PG Tips vs Twinings English Breakfast Tea: A Tea Bag Battle

PG Tips vs Twinings English Breakfast

It’s a battle of two tea bags — a little workplace frivolity instigated by my co-worker, who recently purchased a pack of Twinings English Breakfast from Walmart. So, which delivers a better brew — the traditional stringed tea bag from Twinings (very common in America), or the state-of-the-art meshed floater from PG Tips?

Comparing these two teas is a bit like comparing Budweiser and Bud Light beer. But which one is which?

I’ve depended on PG Tips for years. What it lacks in complexity, it makes up for it in body, strength, and malty goodness. Twinings English Breakfast is something I’ve had maybe once and never considered again. I believe both brands contain blends of Assam, Kenyan, and Ceylon teas, but I don’t know for sure.

PG Tips wins this contest hands down. When I drink a “breakfast tea”, I want a full body that will stand up well to milk and a little bitterness, which I like to temper with honey. It brews perfectly in about 2 minutes.

Twinings English Breakfast was better than expected. If you want a moderately strong tea that can be drunk without milk and/or sweetener, it’s a decent option; however, there are more flavorful loose leaf teas out there that better serve this purpose (including English Tea Store’s Scottish Breakfast, reviewed recently at Second Cuppa). Approximately 4–5 minutes will yield the desired result.

I’ve read (but not yet verifed) that the UK and US versions of Twinings are not the same. I don’t believe the same is true regarding PG Tips.

In summary, PG Tips is the Budweiser and Twinings English Breakfast is the Bud Light. Good night.

The Truth About Decaffeinated Tea

PG Tips Decaffeinated Tea

Most of us tea lovers crave a satisfying cup of the real thing (as opposed to the herbal variety) in the evening; however, we avoid such an indulgence because caffeine tends to disrupt sleep. Decaffeinated options are available, but how do they taste? Is the decaffeination process safe, and how effective is it?

Can You Decaffeinate Tea Yourself?

Do-it-yourself instructions for decaffeinating tea are widely available on the Internet. The process is as follows: steep the tea for 30–45 seconds to release the majority of caffeine, drain the water, and steep again. Voilá, you have great tasting tea minus the caffeine.

But wait! As the dude (from the movie, The Big Lebowski) might say, “New sh*t has come to light, man.” The notion that most of tea’s caffeine can be removed by an initial 30–45 second steeping is just a widespread myth.

Firstly, it takes much longer that 30 seconds to remove the caffeine from tea — 15 minutes is more like it. Secondly, both the tea’s caffeine and flavor are released at the same time in water; when the caffeine’s gone, so is the flavor (click here and here for more information).

Commercial Tea Decaffeination Processes

In the United States, tea must have 98% of its caffeine removed to be sold as decaf. Three decaffeination methods exist today — all involve the use of solvents to extract the caffeine from the tea leaves. These solvents are as follows:

  • Methylene Chloride: Also known as dichloromethane, trace amounts of this solvent remain in the tea leaves after decaffeination. Because large amounts of this chemical have been linked to cancer, many tea drinkers avoid tea decaffeinated this way. As of this writing, most teas are decaffeinated using methylene chloride.
  • Ethyl Acetate: This chemical occurs naturally in tea. Although this decaffeination process is considered safe, much of the tea’s flavor is removed as a result.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO₂): Considered to be the safest and least destructive to the tea’s original flavor, this decaffeination process involves pressurizing the CO₂ so that it liquifies. The carbon dioxide is then used as a solvent to remove the caffeine.

Sadly, many brand-name tea makers do not use the CO₂ process. For example, Unilever, the manufacturer of the popular PG Tips and Lyons brands, uses dichloromethane (according to this source) to produce its decaffeinated teas.

Tea manufacturers typically don’t place caffeine extraction information — especially if it involves ethyl acetate — on the packaging. If you are uncertain or concerned, simply contact the company via email.

Independent tea merchants, such as English Tea Store, Upton Tea Imports, and Adagio, are your best bet for finding CO₂ decaffeinated teas. If the carbon dioxide method is used, it will be proudly mentioned on the company’s website. English Tea Store, for instance, claims to remove the caffeine with CO₂ early in the process, at the green leaf stage, and then allows the tea to mature as usual.

Scottish Breakfast Tea from English Tea Store

Scottish Breakfast by English Tea Store

English Tea Store’s Scottish Breakfast blend has been slowly seducing me since I first tried it a couple of weeks ago. Craving more, I decided to bring it to the office where I plan on adding it to my afternoon tea rotation.

Dedication to making a good cup of tea — as good as I can possibly do in an office cubicle — makes me somewhat of a weirdo in an office where every break room has as Flavia beverage machine. One could make a cup of tea in that contraption (and I have once), but it wouldn’t be proper because the water never reaches boiling temperature. Besides those machines are a bit wasteful, aren’t they? I mean, where do all those little plastic packets go after they’ve been used? In a landfill I presume.

My M.O. is the electric kettle I purchased at Walmart for about $30. The Scottish Breakfast tea is loose leaf, so I brought some (biodegradable) tea filters from home as well.

Excited for my co-worker/business partner to experience this flavorful blend, I stuck the bag of loose tea under his nose. I happened to catch him just before he was about to get coffee from the Flavia machine.

The GE electric kettle I use to make tea at work

My kettle operates on the floor for now because its power cord won’t reach the outlet from my desk. I’ve been lazy about placing an office supply request for a power strip.

The image captured (above) doesn’t accurately represent the tea’s color, which is a dark yellow. In flavor, this particular (I haven’t tried any other) Scottish Breafast tea is lighter and more complex than any Irish or English tea I’ve tasted. Maltiness is present for sure but to a lesser degree than other breakfast teas.

A woody (which some people describe as oaky) quality is at the forefront of this tea’s flavor. Floral undertones are also present. Milk, which gives the tea an unpleasant color, is not necessary. Add sweetener to suit your taste. I recommend honey.

Numi’s Organic Rooibos

Rooibos Herbal Tea - Numi Organic Tea

Rooibos (Afrikaans for red bush) is an plant indigenous to South Africa that is used to produce and herbal tea by the same name. Commonly referred to as “red tea”, rooibos is free of caffeine and known for its calming effect.

A few rooibos options were available at the grocery store — all in teabag format of course. I went with an organic version, thinking it would be the truest representation.

I’ve made this tea a handful of times already. The medicinal flavor that so many people complain about was noticeable at first. On subsequent tries, however, the medicinal quality became less prominent as did the flavor in general.

Rooibos tea has gentle flavor — an earthy, almost nutty taste — with mild sweetness. I don’t detect vanilla as is suggested on the packaging. No sweetener is needed in my opinion.

This herbal tea has grown on me. I now use two teabags for a stronger cup and look forward to trying a loose tea version. Caffeine free and mellow, rooibos tea is great in the evening after you’ve exercised and/or are trying to wind down.

How to Make a Good Cup of (Black) Tea

Christopher Hitchens knew how to make tea
Christopher Hitchens

The only good cup of tea you can get in America is the one you make yourself. Never again will I order tea at Starbucks. Two bucks for a teabag and a cup of water not suitable for infusion is outrageous!

The late Christopher Hitchens shared my frustration and wrote a fantastic article on the subject. It boils (pun intended) down to one basic rule: use boiling water.

Keep in mind, it’s black tea, particularly ‘breakfast tea’, to which I’m referring. Green and other more delicate and complex teas should be brewed at temperatures below boiling.

Purists may tell you that only loose leaf tea will do. While I agree that loose tea is the best way to go, I’ve made plenty of good cups with teabags.

When I first began drinking tea, I wanted to make sure I was following established traditions like warming the teapot (assuming you use a teapot). Hitchens thinks this is a must. I say do it if you want, but you probably won’t be able to tell the difference.

Another minor disagreement I have with Hitchens concerns the inclusion of milk, which not all tea requires of course. He wasn’t a fan of pouring the milk in the cup first, and he suggested using milk with the least amount of fat. With regard to the former, do whatever makes you happy (again, this really only applies to those who use teapots). As for the latter, do yourself a favor and try using whole milk — it truly makes for a great cuppa.

If needed, I suggest using honey as a sweetener. It goes well with tea and offers some additional health benefits — chief among them is its antibacterial qualities — that sugar doesn’t provide.

When ordering tea at Starbucks, Hitchens would insist upon boiling water. I disagree with this too. Instead of holding up the line and confusing the poor baristas, I order a cup of steamed skim milk. It does a body good.

*Photo courtesy of Guardian News and Media Limited