On the back of the fascinating BBC television series “Inside the Factory”, and a particular episode focusing on tea, I was curious about some of the claims in the episode regarding tea:
(1) Tea tastes better using filtered water
(2) Tea tastes sweeter if drank from a red mug, whether or not there is sugar in the tea
Now I could see the logic in the first claim- and everyone I know who has a filter says the water is so much nicer, so it makes sense that the tea would taste better.
Now my tap water is fairly hard, but I still get what I thought was a pretty decent cup of tea if using it straight from the tap into my non-filter kettle. However, I love a taste test…..
I received a Morphy Richards Brita filter kettle, which I immediately put to work! Not having owned even a water filter before, let alone a filter kettle, I was very excited about this. And boy did it not disappoint!
I had three friends over, all being tea drinkers to varying degrees, so they and my partner were going to be my chief tasters.
As we are all cake lovers, this was a great opportunity to try my Opera Gateau out on everyone (recipe to follow in a later post):
Test one: water for drinking
Before the excitment of drinking the tea, I decided to use the kettle just to filter some water, purely for drinking as water -and I wanted to taste any differences.
I set up a glass of water straight from the tap and a glass of water from the kettle (just filtered, without it being boiled).
Everyone chose the filtered water over the tap water as tasting better: “definitely cleaner”, “fresher” and “softer” were used a fair bit. I agreed fully: it is certainly much more pleasant to drink when filtered.
Now I drink a lot of water, and I don’t actually mind our tap water, but filtered is certainly the way I will now go – next stop: purchase a filter jug for drinking water (I probably shouldn’t keep using the kettle as the filter for drinking water!)
Test two: the tea test – tap water v filtered
As if an excuse is ever needed for tea, I used two different teas and repeated the experiment with each.
With each type of tea I made two pots: one using the filter kettle and one using water straight from the tap.
The teas were brewed for the same length of time (exactly 5 minutes), so it was out with the cups, saucers and milk.
Oh, and for those among us who like milk with tea (I certainly do) our gathering unamimously decided the milk was to go into the cups after the tea!
The teas used were:
- Birchall’s Great Rift Breakfast Blend tea
- Earl Grey tea
I had never tried tea from Birchall so I was excited to try a new brand. Earl Grey is my favouite tea but their Great Rift Breakfast Blend is a gorgeously vivrant tea: “very drinkable; I could get used to this” said one of my friends who is particularly fussy about his teas – so high praise indeed!
I have since bought more of their range and am enjoying the different types. I particularly recommend their Organic Redbush prism bags and their Darjeeling loose leaf.
We started our test and our scoring with two cups each of the Great Rift Breakfast Blend tea: one cup made with tap water (A), the other using the filter kettle (B). My friends and partner did not know which A or B represented. My partner removed the labels from my cups so even I didn’t know what I was tasting until he later told me.
Some of us tasted A first followed by B; whereas others tasted them the other way around. Well why not? To paraphrase Dr Sheldon Cooper:
“What’s life without a little whimsy?”
After a significant break following tasting the Great Rift Breakfast Blend, which was basically us demolishing some of the opera cake I had made, we embarked upon the Earl Grey.
Our scoring system:
We each scored our two cups of Great Rift Breakfast Blend out of 10, taking time to savour the tea and see what we could get out of each cup in terms of flavour. We tasted them as direct comparisons to each other as well as being teas in their own right.
We did exactly the same with the Earl Grey – well, after our cake break! A slice of my Opera cake anyone?
I know there are many other characteristics for tea to consider, but for this score we wanted the judgement from a group of people who, quite simply, enjoy tea for the sake of drinking it – rather than being experts in any way, shape or form!
Unanimously, everyone preferred both teas made using the filter kettle:
- The Great Rift Breakfast Blend tea got a total score of 45 out of 50 made using the filter kettle, and a total score of 34 out of 50 when made using unfiltered tap water.
- The Earl Grey tea got a total score of 43 out of 50 made using the filter kettle, and a total score of 30 out of 50 when made using unfiltered tap water.
Some of the comments about the Great Rift tea made from the filter kettle included:
“much more refreshing”
“you can taste more flavours in there”
“it turns this from a good tea to a stunning tea”
One of my friends felt the Great Rift tea made with tap water was “nice but quite muted” yet felt it “comes alive” when made with the filter kettle.
The Earl Grey tea using the filter kettle also went down more favourably than using tap water. One of my friends exclaimed that he finally gets Earl Grey tea after previously never seeing what the fuss was about and raved about how enhanced the floral notes are when using the filter kettle. His scores for Earl Grey were 9 (filter kettle) and 6 (tap water)
There was also an “it’s ok but a bit harsh” comment on the Earl Grey tea made with tap water, but he awarded the filter kettle Earl Grey full marks in both his gut feeling score and in his second, more considered score.
I felt that both teas were certainly hindered somewhat by using the tap water, whereas when made using water from the filter kettle it unlocked more flavour. With the Great Rift tea in particular, the flavours were more held back with the tea made with unfiltered tap water, whereas using the filter kettle gave the tea more of a chance to shine. Which it did.
In summary, the tea I had that day and in subsequent days using the filter kettle is more like the tea you have at a good Afternoon Tea place – teas that never taste as good when making them at home! We do visit Afternoon Tea emporia as frequently as we can to satisfy our craving for Afternoon Tea (the tea, the food and the great sense of cermony!), and we now move one step closer towards recreating great teas at home….
Test three: sweeter in red?
Once we had another cake break (and indeed a few more cups of tea from the filter kettle), we put the other theory to the test ie) does tea taster sweeter in a red mug than white or other coloured mugs, whether or not there is sugar in the tea to begin with.
We had one red mug and an assortment of other mugs: glass, white, blue…..so why not go for it?
So we popped the filter kettle on again, made a fresh pot and let it brew for exactly 5 minutes before pouring the tea into the red mugs and a variety of other mugs. Milk in first again! We didn’t add any sugar.
We didn’t taste these blind as we needed to see the colour of the mug we were drinking from which I think is supposed to trick the brain…. – but after an initial judgment, we then re-sipped from the mugs with eyes closed just in case……
Well, one one of us thought the tea drank from from the red mug was in any way sweeter than the non-red mugs. The others of us felt that were the same in terms of sweetness.
However, we all felt that the tea from the red mug did taste smoother for some reason:
“more comforting”, as one of my friends said, “but not sweeter”
“possibly a little little bit more mellow”
I have also tried the red mug test on other visitors and under 10% of people who took part claimed any difference in sweetness. This also includes 7 people who drink their tea with sugar: they had sugared tea to the strengh they like in each mug and noticed no difference.
Yet the apparent smoothness of tea in a red mug came across a lot………