Taste test: Is cold brew tea worth the money?
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We tried cold brew blends and tisanes and from local stores and supermarkets to see whether the latest trend is worth the hype.
Consumers are sheep. And I'm one of the flock. Clever marketing, positioning and promotions in-store lure us in to buy, buy, buy (and buy some more). And the latest fad to creep into our collective psyche, riding on the coattails of the rising trend in veganism, is cold brew tea.
I fell prey to the hype at the beginning of the year - leaving my local supermarket with a gleaming Twinings Cold Infuse bottle and a few sample size packets of cold brew sachets. I felt positively goddess-like. Surely this new gizmo would help me achieve a slinky New Year body? No calories. No sugar. Perfect.
"You could just brew normal tea and let it go cold," said my husband, raising his eyebrows, simultaneously eyeing up my fancy new blue-lidded bottle. "We'll see," I replied smugly, setting off to fill up my new purchase and promising myself I'd definitely drink six bottles a day to stay hydrated.
And I've kept it up (mostly). But have opened my horizons on the tea front. You really don't need to buy the fancy pants specially labelled cold brew bags - like my wise hubby said, any tea will do and there are some cracking tisanes and fruit teas out there. What sets the cold brews apart is usually their inclusion of natural flavourings in a highly soluble form, meaning they flavour water much quicker. But there is even more fun to be had with proper tea - which often works out cheaper too.
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We tried a selection of big brand and local names to see which tasted best.
But first a few tips. Firstly you need to drink the water within eight hours. Secondly, if you're using the same bottle regularly make sure you properly clean it with sterilising tablets (I learnt the hard way recently that the dishwasher alone doesn't get rid of all the nasties). And, lastly, filter your water. It really will make all the difference.
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Teapigs Cold Brew, 10 tea temples, £3.99 at leading supermarkets
Brewing time: 7 minutes in 500ml bottle of cold water
The verdict: We loved the ethos of these. Not only is the cardboard box recyclable, but the bags themselves are made of plant starch, and the inner 'plastic' bag from wood pulp - so both are compostable. That's some great forward-thinking from the folk at Teapigs. The price is a bit hefty at nearly 40p a bag…so was it worth it? We tried the Cucumber and Apple, and Lychee and Rose flavours. Cucumber and Apple had a fresh, clean, crisp taste. It felt 'healthy' and tonic-like, but the flavour of the apple was completely lost - even when we popped the bag in for longer which is a bit disappointing considering the price tag. We couldn't help feel that the same effect could be achieved by simply popping fresh cucumber in water for a spell. The Lychee and Rose gave the water a subtle blush and it had an initial sharpness, buffered by a lingering, sweet, soft taste of rose. Brewing to the prescribed time meant the flavour of lychee all but disappeared, but a shorter brew time allowed its flavour profile to come through. It was nice with a few strawberries thrown in but neither tea really blew us away.
Butterworth & Son tisanes, prices by weight, online
Brewing time: 5 minutes in 92C water, then bottle and chill
The verdict: A local tea and coffee expert that makes cracking tisane blends. Brew them in filtered hot water for around five minutes to let the ingredients complete their magic, and decant into a bottle in the fridge to chill. We tried the Blood Orange Fruit Tisane and Lucky Lemon Tisane. The Blood Orange variety contains natural orange, apple pieces, hibiscus blossoms and safflower, which gives the brew a deep, rich, golden hue, almost like a light ale. The scent as the essential oils of the ingredients warms up is like a bubbling pot of marmalade, and the finished tea is rich, dark, tannic and bursting with orange. We added a slice of fresh orange to the cold bottle and it was perfect.
The Lucky Lemon flavour, with lemongrass, lemon, raspberry and chamomile buds had a subtle taste in comparison, erring more to the herbal than the fruity, but was quite refreshing cold with a slice of lemon and a crushed piece of fresh lemongrass in the bottle.
Tetley Cold Infusions, 12 bags, around £1.50 in leading supermarkets
Brewing time: 7 minutes in a 300ml glass of water or 10 minutes in a 500ml bottle
The verdict: We sampled the Strawberry and Watermelon flavour which had an exciting almost blackcurrant squash brightness in colour, but this wasn't echoed in the taste which was rather weak, even as we let it brew for longer. The top note was of very subtle strawberry, while watermelon paled into the background. But the price is keen, so if you want a hint of flavour in your water and aren't bothered about having a taste explosion every time you take a sip, this could be for you. The packaging was quite minimal though which was good
Woodbridge Emporium, tisanes by weight in store and online
Brewing time: Around 10 minutes in off the boil hot water, then strain into a bottle and cool
The blends here have been put together by a teasmith who knows her flavours. We tried the Bitter Lemon Tisane which smells like a walk through a Mediterranean lemon grove. In the paper bag, in the brew and finally in the bottle it bursts with bright, cirtrussy sunshine. And the tisane (big chunks of lemon, grapefruit, apple and raspberries) is bang on the money flavour-wise too. It absolutely delivers, being completely fruity (without any harsh sharpness) with an almost vanilla smooth finish. Just delicious.
Also tried was the Moroccan Nana Mint. On the nose there was spearmint and peppermint, and once cold it had a delicate natural sweetness that was minty without being overwhelming or 'toothpasty'. It had a very rounded, somehow creamy, finish. Not unlike a buttermint. We added a slice of lemon and cucumber to the bottle at the end too which was lovely.
Twinings Cold Infuse, 12 bags, around £3.79 at leading supermarkets
Brewing time: 5 minutes in 500ml cold water
The verdict: I have to say, despite the visual appeal of the packaging, it's strange that Twinings have chosen to launch their newest brand in an entirely plastic container - and with a non-recyclable lid. You'd have thought they'd go for cardboard. Oh well, onto the actual tea which of all the supermarket available brands had the best flavour by far. The mango was a bit of a wallflower in the party, but we could definitely pick out the juicy orange and passionfruit after the recommended brewing time. It had a light orange colour and very delicate sweetness. A really nice little brew this, made all the better by a little fresh orange in the bottle. If you're new to infusing and don't have a decent tea shop close by, this is the one we suggest you try first.
Nelson & Norfolk Tea & Coffee Merchants
Brew time: In off the boil water for five to 10 minutes then strain and chill
The verdict: We tried the Nelson's Blood Orange and Elderflower and Lemon Fruit Infusions. Both are expertly blended by N&N owner Mark - a master teasmith. The elderflower tea has a lightly herbal aroma and is packed with elderberry, citrus peel, elderflower, lemongrass and sweet blackberry leaves. It tasted naturally sweet with floral undertones and a slightly tannic finish. While the blood orange tea (with orange peel, hibiscus, rosehip and citrus peel) smelled like freshly zested oranges and came out a glorious scarlet colour. This one was incredibly fruity and had a taste not dissimilar to orange Starburst (Opal Fruits for the older amongst us). That was delicious diluted with a little fizzy water.