Tea review: Fortnum & Mason’s Afternoon Blend

In honour of Afternoon Tea this week, I’ve decided to review a classic choice for this joyous occasion: the eponymous Afternoon Blend. Many tea merchants will have a variant of this, including Whittard and Twinings, but I have chosen Fortnum & Mason’s blend as it was recently given to me as gift and I like to call Fortnum & Mason The Mothership so I’m probably a bit biased.

If you’re looking for an easy choice to go with your Afternoon Tea this week, or simply need a pick-me-up without the heavy body and strength of a regular English Breakfast, this is your tea. And while you’re at it, why not read more about the Afternoon Tea tradition?

Dry leaves: the aromas of the leaves have that characteristically strong earthy smell of a black tea, with notes of dried tobacco on this particular blend. As with many black teas for general consumption (as opposed to the grand crus and single estate varieties), the leaves are cut quite small to produce a full-bodied liquor.

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Water temperature: 100 degrees Celsius

Amount: one teaspoon or 3-4 grams per cup

Brewing time: 3-5 minutes. It might sound like a lot if you normally use teabags, but this time will give the tea leaves the chance to absorb the water and infuse it.

Wet leaves: the infusion process reveals a much lighter aroma to the leaves, which are now light woody, a bit like balsa wood, rather than earthy. The leaves have now also expanded and you can notice their size a bit better, which is the sign of a good quality loose leaf tea.

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Brew: those adverse to change will be happy to know that the tea tastes a bit like your regular cuppa without the strength, which is why I would suggest not adding milk to it because it won’t hold the taste very well. It’s mouth-filing but smooth, making it a good match and a versatile companion to the sweetness and variety of afternoon tea cakes.

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Ready to try it?

My best recommendation would be to go to Fortnum & Mason and enjoy their full Afternoon Tea package. Don’t worry, I’m in no way paid by them to say that, it’s simply the nicest Afternoon Tea I’ve ever had so it comes from the heart.

However, you can always buy the Afternoon Tea blend that I reviewed, priced at £10.95 for a lovely tin and 250g of tea (or about 80 cups!), bake a fresh batch of Mary Berry’s scones and enjoy a cream tea at home with cream and jam.

Thanks for reading!

Tea review: Fortnum & Mason’s black tea with lemon blend

If you’re an avid black tea drinker, that might be all you want to try and I understand that. But why not introduce a bit, a tiny bit, of variety with a citrus twist? Go on, at least while it’s summer! 

Fortnum & Mason has a lovely blend called black tea with lemon. It has a blend of light black teas from China and dried lemon peel from Sicily. Because the lemon is dried, you can even add a splash of milk without risk drinking a cup of curdle, but I prefer a splash of lemon juice instead. It reminds me of holidays in Italy where tea is drank with lemon and those yellow fruits are the most fragrant you’ll ever taste after bathing in the sun of the Mediterranean for the summer. Before I drift too far down memory lane, I’d like to add that black tea with lemon is a lovely companion to afternoon tea. Or if you don’t fancy the whole nine yards, its light and citrusy taste is a great complement to a slice of moist, creamy, chocolate cake or a rocky road, as it allows the sweet treat to be the star and acts like a light refreshment. 


Dry leaves
: malty like a regular black tea though light with a hint of citrus which combined, to me, smells like poppyseed. I actually mean that, not like when wine makers say you should get hints of chocolate in a wine and all you can smell is well…wine, or alcohol.


Water temperature: 100 degrees Celsius

Amount: one teaspoon or 3-4 grams per cup

Brewing time: 4-5 minutes.

Wet leaves: the maltiness is now gone, leaving space for a light scent of almost sweetly roasted notes. For a nature equivalent, it smells to me like a forest after a summer thunderstorm. 


Brew: the comforting familiarity of a regular cup of black tea with a softer touch. The lemon peel makes the liquor just a bit zingy ending every sip on a high without tasting sour or too much of lemon in any way. A very subtle brew indeed! And because it’s a light blend, it can work well as an iced tea too, served with slices of lemon and orange and a few sprigs of mint. 

Ready to try it?

I’ve used Fortnum & Mason’s black tea with lemon but as you can probably imagine, a few tea suppliers will have something similar. This is the one I use and like so I’m sharing with you my favourite but let me know what you think and what gems you find! 

At the time of writing, it’s priced at £7.25 for 120g and the famous F&M tin or you can buy it loose in their stores for slightly cheaper. A bargain!

Which teas can you add milk to?

Perhaps one of the reasons why tea and coffee are such popular drinks is that they are a blank canvas. You can have them hot or cold (try my recipe for a refreshing ice tea), with a little milk, a lot or no milk at all, frothed or not, with one, two or however many spoons of sugar you prefer, or perhaps you’re the special syrup type of drinker.

One of the founders in the company I work for has a T-shirt with his tea preference. Many people get customised mugs with it. Everyone has their preference. My mum loves a vanilla latte. I, as you’ve probably guessed from the title, like my black tea with milk and no sugar. Though I like white tea too so I’ve been a bit cheeky there!

Milk first or last?

The habit of starting with milk comes from the time when Westerners first discovered the pleasure of drinking tea. They poured milk in first to prevent their fine bone china or porcelain from breaking when the boiling tea was added from the teapot. Times have changed though, many people now make tea directly in cups and mugs which are much stronger. And unless you know what you’re doing, you can ruin a good cup of tea by adding too much of the white stuff. I recommend adjusting the milk ratio after the tea is prepared.

Black tea but not all of it!

Now that you know there is more to tea than a builder’s brew, it’s time to introduce you to tea varieties. Depending on where the teas are grown and when they are picked, tea leaves have a certain aroma, flavour and stregth. They can be consumed as a standalone variety or in a blend – the way most people prefer them. Take the popular English Breakfast for example – it’s a blend of three varieties: Kenyan for colour, Assam for strength, body and maltiness and Ceylon for aroma and adding complexity to the flavour. It really does sound like a recipe for success, no wonder Queen Victoria loved it so much.

Out of those three, it’s the Assam that has a full enough body to hold the blend’s taste when milk is added. Otherwise you’d just taste a watered down version of milk. So, which teas and blends are suitable?

  • Add milk to: Breakfast blends like English Breakfast (also Irish, Melbourne, etc.), Assam, Keemun, Lapsang Souchong.
  • Don’t add milk to Darjeeling, Ceylon, Afternoon tea, Earl or Lady Grey.
Melbourne Breakfast from T2 with milk is one of my hubby’s favourite teas

​​​Rooibos or Redbush

If your personal preference is to stay off caffeine, you can still enjoy a milky tea. Try Rooibos or Redbush – a South African herbal tea that is made with the needles of a bush. It’s similar in colour and flavour to an English Breakfast (as similar as a herbal tea can be) and it holds its own well with a splash of milk.

Vanilla Rooibos Dragonfly Tea with milk

Matcha – the new health craze

A very popular drink with the health conscious at the moment, matcha is the powdered form of special green tea bushes, such as Gyokuro, from Japan that are grown shaded from the sun. Japanese green teas are generally really earthy, a bit like the taste of boiled spinach, and this one is no exception. The traditional way of preparing it is using a bamboo whisk to blend it with water. However, Westerners prefer to add it to smoothies and cakes for an antioxidant kick, or to mix it with frothed milk as an alternative to a latte. Because of its strong, bitter taste, it’s probably the only type of tea that I like to add honey or a lemony syrup to. I’ve never tried cooking with it before, but I’ll do some experiments and let you know!

That’s it! Don’t add milk to green, white, Oolong or other herbal teas as they won’t hold their flavour. Also, if you normally add lemon to your tea (a popular habit in Europe), avoid adding milk as well as you’ll end up with a curdled mess!

Until next time!

What is black tea anyway?

Last week, I talked about how all tea comes from the same plant: camellia sinensis (and its varieties). I got a bit excited sharing how tea is grown, how it’s plucked and when it’s harvested and ran out of time/space/your attention span to explain how we end up with black, green, white and oolong tea. As they are such distinct yet delicious varieties, I’ve decided to dedicate a post to each one. So here we are: black tea.

In order to obtain the dark brown liquor we all love so much, tea leaves go through four stages once they are plucked: withering, rolling, oxidation and firing.

Withering

Similar to the way your flowers or herbs wither in hot weather after they’re picked, leaves react in the same way. It’s a natural process that traditionally occurs by exposing tea leaves to sunlight; they’re arranged in thin layers on bamboo or wire trays so that every one of them can sunbathe in style! However, you can imagine that for large productions this is unfeasible, so the leaves are instead transferred to temperature controlled rooms and kept between 20-24 degrees Celsius, with good ventilation.

The leaves will be left to relax and wither for 18-30 hours depending on the climate.

withering tea leaves

Rolling

Now that the leaves have softened, they are more flexible so the rolling process can begin. This is done to break down the cells to release an enzyme which helps with oxidation. And, as you’ve probably guessed, the more you roll them, the quicker oxidation will happen. This can be done manually or mechanically and the length of time it’s performed depends on things like the leaf quality, the time of the year, the temperature and the climate.

rolling tea leaves

This stage also determines the body of the cup – gently rolled leaves produce a light tea, whereas vigorously rolled leaves have a fuller, stronger body.

What is the body of a tea you ask? Well, the first sign will be the colour: light = pale and full = dark(er). Then it’s also the taste, light teas are generally mild, whereas full bodied teas have a much stronger, pronounced taste (this is your English Breakfast).

Oxidation

If withering was necessary to remove the water from the tea leaves, one of the crucial points with oxidation is that the humidity needs to be maintained between 90-95%. The leaves are again spread so they can all get the same treatment and the enzymes start to change the chemical composition, turning them the familiar dark red/brown colour.

The temperature also needs to be closely monitored as if it drops below 20%, the oxidation slows down or stops, and if it goes about 22% the leaves are ‘burned’.

oxidation tea leaves

Firing

It’s not actually as harsh as it sounds! I’d probably call it baking but ‘firing’ is the official term. This is done by exposing the leaves to temperatures of about 90 degrees Celsius for around 20 minutes which will both dry out the moisture left and kill the enzymes to stop oxidation. Tea manufacturers have to be careful with this process because if they don’t run it for long enough, the leaves could become mouldy. And if they run it for too long, the resulting brew will lack flavour. The leaves should have about 5% water left in them for a decent cuppa!

So, what do you think? Once I found out all of this years ago, I couldn’t look at a cup of tea in the same way! And wait until you discover how the green, white and oolong teas are formed.

Until next time!