Hello! I thought it would be a bit misleading to call this a ‘Tea of the Week’ since it’s been a very long time since I did a tea review. But here we are 🙂 and I actually have a new tea to review!
Source: I was sent this tea, for free, via the blog. First time that’s ever happened! Tea India are launching in the UK and I guess they’re looking for general publicity and stuff. They sent me this as well as one of their chais, which I will be reviewing sometime in the not-too-distant future.
The tea, as might be expected, purports to come from India. There’s not a lot of information on the box though – just that it has a high Assam content. Ingredients list says “100% Black Tea” which is accurate but not enlightening.
I haven’t actually managed to find out how much this costs (partly because ‘tea India’ is not a great brand name for search term purposes). Update 2/11/12: £2.59 for 80 bags. It’s apparently available in some Tesco and Booths stores. I’m guessing from that that it’s going to be a range where 40 teabags costs you £1-£3, but that’s only a guess.
No information. I did specifically ask about ethics in an email, but haven’t received anything back (and I know they’ve read the email as it was the one saying “here is the address at which to send me tea, please :)”).See end of post for update. No mention anywhere on the packaging about ethics/workers/fairtrade/community projects/other certification/etc.
Brewing instructions: The box says boiling water, 3-5 minutes, and I agree :). 3 minutes works well for me. I also think that this tea is nice enough to drink without milk (which certainly isn’t true of all teas aimed at the ‘everyday’ market) – although I prefer it with milk so have only had the odd sip without.
Appearance: Before adding milk – a lovely reddish mahogany colour which is tricky to photograph! After adding milk, it loses any distinctiveness and just looks like, well, normal tea. But then, nearly every black tea does that.
Nose: (before adding milk) rich, malty. Like Assam … but slightly less so.
Taste: Good, strong, smooth, delicious everyday tea. You can definitely taste the Assam, and I think they’re quite right in claiming that it sets them apart. This tea is definitely different from other ‘everyday’ teas I’ve tried (e.g. teadirect, Sainsbury’s) because of the Assam, and I’m inclined to say tastes better than those. I also think it’s perhaps more drinkable as a tea to drink frequently than a straight Assam would be (although I like Assam very much, I have to be in a particular mood or eating particular kinds of things to want it). The taste is very pleasantly rounded, and even ever-so-slightly sweet. But fundamentally, it tastes like normal tea … just better.
Food match: I think you could probably drink this with just about anything.
I had mine with leftover chocolate cheesecake brownie. Because I have awesome friends who make and then give me chocolate cheesecake brownies :).
Would I recommend it? So. I like this tea – that much is clear. I am very much enjoying it and will continue to enjoy the rest of this box. But in the end, I don’t recommend buying it. We are so lucky in the UK to have growing awareness of the importance of ethical production of tea, and there are now loads of choices for purchasing tea that is ethically produced and certified (not that certification is the answer to all of the world’s problems, but it’s better than no information). There are big fairtrade tea ranges from Clipper, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, plus there’s Williamson, Equal Exchange, and I’m sure other small companies (and these are all around the same prices as I expect tea India to be) … it must be possible, and probably wouldn’t even be terribly difficult, to find something very similar to this but with much more information about the supply chain.
Update 31/10/12: I received the following by email:
I hope that you’re well and received the parcel ok! I’ve attached the requested information from Tea India for you:
ETI Base Code:
1) Employment is freely chosen
2) Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected
3) Working conditions are safe & hygienic4) Child labour shall not be used
5) Living wages are paid
6) Working hours are not excessive
7) No discrimination is practised
8) Regular employment is provided
9) No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed.We carefully source our raw ingredients from different parts of the world, including India, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania & other African countries, China and other Herb & Tea Growing regions.
We are committed to working with our suppliers to ensure continuous improvement against the ETI Base Code.Based on the information given by our suppliers and our risk assessment, we will carry out a formal audit by a member of Keith Spicer’s staff or a Third Party Auditor. We monitor the audit reports and support our suppliers on delivering the corrective actions.
We also recognise independent Ethical Standards such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance & UTZ and will take into account our suppliers’ certifications in our monitoring program.
Better than nothing; not as good as I might have hoped. The ETI (which I assume refers to the Ethical Trading Initiative) code is cited,
but it doesn’t actually say whether they are a member of the ETI, or just think it’s a good idea … looking at the list of members on the ETI website, tea India does not appear to be listed. (See below) And Tesco and Asda are listed, which makes me think that it’s not much of a guarantee of anything in particular (I believe the line is that members have to make a commitment to progressively implement the values). I’ve also now found the proper tea India UK website, which doesn’t contain any mention at all of ethics / worker rights / etc (as at 31/10/12), which I am disappointed by. I may view statements like “We look after our workers” as weasel-words, since they don’t promise anything in particular, but even having weasel words on your site is better than no mention of it at all!
(I really dislike websites for consumer goods that are all “You deserve the best/luxury/the most delicious/etc”. I am lucky enough, mostly due to where and when I was born, to be full-time-employed, healthy, well-educated, living in a country with good infrastructure/healthcare/food security/a thousand other advantages – frankly, it really doesn’t matter that much if I eat a slightly inferior chocolate biscuit, wear a T shirt in a slightly less fashionable shade of blue, or drink a slightly less aromatic tea. The people who make the products I buy don’t necessarily have any of the advantages I have going for them. I want to make sure they get the best).
So. No change on the recommendation front from me – or not until they bring out a Fairtrade* tea! (And it would be fantastic if they did, because their tea is delicious and I would love to buy it if I knew and could trust information about where it came from and how it had been made). For now … I think once this runs out I will buy myself some loose leaf Assam and some other loose leaf Fairtrade teas and experiment with making my own blend to imitate it.
Updated again 2/11/12: I’ve received another email clarifying the ethics information: Tea India is part of Keith Spicer Ltd (presumably this one – no ethics information I can see on that website either), which is listed on the Ethical Trading Initiative members list. I received the following by email:
Keith Spicer recognises that it has a number of stakeholders and interacts with the outside world through its relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, small holders, neighbours and the local community. It is the Company’s policy to behave legally, ethically and responsibly in all its relationships and dealings.
We are an active corporate member of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) which is an organisation where Business, Unions and Non Governmental Organisations work together on ethical trading in supply chains. We are also a member of the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX) which is a not for profit membership organisation dedicated to driving ethical improvements in global supply chains.
The ETI base code is adhered to by Keith Spicer and it is expected to be adhered to by our suppliers and agents in & outside the UK.
So that’s a bit more concrete, which is good. Step in the right direction? (I do really think this kind of info should be available on tea companies’ websites. Though to be fair Tea India aren’t the only ones who do this; lots of other tea companies are similarly lax in publicising their ethical stances. Which I don’t really understand, because if you have these commitments, why not make the info available? You can always hide the links to it in some fine print so it’s only people like me who really search who find it, if for some reason you don’t want it to be immediately obvious.)
*or similarly ethically certified/traceable, etc etc. But Fairtrade is my certification of choice because I understand what it promises better than I understand any of the other certifications.