The New Trader Joe’s Original Irish Breakfast Tea

Trader Joe's Original Irish Breakfast Tea

Back in March, I reviewed Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Tea for this blog. A couple of months later, a few blog visitors posted comments, complaining of a change in the tea. One commenter confirmed that Trader Joe’s had, in fact, changed suppliers for its Irish Breakfast Tea.

My reaction to these comments was twofold. First, I was happy that one of my posts attracted a small discussion; any blogger will tell you how difficult it is to get real comments. Second, I felt compelled to investigate the matter further.

To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the original formula. For an Irish Breakfast tea, I found it quite lacking in aroma, strength, and flavor. I still have more than half of the original package left.

Based on commenters’ laments over the loss of their beloved TJ’s Irish Breakfast Tea, I didn’t have much expectation of its replacement.

The new package is smaller and not nearly as green. The name has changed from ‘Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Tea’ to ‘Trader Joe’s Original Irish Breakfast.’ The tea bags are now round instead of square and vacuum packed into two 40-bag columns.

I opened the package, plopped a rounder into my mug, added boiling water, and steeped for three minutes. A strong, malty, citrusy aroma greeted my nose. My tongue and cheeks delighted in the heavy, chalky, slightly astringent nature of the tea’s flavor. This is what I expect from an Irish tea!

Curiosity got me. I wanted to find out who the new supplier was. The tea bags are round, so it could be Tetley … but it doesn’t taste like any Tetley I’ve ever had.

I’ve got it! Republic of Tea (ROT) is supplying Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast. The tea bags look identical to the ones on the ROT website, and both companies are based in California. To confirm, I emailed both Trader Joe’s and ROT. I never heard back from Trader Joe’s, but ROT replied with the following:

Dear Citizen Leo,
Thank you for your email. We do not supply Trader Joe's with tea.
Sip by sip,
Minister of Citizen Services

Oh well. Who am I kidding? I’m no sleuth. I’m just an amateur tea expert with a blog, and this case is going cold. Nonetheless, I’m impressed with this tea.

Sure, there are better Irish breakfast teas out there but not by much, and not for $3 a pack. For this reason, I officially recommend the new Trader Joe’s Original Irish Breakfast tea as a Second Cuppa best buy.

Aroma: Malty, citrusy, mossy
Body: Full
Flavor: Chalky, bitter, bright finish
Color: Dark amber

UPDATE 6/19/2013: Trader Joe’s finally got back to me. I’m a bit shocked by what they said.

Hi Leo,

Thank you for contacting us! The packaging of our Trader Joe's Irish 
Breakfast Tea has recently changed but the actual tea leaves have 
not changed. In any case, were glad you are enjoying it! Please 
know that Trader Joe's and it's private labeled products are 
privately owned, therefore we follow a very strict disclosure
policy alongside our suppliers. Due to this policy, we do not 
disclose any of our supplier information.

Thank you,

Nicki K.
Trader Joe's
Customer Relations

I’m not surprised that they won’t disclose the supplier, but claiming the tea leaves are the same is incorrect. There is a vast difference between the old and the new Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast tea. Somebody gave somebody some bad information somewhere along the communication chain.

Season’s Pick Special Purchase Tie-Guan-Yin from Upton Tea

Special Tie-Guan-Yin (ZO07D) from Upton Tea

My best experience so far with Tie-Guan-Yin, a special type of oolong tea, involved an unknown Chinese brand purchased at an Asian supermarket. That tea, while quite good, was nothing like the kind I recently ordered from Upton Tea. That’s no surprise though because Tie-Guan-Yin varies greatly depending on oxidation level and other processing techniques.

I don’t have a fancy tea kettle with a temperature gauge, so I boiled water and let it sit for 30 seconds, hoping to get somewhere close to the recommended 190°F. I let the leaves steep for about 3 minutes, which resulted in a golden color.

Initially, the Tie-Guan-Yin’s aroma seemed grassy to me, like you would expect from green tea. A few more whiffs revealed a floral fragrance with a little sweetness. True to the description on Upton Tea’s website, the tea had a light, buttery feel on the tongue.

As the third of many oolongs I intend to try, it may be too early to make a final decision about this Tie-Guan-Yin. But I will say this: the tea is light, pleasant, and smooth. Maybe that’s all that matters.

Aroma: Grassy, floral, mildly sweet
Body: Light
Flavor: Smooth, buttery
Color: Gold