Snooty Tea Review: Simpson’s Tea

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Camera work by the lovely Dominique of DHC Photography.

Simpson’s Tea has come up a few times on the blog recently, while ragging on the British and getting you hot and bothered.

Their energetic approach to tea is infectious. Maybe it’s ’cause they’re Scottish. (Judging by a rather interesting travel blog and Lip Service, we can conclude that Scotland is awesome.)

But when it comes down to it, how sexy is their tea?

In the bag, English Breakfast is a pretty quiet damsel. Just a bit of smoke–you can hardly call it smoke, even, more like the embers left burning after the fire has gone out. Once steeped, that lovely English Breakfast maltiness pokes out, going, “Hello, how are you doing this fine morning?” Nothing sweet here, just the rousing wakeup call to get started on the day. (On an engineering note, Simpson’s may want to look into bigger bags or fewer leaves. By the time this one was done steeping, the tea was trying to burst out of its compartment and had no room left to breathe.)

Like all those derived from South Asian blacks, English Breakfast is not a tea that you want to oversteep. Otherwise the bitterness takes over and you lose some of the really great nuances that Simpson’s has going on here. Color me pleasantly surprised! Their take on the classic blend evokes some adorably saccharine notes of the vineyard varie-tea. Yet there’s a measure of seriousness here, too, something tobacco-y hovering around, like someone who makes their presence known by constantly smoking a pipe. It’s hard not to be charmed indeed.

If you add sweetener, it’ll be more of a dessert tea, but touch it with unflavored milk and your breakfast will be complete.

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Earl Grey pretends it’s exactly the same as English Breakfast when it’s a dry tea. No bergamot fragrance at all, nothing that would hint at the flavor profile expected from one of these classically British blends. Just a lot of Ceylon at your nosehairs. (What a contrast to our swishy Lord Bergamot from the other week!) The aroma remains quiet as you let it steep; you can only catch wind of the citrus if you lower your nose in and breathe deeeeeeeeep. Having been packed in plastic with the other samples, it’s possible that much of the scent and strength of the tea had already left before making it to the review–but come on. It’s only been a couple of weeks.

You’d never know this was Earl Grey unless you smell and taste things for a living–and unfortunately for Simpson’s, most of us aren’t Gordon Ramsey. The bergamot hits you with real lag time, about five solid seconds after the first sip. In fact, you can’t taste it at all as you drink; it’s only when you’re pausing between sips that suddenly there’s this new perfume-y thing on your tongue. When the heck did that happen? As a result, this tea would be a good compromise in a mixed crowd of Earl Grey lovers and haters. It’s friendly enough for the former, as they’re still getting their preferred drink, while the latter can sip in ignorant bliss, missing the bergamot entirely as they enjoy the subdued version of a rather satisfying English Breakfast tea. (An Earl Grey for the Earl Grey hater–it’s a valuable thing.)

Good for breakfast, brunch, or dinner, feel free to milk and sweeten away.

1016439_651858104825559_554257406_nIf you were browsing the Simpson’s collection blindfolded, this is another one that would throw you for a loop. Their Mint Herbal Blend is so blended that you don’t get a wisp of mint! It’s just honeyed chamomile all the way. Before you steep it, you wonder why they don’t just call it, “Soothing Herbal Blend” or some more fitting moniker–but after that hot water hits, the mint bursts out in full force and you can rest assured that no one mislabeled your tea.

And with a blend like this, rest is definitely happening. Chamomile and mint make for sleepytime, so don’t take this as your morning tea. There is a lot of chamomile in here. From the first sip, it informs you that it is the reigning queen of this cup, a sovereign cloaked in honey and audacious herbacity. If you don’t like it, then off with your head. The mint is reduced back to a whisper, a faint memory. It huddles at the back of your tastebuds and hopes that maybe you’ll notice it, maybe–but it’s ok if you don’t. On the whole, if we ignore semio-tea-csseman-tea-cs, and nomenclature, this blend is a very solid herbal tea. The mint keeps the chamomile from turning into a real dictator, and the overall effect runs through your palate quite smoothly.

This one will treat you well after dinner, and take it into bed with you for the perfect cold or flu remedy. No milk, and you’d even be safe without honey.

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Our Rooibus Herbal Blend also has a touch of honey in the dry bag. Rooibus doesn’t have a robust smell in general, so you’ll be hard pressed to discern the particulari-teas of this aroma. There seems to be bits of ginger, mint, and lemongrass mixed in here, but whether it’s in or out of the cup, the scent is so faint and… Well, blended–though it remains to be seen if the tea is actually well-blended. (Another engineering note: rooibus does not do well in this type of bag. Before we were in range of the kettle, twigs were poking out and trying to escape.)

The first sip gives us a savory garden tea. Take it on a brisk walk in nature or something, where your surroundings will be more exciting. The mulch-y rooibus carries it all here, but in truth, there’s not much to carry. A blend like this could benefit from a long steeping time for maximum flavor impact, otherwise you’re left with exactly what you’d expect. A plain old rooibus tea. If you squint your tastebuds very tight, tap your heels together three times, and recite a Shakespearean sonnet while standing on one leg, then maybe your tongue will hear those other herbs. But they seem rather unenthused about their place here; didn’t even bother with clean underwear today. Or knickers, I should say.

If you like homey, basic blends, this one will suit you just fine. Neither milk nor sweetener would be amiss, but whatever you do, just don’t have any Great Expectations.

The Ginger Herbal Blend continues Simpson’s trend of mixtures domina-tea-d by chamomile. It smells just like the Mint Herbal Blend as a dry bag, only with more sweetness to it from the addition of orange peels. In the cup, you get the delightful fruity accent coming out a lot more, which is a pleasant surprise. Citrus packs a powerful punch when added to tea, even in tiny increments.

Here is where you’re going to want to ignore convention and leave the bag in. Just do it. It’s not a black, which will complain if you forget about it. As an herbal composed of mild-mannered plant matter, this blend comes into its best as it sits. Your cup will thank you as the herbs release their full effect–especially in the case of ginger. You see, root herbs needs more coaxing than leaves to achieve real flavor action. Think of flavor as you do caffeine; fiber acts as a barrier, inhibiting its way to your palate.

Unfortunately for ginger lovers, no matter how long you let it steep, this blend won’t give you a lick of reward for your efforts. Sorry. It’s a fine blend just for the sake of having an herbal tea, but as with the previous rooibus, no need to linger over it–Keep Calm and Carry On.

Sweetener wouldn’t be tea-rrible, but no milk. Not bad for a cozy evening or afternoon tea, when you want to remember the warmth of sunshine without actually being in it.

1000919_651858071492229_472704257_nThere is no chamomile, however, in the Rose Herbal Blend. This is a good thing, since the rose scent is so faint that it’s already drowned out by the other herbs in the dry bag, resulting in a first impression of Grandma’s perfume, which might put off those who were expec-tea-ng a sweeter blend. As it steeps, this morphs into an aroma that is at once floral and savory, like someone left out a basket of tomatoes next to their wedding bouquet.

The feeling continues in the drink itself. If you’re at all familiar with the flavor of rosehips–especially popular in Eastern European tea–then this will be a pleasure to sip. Otherwise, you’re going to be left in the middle of Flavor Nowhereland without a map. This is another one that fares better being left alone to do its thing, so let it steep for as long as you have the patience. The more substantial herbs prevent the rose from bringing in the whole flower brigade; other than that, this tea lacks any defining characteris-tea-c until it’s gone nearly cold and all you’re left with is the tart, tired hibiscus. If you had this in a café and later someone asked what you had drunk, you’d have difficulty bringing it to mind. Fans of floral floof, pack your bags and look elsewhere.

Sweetener might help. To make this tea actually memorable, consider something like Dragonberry.*

999560_651858041492232_212713706_nWe start off the Liquorice Herbal Blend with the same reaction as the previous herbal teas. Simpson’s dry bags are shy things; seems that even if a blend bears a specific ingredient in its name, there’s no guarantee it’ll make itself known in the aroma or even in the tea itself. So here it’s another round of rustic cooking-type herbs at your olfactory–a great chicken soup seasoning. (Licorice? What licorice?)

But then you taste it, and holy moly so that’s where the flavor went! That silly licorice was hiding amid the leaves of your kitchen garden, waiting to spring out and catch you in a tight squeeze. Each progressive sip takes the flavor deeper and deeper as it reaches out into your entire mouth-place. This blend is headstrong, perhaps to make up for those of its cousins suffering from mediocri-tea. Licorice really is the captain here, sitting on top of all the other savory notes and crushing them under its massive behind.

A bit of sweetener might bring this into some harmony, but milk is a definite no-no. Not bad for the morning, and could work as a digestive after-dinner tea.

All in all, Simpson’s Tea has some solid blends, and some that are less solid–but given how young the company is, there’s nothing that a little tweaking can’t fix.

But to return to our query: are these blends actually “sexy”?

Witty packaging aside, not really. You can find similar-flavored teas already on the market. If they really want to set a fire in your pants, Simpson’s should look into more varie-tea.

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