On which tea to buy

Under our public service remit we have decided to provide a list of what we consider to be the best teas of each type. This is open to discussion.


Builder's Tea

Cheap tea bags that produce something hot and strong to put in a chipped mug and mix with milk and sugar. Popular with the skilled tradesmen of England.

Buy: Yorkshire Gold. Easily the best tasting tea within this bracket and allegedly drunk by the Prince of Wales, although their Twitter game is a bit frantic. PG Tips comes close to them, but is tainted by the fact it appears in every office kitchen ever. Also by this.

Don't buy: Lipton's Yellow Label. It's really not very nice, and we have no idea how it became so ubiquitous. The only explanation is that you tend to find it most often in countries like America that don't understand tea. 

Slightly nicer teabags

It's 4pm and you want a cup of tea but can't really be bothered. You just need a teabag to chuck into some water and for it to be nice.

Buy: Twinings Earl Grey. It's the industry standard Earl Grey, a normal black tea flavoured with bergamot flowers (I have no idea how his Lordship came up with this idea, but it does work well mid-afternoon). Top tip: take one tea pot, add one bag of Twinings Earl Grey and two of Yorkshire Gold.

Don't buy: Twinings English Breakfast Tea. Or Twinings Afternoon Blend. I mean, they're fine, but take a good long look at yourself. Ask yourself why you aren't drinking Yorkshire Gold instead.

Even nicer, with a flowery taste

Earl Grey is just the beginning - we're starting to get serious now. We're spending a bit more, perhaps a tenner for 100g, and want it to be worth it. We want to put leaves in a pot, wait a few minutes, and know that we made the right decision in so doing. We're looking at a high quality flavoured black tea; a treat.

Buy: This brief is the domain of the French - they do a surprisingly good line in teas, but they are at their best when creating flowery ones. Go for Mariage Freres Paris Ginza ("pour un après-midi très fashion"). Their Marco Polo blend is more famous, but Paris Ginza is better, more delicate.

Don't buy: It's not really worth spending money on more expensive Earl Grey teas. Twinings have it nailed, although some of the loose leaf Earl Greys have the little blue bergamot flowers in them that at least looks pretty. Very pretty. Okay then, I'll let you buy Fortnums loose leaf Earl Grey. But keep your consumption below 2 litres per day because it turns out Earl Grey is poisonous.

Same sort of thing but spicy

We've still got our tenner, but it's cold outside and we want something warming rather than a mocking taste of summer.

Buy: The Tea House Oriental Spice. Good tea plus ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and orange peel - it all comes together rather well, and for good reason is their best selling tea over the Christmas period. It's also a good chunk cheaper than Mariage Freres - around a fiver for 100g.

Don't buy: More of a general warning, really - there are a lot of tea manufacturers out there who just bulk import mediocre tea from India, add the contents of their spice racks, and charge through the nose. Don't fall for it - do it yourself instead. Have some fun. I recommend starting with a solid Assam and adding cloves and peppercorns and cinnamon.

I'm really rich and only the best will do

Buy: TWG Black Tea. It's something like £35 for 100g but it will blow your mind - the finest black tea you'll ever drink, tastefully augmented with fruity and flowery notes courtesy, according to the label, of Bermuda. I drink it with milk but this would probably horrify the manufacturers.

And I guess you could start to get involved with stuff like heavily-aged pu-erh at this point, but that starts to require knowledge as well and there can't be many people out there who have been able to develop both a fortune and a knowledge of niche oriental teas.

Don't buy: Who am I to tell you what not to do?

Red Bush / Rooibos

We're now departing the world of black tea, and Rooibos is a good place to start. This is tea made from a South African bush that is not in fact related to tea. A sort of vanillaish taste to it. I drink it with milk but apparently you're not supposed to. Old people like it in the evening because it has no caffeine, but it's better in the sun on a hot day.

Buy: Tick Tock. Available from a supermarket near you in tea bags, or from their website if you would prefer loose leaf.

Do not buy: For a long time I thought there was no other supplier, but then one day I had a mug of Tetley's Red Bush and it was horrible in a way I can't really describe and has tainted the entire Tetley's brand for me ever since. So don't buy that. Most specialist tea suppliers, it turns out, has a rooibos in their armoury, but it's generally more expensive and less good. Sometimes they try to flavour it in some niche way but we haven't worked out why.

Green tea

I would once have been quite rude and started this with 'you're on a health drive...'. Although it is good if you're on a health drive, not least because you really can't drink it with milk. There are all sorts of health claims made for it, and some of them might even be true. But it's also tasty in its own right, delicate and uplifting.

Buy: La Caravane Gunpowder Tea. You know you want to.

Don't buy: Green teas marketed as health products. It's just green tea - the only thing they've added is a mark-up.