TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

August 17, 2010

Review: Great iced teas from Boston Tea Company

Retail and wholesale.

Tea photos courtesy of Boston Tea Company; additional stock photos

With summer drawing to a close, you might think it’s not the best time to talk about iced teas. Well, here in the Southlands it’s always iced tea season!

The “national beverage” of Southerners is sweet tea, a concoction of too much sugar and too little tea — but plenty of ice, which is probably the main component of its enduring popularity. As for myself, I simply do not drink the stuff. Yes, I’m the one you’ll always see in the restaurant or fast-food joint searching for the tiny jug of unsweet tea that they hide behind the containers of napkins and plastic cutlery. Too embarrassing, I guess, to put it out in the open!

And if you don’t drink iced tea in the coIder weather, let me point out that just about everyone drinks cold beverages all year ’round: soda pop, juice, energy drinks, white wine, beer, and even bottled iced teas. So why shouldn’t you drink home-steeped iced teas?

I make my own iced teas all year. But not sweet tea: I use tea and water and that’s it, the same way I make my hot teas.

I’ve been sampling a few teas from Boston Tea Company. Their headquarters are located in New Jersey near where we used to live, just outside New York City. In fact I used to buy some of their teas at a small shop in Queens where we’d go occasionally to pick up Romanian groceries.

Blueberry Kiwi White Tea

The first one I tried was their Blueberry-Kiwi White Tea. I’m not super-fond of fruity hot teas, but I do favour them when they’re chilled. This one really worked for me. Unlike many fruity teas that seem to be flavoured generically — they taste like fruit but not any specific fruit — this one was clearly blueberry. There is a background fruity flavour that doesn’t stand out as clearly which I’m presuming is the kiwi, but I’m fine with the intense blueberry-ness (I happen to like blueberries and huckleberries, their wild cousins, a lot). Best of all: I could actually taste the tea.

Too many flavoured teas are all about the flavouring. Probably because too many tea companies, maybe to cater to their clientele, maybe to make a quick buck, use low-grade teas as merely a “carrier” for their flavourings. But Boston Tea Company seems to use a higher grade of tea in their blends. Highly-flavoured tea does not appeal  to me at all. I mean, what’s the point of going to the trouble of making iced tea that doesn’t taste like tea? Why not save yourself the trouble and just make Kool-Aid? On the other hand, a good tea with the right amount of complementary flavourings can be quite nice, especially iced. And Boston seems to do it right.

Organic Peony White Tea

Although I usually fix my iced teas using a cold-steep method (place tea and water into jug, refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight), for the next three I wanted to sample them hot first. So I made a big teapotful of each, drank a cup or two from the pot, and chilled the rest.

The Organic Peony White Tea is exceptional both hot and cold. Like all the best white teas it is both delicate and flavourful. It also has a wonderful floral aroma — perhaps peony, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Hot it’s an elegant cup that I find myself reaching for frequently in the morning; chilled it’s light but assertive, losing aroma but no flavour in the cooling process. The Coconut Joy was, I thought, quite good iced, actually better iced than hot — chilling seemed to bring out more of the flavour of the tea itself so it was matched evenly to the rich coconut. I should point out that I am unreasonably picky about coconut teas — my standard is still the sublime coconut tea from the late lamented Akbar’s Finest Teas, and I have no yet found its equal, although I do like Boston’s version. (Oh Dave and Carolen, where have you gone?)

Coconut Joy Black Tea

Now the Jasmine Green tea was a different story. I enjoyed this one iced but much preferred it hot. Many years ago, someone I respect as a true tea expert told me that the best jasmine teas do not contain flowers when they are sold to the consumer. Any flower particles are removed after scenting the tea; leaving in the flowers, I was told, is purely a visual gimmick. I’m sorry but I can’t quite agree with this viewpoint. If you have ever eaten flowers — a great delicacy in some restaurants — you know that they have a warm, spicy flavour to them. Boston’s version does have flowers in it, and you know what? I really like it! I like the subtle spiciness imparted by the flowers and the way it plays off the floral sweetness of the jasmine. I’m not likely to give up my flower-less jasmine teas, but to my taste this jasmine simply has more character than a lot of others. And again, the taste of the tea itself comes through.

Jasmine Green Tea

Boston sent me samples of a couple of types of teabag from Bentley’s, which I take it are not Boston’s proprietary teas and they resell them. I could be mistaken so don’t take my word for it. One was a Raspberry Green tea, and the other a Blackberry Black tea. I do like to use teabags for iced tea simply for convenience, so I fixed them both as cold-steeped iced teas. Both were very fresh-smelling and fresh-tasting, but the flavours overpowered the tea itself. Not something I’d try again, but if this is your cup of tea they’d be good for travel as each is individually foil-wrapped. Demerits, however, to the black tea for not opening easily (I had to cut the foil packages open — probably a one-off manufacturing issue). And to the teabags in general for the oddity of the way the string is wound up in the teabag — to steep it you pull the tag to release the string. A clever idea in theory, but I found that doing this even gently left a hole in the teabag paper that was large enough for small tea particles to pass through into the steeping jug.

As an added bonus, all of Boston’s teas are kosher-certified, both loose-leaf and teabags. Only a very few companies offer a full line of good kosher teas, so it’s very pleasant to discover a new one.

Boston Tea Company’s teas can be purchased at retail through their website and are also available at a number of retailers. Contact them for locations. They are currently in the process of setting up online wholesale ordering.

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