I trek up to Safeway as my tea stash is running low, and in the tea aisle, I am fraught with indecision at the copious options I am presented with. I stare absently at the neat script, the colorful boxes, and the tempting promises each offer. I only drink Earl Grey, so that narrows my options. I’ve tried other teas, but I invariably return to the comforting aroma of bergamot. Now then, which brand should I choose? Are all created equal? Is that box really worth $10? Does the added flavor make that much of a difference? I must choose—I cannot.
So, I tried every brand of Earl Grey tea (that I could find) from Safeway so you don’t have to.
I tested each brand for three main things: smell, strength, and flavor on a scale of one to five. Some other considerations include ease of use and price (I really did math for this). I included a few friends and averaged the values for the ratings and to make sure my ratings weren’t absurd.
The smell was observed just after opening the tea packet and before steeping. We noticed a change in smell as the tea brewed. Generally, the original smell disappeared or subdued. Strength and flavor were measured at the same time. Strength indicates how strong the flavor was, and flavor measures the quality of the taste.
Next, some constants. I used the same type of mug, the same kettle, and steeped each brew for five minutes (unless otherwise instructed by the packaging).
I have a total of 12 teas. One tea, Breakfast in Paris, is not technically Earl Grey, but upon further investigation, it advertises bergamot as a key ingredient, so it was included. The Nil Organic Tea was bought in the Saturday Market downtown, not at Safeway. I thought it would be fun to include in the comparison, because I think outgroups are important.
In the end, with 12 cups of tea, we decided to mix them all together and give it a try. We did one without the Teavana (because it was so bad), and then one with it just for fun.
Choice Organics: smell 3; strength 1; flavor 1; price per bag $0.34
There is a nice initial floral smell, but when brewed it doesn’t taste like anything. Nothing spectacular to report here, move along. Score: 5
Numi: smell 1; strength 2; flavor 1; price per bag $0.36
Very underwhelming and has a weird aftertaste. The package opens from the bottom, and that’s really Not Fun in terms of accessibility. Also, this is the same tea from Commons (which is $1.25 per bag!). You can do better; I believe in you. Score: 4
Teavana Earl Grey Creme: smell 1, strength 1, flavor 1; price per bag $0.43
There’s something sacrilegious about having flavors like vanilla with the consistency of water. If you like drinking straight vanilla coffee creamer, then this one’s for you! Just stay away from me. Score: 3
Stash: smell 2.75, strength 2.75, flavor 3.5, price per bag $0.20
Solid choice! I enjoyed the smell, but my friend described it as perfume-like, so stay cautious. The citrus is comparatively more noticeable and is a delightful cup overall. Good job, Stash. Score: 8.75
Stash Double Bergamot: smell 3.5; strength 4.5; flavor 2.75; price per bag $0.22
Not the best smell, but I enjoyed the strength (if you’re not a fan of the more bitter taste, the regular Stash earl grey would be better). This would be excellent for London fogs! Score: 10.75
Stash Breakfast in Paris: smell 2.5; strength 3.5; flavor 3; price per tea bag $0.22
You definitely can taste the lavender. I like lavender, so I don’t mind, but the initial smell was perfume-like. The regular Stash Earl Grey is a safer choice, but if you’re in the mood for experimenting, this is a fun choice. Score: 9
Twinings: smell 4.75, strength 4, flavor 3.5; price per tea bag $0.17
No bells and whistles in terms of flavor, just classic Earl Grey. The box comes with 50 tea bags, so if you’re in it for the long haul or have a lot of friends over for tea this is an excellent choice. Just don’t expect any fancy flavors. Score: 12.25
Bigelow: smell 5; strength 4; flavor 5; price per tea bag $0.17
This is my personal daily rider. It’s simple and to the point. Good soup! Score: 14
Steven Smith Teamaker Lord Bergamot: smell 4; strength 3; flavor 2.25; price per bag $.70
Pleasant smell. It has more of a fruity smell and taste. It’s definitely trying to do something, but I’m not entirely sure what. My friend said it tasted like wet cat food, so buyers beware. Score: 9.25
Organics: Smell 0; strength 3; flavor 3; price per bag $0.17
It’s definitely a thing that exists. Literally smells like nothing, but the taste isn’t offensive. It’s pretty basic. The box opens from the bottom, so we deducted points for ease of use. Score: 6
Tazo: smell 3; strength 3; flavor 1.5; price per bag $0.20
This used to be my daily rider, but then I realized it low-key tastes like chlorine, and I haven’t been able to come back from that. This one also opens from the bottom, tsk tsk. Score: 7.5
Nil Organic Tea Earl Grey Bouquet: smell 5; strength 3.5; flavor 2.5; loose-leaf at $16.59
This smells AMAZING. I want my dorm to smell like this. It’s fruity and floral and maintains the bergamot. However, smelling it is one thing, but drinking it is just too much. It’s like how I imagine drinking my reed diffuser would be like (maybe not that bad, but the same energy). Milk won’t save it, and it’s expensive anyway. Also, infusers are a pain. Score: 11
All of the teas together sans Teavana: smell n/a; strength 4.5; flavor 3.7
Honestly, this is my favorite flavor. You could taste the florals and the citrus but it was not overwhelming at all. Definitely not budget-friendly. Score: 8.2 (out of 10)
All of the teas together: smell n/a; strength 4; flavor 1.5
I gagged, would not recommend. Score: 5.5 (out of 10)
*prices are the regular price, not the club card price when applicable
There are multiple brands that you can definitely go for, but here are the final ratings:
Top rated: Bigelow
Honorable mention: Stash Earl Grey
Budget choice: Twinings
How did your go-to brand stack up against my ratings? I’m sure I won’t be tempted to buy excessive amounts of tea while at Safeway (at least for now).
Editor’s note: Albert Kerelis thoroughly enjoys Steven Smith Teamaker’s Lord Bergamot. They find that it offers an interesting reprieve from traditional bergamot flavored teas. They also resent the characterization of its flavor as being similar to “wet cat food.”