gets smoked over pine branches, and it smells exactly like a campfire. It sorta tastes that way too.

* Genmai is a kind of green tea where they mix a little bit of roasted brown rice right in. It looks like you spilled Rice Krispies in the tea container, and it smells like popcorn.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:40 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be aware that most any fruit-flavored tea on supermarket shelves is going to be artificially flavored, with the possible exception of citrus fruit flavors that might actually have zest in the teabag. Anything like mango, apple, raspberry, etc is going to be artificially flavored.

I've even seen "Natural Flavors" (code for artificial flavors) listed in the ingredients of the sort of hippy-dippy herbal teas like Celestial Seasonings and Yogi Tea.
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on March 17, 2014

Also look for tea in the Asian food aisle, if you have one.

I think the basic YamaMotaYama green tea bags are excellent.
posted by Rash at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2014

Yamamotoyama brand for green/black Asian variety. Can be had for full leaf or tea bags.
Brooke bond/ Taj mahal tea is orange pekoe available in all Indian stores and regular staple for all Indians.
Tulsi/ Republic of tea are the better alternatives, although pricier available in all grocery stores
If you want the next level adiago/teavana are great sites for sampling/high quality tea.
posted by radsqd at 1:37 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also recommended would be Wegmans which has full tea leaves for fairly cheap prices when looked at /lb basis.
posted by radsqd at 1:38 PM on March 17, 2014

Just came in to give another recommend to Harney & Sons. I don't like heavily brewed tea, so I only use a little bit of their tea, meaning it lasts forever. Great teas and not terribly expensive per cup.

I'll drink grocery store tea, but I can't say I like it. Numi makes the best grocery store tea, but I'm not sure if you have it where you are, and I'm sure it's more expensive than the stuff you named.
posted by cnc at 2:07 PM on March 17, 2014

My wife recently switched to Barry's Gold and loves it. May need to get her some Yorkshire Gold to compare. She liked PG Tips too but settled on Barry's Gold after taste testing.
posted by leibnizgasse44 at 2:43 PM on March 17, 2014

I love Good Earth Sweet & Spicy Tea. Add a dash of coconut milk (the real stuff in a can, not the watered down stuff in tetrapak) and a teaspoon of cocoa. Sweet and creamy, minimal calories. There's a caffeine and no-caffeine version.
posted by 4midori at 11:02 AM on March 18, 2014

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