I would like to say here that I have no significant problems with flavored teas. I’ll drink whatever chocolate-rasberry-mocha rooibus you offer me, if I’m in the mood. What is Earl Grey if not just a very common flavored tea? Smokey Lapsang Souchong? Jasmine green tea? Flavoured tea is delicious, especially when paired with light, cafe-fare foods such as macaroons or little delicate cakes. I would recommend treating yourself to Harney and Sons’ Paris. It’s a good ceylon with specific flavors of vanilla, caramel, and something extra.
Now here’s where I’m going to express some differences. Flavoured tea is bad. At least, it’s never the best. Naturally, the flavored part of tea is going to be the part you focus on. There is no way you’re going to drink something that tastes like guava melon and strawberry and focus on the oolong underneath. Because of this masking effect, I find that a lot of tea used to make flavored tea is medium – at best – in quality and often Ceylon. Although I’m sure organic flavorings exist, I wonder what chemicals are in flavored teas? With pure whole leaf tea, you know what’s in it. With many traditional flavored teas, you might know exactly what’s in it: pine smoke for the Lapsang Souchong, bergamot for the Earl – and for your St. Dalfours Organic Peppermint tea, you’ve got peppermint.
With some flavored teas, you haven’t a clue what’s in them. For instance, how and where, exactly, do they get the flavor for the myriad varieties Teavana promises? Youthberry Wild Orange Blossom Tea Blend sounds good, but why should it need additional flavors? It already contains orange blossoms, hibiscus, little yummy looking bits of candied fruit and youthberries, which I assume are immature elderberries.
Recently I tried a Zesty Lime rooibus. It’s very zesty, but it clearly lacks true lime. What did they put into my tea? Partially because it’s low quality tea, and partially because the flavor is strong like an old woman who carries water from the well every day, I find that flavored tea often over brews easily. Easily – with painful results. A failed pot is a double slap in the face, because resteeping flavored tea is like expecting to reuse a firework. You can try, but success is essentially failure (I’m delighted by the way to read about that flavored tea you found that survives a second steeping. Go on, I’m all ears.)
There is a real, tangible, philosophical problem. Flavored tea is designed for the intent of smelling like typically, one thing. That one thing might be “Norweigian Sunset” and it might smell like snow and lutefisk. When tea is supposed to taste like something, we begin to think it is supposed to taste a certain way. It stops being the taste of Earl Grey tea, and instead becomes Earl Grey Flavour. This is not how tea is supposed to taste, and in fact, deviations from the norm are what makes tea special. Tea is so amazing because it has so many different natural flavors all from one plant. One can use words like “stone fruit” and “old wood” to try and approximate the true taste of tea, but it’s fully itself in reality. It’s like your dog. You might have named him Henry, and he might know that you call him Henry, but the dog you know by Henry lives by his own rules, and might not even need a human moniker to be the most dominant alpha in the world below knee height.
Good tea should carry itself based on its own merit, anyway. Imagine a world in which we used only the tea that was convenient because we relied more on what we added to it. Matcha and its associated culture would wither. We’d lose the complex beauty of a good pu’er. The unique taste of yellow. Flavoured tea is tasty, but most teas are worth having with no help from sprays, oils, and mysterious ingredients.