The Skinny Taste Test: Herbal and Fruit Tea

We gather around the kettle to try out a litany of teas from across the spectrum – be warned, the following article contains frank discussion of the colour of urine

Feature by Peter Simpson | 01 Apr 2019
  • Tea

A nice cup of tea; it should be comforting, warming, and a very particular shade of brown in accordance with your own personal foibles. Yet every so often, it’s important to look beyond the enormous box of teabags to the smaller, more colourful boxes of teabags. The ones that promise worlds of flavour, new sensations of colour and odour, and something to sip on all day without giving yourself a caffeine overdose. Yes, with The Skinny office assembled and basically wrangled into line, it’s tea time!

Our frankly-too-big team of tasters are grading these teas on four criteria. First, Colour. Does this tea look nice? Does it look like what it says on the label? Are we concerned for our health when the water hits the teabag? Next is the Smell. Is it one of those good smells, or not? Then it’s Taste. Does this tea taste good? Does it taste bad? Does it taste of a big old cup of hot water and nothing else? And finally, Drinkability. Could we see ourselves drinking this again?

YogiTea: Compost, cardamom, and contrasting fortunes

We begin with an easy trio that won’t spark any controversy – YogiTea’s Women’s Tea, Men’s Tea, and Classic Tea (which we assume is for all tea-drinkers, no matter where they may lay on the gender spectrum). Let’s start with the Classic; on the colour front, it pours a peachy brown, a little like a watered-down Irn-Bru. Now, the aroma, and oh dear. It doesn’t smell of all that much at all. Take another big honk, and yep, there's not a whole lot going on; this bodes well. We were promised cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, and we aren’t getting all that much of any of them. Taste-wise, it’s much the same; it’s a pretty plain cuppa with a little bit of spice at the end. A pretty uninspiring start.

Next up, the Women’s Tea, which pours the colour of, ahem, “unhealthy, dehydrated pee”. Slightly crass, but it’s very much painting a picture so we’ll leave it in. The Men’s, on the other hand, looks less appealing but like a healthier stream of wee, so… swings and roundabouts, we suppose. Aroma notes next, and the Women’s Tea (with ginger, orange peel, cinnamon, fennel, and chamomile) “smells like a swimming pool”. There were hints of menthol, the chamomile came through strongly, and it was a moderate hit with the team.

The Men’s Tea (cardamom, liquorice, carob, cinnamon, roasted chicory – you know, manly things) “smells like Christmas, but not in a good way”. It has something of a dank, musty aroma to it, like a bag of compost. One dissenting voice expressed the opposite opinion, and thought it smelled quite nice; this is a theme which will continue throughout this test.

Flavour-wise, these were both fairly middling. The Women’s tea was a not-unpleasant experience that most people in the room were basically OK with; the Men’s tastes of licorice, compost and clay, plus oranges. It split the room down the middle, with a few of us massively onboard and everyone else wondering how much worse things could get from here.

Pukka Teas

Well, things certainly get a bit ‘more’ right away, as next on the agenda were a trio of teas from Pukka with fancy labels and intriguing flavour combinations. None of them are overtly gendered either, which was nice to see. First up, the Elderberry and Echinacea. Colour-wise, it’s a strong effort, pouring to a nice pink not dissimilar to a good glass of rose. That’s our first appealing shade, people. On aroma, we’re getting hints of Ribena, berries with large parts of the hedge still attached, and a very particular sense memory of the Editor-in-Chief’s grandmother’s garden in the 1980s. Your results may vary, but overall this is a nice smelling cuppa.

In terms of taste though, slightly disappointing; the smell wrote a cheque that the flavour couldn’t cash, or words to that effect. Basically, it doesn’t taste of much, which is sort of a plus when discussing whether you’d go back to it a second time:

‘Did that drink make you angry or upset? No, it didn’t really invoke any strong feelings.

'Would you drink it again? Meh, not hating something is always a plus.’

If the Elderberry number looks like a chilled glass of rose, Pukka’s Licorice and Cinnamon pours like a bootleg cocktail of Newcastle Brown and Bovril. It’s a deep but strangely appealing brown, but get too close to the murky vortex and you’re greeted by a harsh aroma with hints of damp wood and chocolate. Continue onwards to the ‘actually drinking the tea’ part of drinking the tea, though, and things pick up. It’s sweet, smooth, yet packed with a whole load of flavours. One taster remarks that their mouth has filled with saliva, another compares it to Corsodyl mouthwash but in a positive sense. It’s a complex, multifarious hit that we would absolutely drink again between the caffeine-filled coffees to help us grumble our way through the day.

The Three Mint tea is a refreshing stopover in more ways than one. We know where we are with a mint tea; we know what it looks like, and we know what kind of bouquet to expect. We get a strong mint nose, but also that faint hint of hedge from earlier. Why do The Skinny team always think that cups of tea smell like plants? We couldn’t tell you, but it’s our truth so we’re sticking with it. The flavour split opinion, but that was more down to the fact that half the room already didn’t particularly like mint tea. Those who did would have this one again, those who didn’t would not. See, it’s a vital service we’re providing here.

'Christ alive, that's a red cup of tea'

Now let’s get back to comparing these teas to urine! Clipper’s Green Tea with Lemon looks like “standard” pee, and smells like a liquid Hall’s Soother. Unfortunately, it tastes of bugger-all, so we won’t waste much longer on it. The other Clipper representative is the Raspberry Leaf infusion, and Christ alive that’s a red cup of tea. The colour is a bit of a shock on first glance, like something out of a particularly sedate horror film. The aroma is cracking as well, and evocative of childhood parties with raspberry jelly, or a nice fruit cider if you’re the one overseeing the party. Taste-wise it delivers, in that it meets the ‘sweet and floral but not overpowering’ standard by which we all judge a herbal tea. Yeah, we could drink this again.

We could also get used to Sainsbury’s Blackberry, Apple, Beetroot and Ginger tea. It’s a very nice colour – it turns out that, in The Skinny office, we’re very impressed by bright shades of red – and sports an aroma that’s fantastically sweet but also faintly reminiscent of Play-Doh. The flavour is a classic fruit tea vibe, with an earthy and slightly weird undertone from the beetroot. Imagine drinking an entire beetroot salad, dressing and all, and you get the idea. Would we have it again? Probably not, but we won’t forget it in a hurry, and that’s a victory in and of itself.

Bad Tea, Good Tea, and Ugly Tea

OK, we’re getting towards the end and oh my fuck what is that. It’s the Twinings Turmeric Superblend with Star Anise and Ginger, and it looks like the flattest glass of Berocca you’ve ever seen. Paint a door this shade of yellow and you’ll be the envy of every other work-from-home graphic designer on the block, but it feels a bit uneasy putting it into your body. On the urine scale, this is ‘proceed directly to the hospital’. Just draw the mug to your nose… “Oh fuck!” comes the cry from one end of the room. “It smells like it’s going to kill me” is the response. Luckily, the bark is much worse than the bite, as this stuff basically just reminds us of that classic playground thirst-quencher, the Kwenchy Cup. As for whether we’d try it again, you’d never get this stuff out of a jumper if you spilled it on yourself, so that basically rules it out for us.

The Masala Chai from Tea India is a cracker though. Visually it’s a rich, murk-free brown, and it has a nice, generally warm aroma to it. There’s a well-rounded spiciness to it, and we could definitely imagine it replacing our usual teabag on occasion if we were feeling particularly decadent. And that just leaves one challenger remaining. Having been through the herbal, the fruity, the faintly terrifying and the actually-not-bad, we step into the nonsensical.

Tea granules. PG Tips have produced tea granules. Granules. Why? If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this experience, it’s that there’s a joy in letting a cup of tea brew, and wondering what culinary sensation waits at the other end. With these granules, that’s all gone – simply stab the teaspoon through the foil, kick up a cloud of tiny tea particles, choke, nearly drop the jar on the floor, regain your composure, shovel out a spoonful into your cup, add water and watch the saddest cup of tea come to life. It has no aroma, except for sadness (and a faint whiff of biscuits). Taste: "It's weird that something dissolved in water is waterier than a normal cup of tea.” Drink it again? We’d rather huff on that tea cloud from earlier in the paragraph.

The Verdict

So what’s our verdict? Of the twelve teas we tried out, three stood out as looking and tasting good (the Masala Chai, the Licorice and Cinnamon, and the one with the beetroot in it), although it should be said that one of those smelled like a damp bag of socks. There isn’t a whole load of correlation between a nice smell and a solid flavour, but there is one link that is pretty clear. It’s the one we’ve always known about – the colour. Basically, all good cups of tea, be they herbal, fruity or actual, sit somewhere on the red-brown bit of the colour chart. If your cuppa is anywhere on that spectrum, you’re in for a treat; if it looks like urine of any kind… well… it seems obvious when you think about it.