Wanted: A Good Cuppa

This is a personal plea from a tea drinker. Many years a go I lived in Britain and was spoiled by their ordinary, garden-variety Twinings tea. It’s excellent and sadly much, much better than the Twinings we get on this side of the Big Drink. I’ve been to those British specialty goods stores and not one of them can get me the good stuff from over there. I don’t want to become one of those tea snob types (like Mrs. Pastry) who pays $15 a bag for gourmet loose tea and fiddles with those darn infusers. I’m a man, dammit. I want an easy-to-use tea-in-a-bag that I can drop in a cup, pour hot water on and have it actually taste good. Is that so wrong? Can anyone help me?

102 thoughts on “Wanted: A Good Cuppa”

  1. The tea in North America is a travesty (I too lived in UK and now I cannot tolerate the swill you get here). I haven’t tried this for tea (since I just don’t bother much at this point), but you might be able to get the real export from this place where I buy my British candies and treats. It’s located in a suburb of Toronto but they ship everywhere, I believe: http://www.abitofhome.ca/.

    1. Mississauga?? That’s only about an hour from here (plus or minus the border crossing). I’ll have to check them out next time I’m up that way.

    2. I’ll try it K-Line, thank you. Britain is where I learned to love tea (and Horlicks I have to admit) and it seems impossible to believe we can’t get something approaching that basic quality here.

      – Joe

      1. I’m hooked on Bovril (the spread) and the Tavener’s hard candies (black currant on the outside, soft licorice toffee on the inside).

        1. I remember all that stuff very fondly. Sadly the Horlick’s doesn’t taste as good to me now as it did in the wee hours of the night in the kitchen of the chaplaincy where I lived. And the Bovril was better over a pint and revision notes in the student pub! You just can’t go back. Sigh.

          – Joe

  2. Maybe paying top dollar does, but using loose tea doesn’t make you a snob. I use that for 75% of my tea (multiple cups a day), and it’s the most normal thing to do. The second-most normal thing would be to drink the sometimes much inferior tea in a bag.

    Good, fast, cheap. Choose any two.

    1. OK, maybe “snob” is pushing it a little too far, uptight! 😉

      But I don’t think good convenient tea is out of the question. I’ve seen it done. I know it’s possible!

      – Joe

  3. I like Tetley British Blend, which I can get in the supermarket in boxes of 100. It makes a nice cup of builder’s tea – black, and strong enough to melt the spoon.

    Speaking of which – you were looking for requests the other day: how about digestive biscuits? I’ve never been able to find those on this side of the pond, and I love them.

    1. I’ll look for that.

      And the digestives…that’s a bit of a tough one but I’ll see what I can find!

      Thanks Jane!

      – Joe

      1. I’ve seen McVitties chocolate digestives in grocery stores in the US (Wegman’s for one). I can’t recall seeing them in other grocery stores. But they might be there…. Maybe just the chocolate version. You could always lick off the chocolate… : )

        1. Ha! Great advice, Squrille. My young ones would definitely approve. I don’t know how difficult they’d be to make. The trick would be pressing them with the design. But it would be fun to try!


          – Joe

  4. Do you mean the yellow box everyday tea like this http://twinings.co.uk/everyday-teas? Britishfoodshop.com has most other brands, I’m partial to Yorkshire tea personally. I also saw online at twinings.com that they import yellow box tea from the UK. My aunt buys the Trader Joe’s English breakfast and says that that does the job.

    1. You know it’s been so long I don’t remember what the packets look like. And they may well have changed. The Twinings I buy now is in a red box. But we have a Trader Joe’s here now. I’ll give theirs a try!

      Thanks a bunch!

      – Joe

      1. Red Twinlings would be Englush Breakfast. They are not the strongest tea from them but ok for a cuppa. At least you didn’t ask for Lipton, now that’s nasty.

        1. Actually their new pyramid-style tea bags make pretty alright tea, Izzy. Not great but better than it was!

          Thanks for the weigh-in!

          – Joe

  5. I order my teas from Upton and have for years; they’re online and very fast to ship. I do use loose tea, but I have a little pot with a built-in infuser, so it’s really not much trouble to fix and enjoy. I’m positively addicted to their Earl Grey with extra bergamot — wonderful!

    1. I order from Upton Tea as well. Good tea, good service.

      Myself, I don’t see dealing with loose tea as that much harder than dealing with teabags. I spoon the tea into the infuser and it’s done. I reuse the tea leaves, adding a little extra fresh tea each time. When I’m finally done with the tea leaves, I put them in a small, lidded, plastic tub. When the tub is full, the tea leaves are sprinkled over one of my flowerbeds. Environmental!

      1. Mrs. Pastry is always after me to start composting for the garden. That might be a decent start. Thanks, Karen!

        – Joe

    2. Quite a few Publix have Heinz Baked Beans in Atlanta(EXCEPT for the one I live nearest to(they don’t stock ANY British goods)OF COURSE!) Maybe check the Publix locations in KY for Heinz Baked Beans tins. They also carry British tea-I’ve seen something called PG and occasionally have seen Typhoo in some Publix that carry British goods. Don’t know if you would like them as good as what you remember,though. Another great thing is,depending on the location that carries British goods,you can luck out and find Bird’s Custard Powder and Lyle’s Golden Syrup,mostly in the tins(Whole Foods near where I’m at carries it sometimes),or the Squeezy bottle version I saw at a Publix the other day. I KNEW there was a reason I wanted to check it out before going home!

      1. I’d love to find some Lyle’s in a squeeze bottle! Sadly there’s only one Publix in Kentucky and it’s in Bowling Green, about and hour and a half from here. Maybe on my next visit to Nashville I can find some of the good stuff!


        – Joe

    3. I am a tea drinker, and I also can endorse Upton Tea Imports. They supply excellent teas, and their shipments are prompt. I make loose leaf tea, which is not hard to make as long as you have an infuser.

      However, I recognize that tea bags are darned convenient, so I keep a supply on hand. I’ve found decent imported-from-the-UK tea bags at a chain store called World Market. And if you have to resort to supermarket tea bags, mine carries Twining’s Yorkshire Gold. (Not the regular Yorkshire, but look for Yorkshire Gold.) That seems to be a better quality tea than any of Twining’s other offerings.

      1. Oh, and another thought: I sometimes throw tea bags or loose tea leaves in my drip-style coffee maker. Obviously, you’d want a dedicated coffee maker for tea, since you wouldn’t want the taste of coffee mixed in with your tea!

  6. Do you have Peet’s in KY? They used to be just CA but now that they’ve been bought by Starbucks they seem to have expanded some. http://www.peets.com/stores/peets-stores/stores-store-list.html Maybe something in OH might be convenient to your travels?

    Here’s what they stock. http://www.peets.com/tea/tea-all-leaves.html (Yes, I’m a whore.) Not cheap but quality I’ve never found outside a tea shop (we’ve had a few in LA but they don’t last long…) Smokey ones. Grassy ones. Floral ones. When it was still operated by the Peet family the stores all had their entire inventory in small jars you could open and sniff to help decide between them.

    As for convenience, I use tea filters. You get the high quality of loose and whole leaves with tons of room for expansion in brewing and then a pristine cup when you pour. Less fiddly than infusers! I seal mine with my vacuum sealer and then I use the “used” bag to make ice tea after I’ve had my hot pot. I can usually brew 2 or 3 pichers of iced tea to make up for what my pot of hot tea costs. …and then the whole thing goes on my compost pile.

    1. Adding, when I seal my (6″ long) “tea bags”, I do 9 or 10 or 12 of them. Then I roll them up and put them back in an empty tin so I also have the convenience of grab-and-brew.

    2. I’m not saying I’m not open to the idea to some degree. My morning routine doesn’t allow for much time or fussing is all I can say. Two little kids, a small marketing firm to maintain, then my real job: baking and blogging. I really need grad-and-go solution. But I’ll think it over Rainey!

      – Joe

  7. I’ve become hooked on Tazo’s “Awake English Breakfast” tea. At about $4.60/ 20 bags it is pretty economical too.

    1. I do drink coffee as well, but tea is my go-to. Like I said, just a cup and bag. Good coffee takes attention and I don’t have any to spare these days. Unless I buy it and that’s out of the question. I blow enough on good butter as it is! 😉

      – Joe

  8. Can’t help with tea, but if you’re missing proper breakfast tomato-y beans, Amy’s Vegetarian baked beans tastes awfully close to English-style Heinz and is much more widely available.

  9. The Red Rose you can buy up here in Canada is my snob tea. I cannot drink Lipton black tea or anything remotely similar. I export it to my parents in Boston as well! I don’t even bother ordering tea anywhere when we’re in the US. It’s just not worth it. I have heard that they apparently sell Red Rose in the US now as well, but I haven’t seen it and would be suspicious of it being the same recipe/blend. (American Pringles and Canadian Pringles are completely different, for example. As are Special K and Corn Pops….bizarre). I’ve never had tea “across the pond,” but grew up with very British neighbours who drank Red Rose. Their stellar TV commercials from the 80s really worked on me. 😉 Pity! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUnbJAWk6gM

      1. BTW, Red Rose is the tea I drink here too… Or Tetley – but I haven’t seen the British blend. I just get what they sell at the Loblaws.

  10. Hi Joe,
    I’m a tea lover myself and fortunately my kids live in London (I live in Hong Kong) so I have a great selection to choose from and carry home when I visit. I always seem to come back to Taylors of Harrowgate Yorkshire Tea. It is available on Amazon US for about $14 for a pack of 160 teabags. Occasionally you can get their single-estate teas and these are fabulous if a little pricey. I second the advice about warming the teapot or mug and never, never, never use anything but full fat milk. Low fat or skim milk will turn your tea grey.

    1. That’s a good suggestion, Bina, and not a bad price at all. I’m a Prime member so it wouldn’t take long. And thanks for the tips!

      – Joe

  11. Joe, if you can get your hands on Jing in the US, then forget about Twinnings (still a supermarket brand at the end of the day and nothing special, though the positioning may fool you into believing otherwise – and for a very long time, believe I did…). Try Jing’s Assam and see what I mean. I would try contacting the website – someone somewhere in the US may hopefully stock this. Good luck.


    1. I’ll look for it. And yes, I do know that Twinnings is nothing special, but that’s all I’m really after. Real English “nothing special” is pretty excellent by comparison here.

      Thanks OB!

      – Joe

  12. Try PG Tips. I’ve found it’s the closest to the everyday teas I drank while studying in England. It brews quickly and one bag is strong enough for two cups. You can find it in the foreign foods section at Kroger and at Fresh Market.

    1. Ooh, I’ll check that, Mary, since Kroger is a block away from me. Just what I was looking for. Thank you!

      – Joe

      1. I second the PG Tips. It’s what all my Brit and Anglophile friends recommend and it’s often found with the rest of the teas in our local grocery store (Vons/Safeway). It’s VERY strong so only needs the briefest of steeps.

        1. Hey Robin!

          It wasn’t at Kroger, but I shall keep up the search!


          – Joe

        2. Thank you, Robin, I notice it’s available at the local Cost Plus World Market. I shall head there tomorrow!


          – Joe

  13. As a tea fiend living in rural Mexico where tea isn’t part of the culture, I absolutely depend on teadog.com for my thrice daily restoratives.

    I recommend: Taylor of Harrogate’s Scottish Breakfast (mostly Assam so a little smokey and very smooth, intended to be taken with milk and sugar), Marks and Spencer’s Luxury Gold (a fair trade blend suitable for any time of the day. It’s not as expensive as it sounds and is one of the few British teas equally good iced as hot, although I’m not sure you’ll be able to get them at teadog since I think I bought them out) and Glengettie from Wales, a powerful, strongly tannic brew made for miners that will put a Tom Jones-level of hair on your chest. I have to be in the mood for Glengettie but the fella drinks it all the time.

    New to your blog and I like it very much!

    1. Tom Jones indeed! Hehe…yeah we can’t all be blessed with that degree of body hair. But I act like I do. 😉

      Thank you very much Rhiannon and welcome. Please settle in and don’t be a stranger.

      – Joe

      1. Have to second the Taylors Scottish Breakfast, my favorite.
        Green tea was my gateway drug. Suppose tea connects me to my Irish & Friesian roots.
        I find Taylors and Harney & Sons in my grocery stores, love to check out the tea aisle whenever I’m on the road.
        Don’t let tea snobs put you off, no matter how right they are.

  14. DH uses an infuser from Teavana, Red Stick Spice and others companies offer similar design. Not that fiddly little ball-on-a-chain, this is a perforated basket that sits inside your mug and rests on the top. Open the tea leaf container, pinch the amount you want and drop it in. Add water. Almost as fast as a tea bag and much nicer quality tea.

    1. OK LML, I’ll think that one over. I may be ready to graduate from the bag one of these days. Mrs. Pastry (who as I mentioned is a tea snob) may need one of those at the very least.

      Thank you,

      – Joe

    2. TOTALLY a fan of that valve that lets you steep and then filter by putting the device on the top of your cup. http://www.teavana.com/tea-products/tea-makers-infusers/p/teavana-perfect-teamaker

      The equivalent Clever Coffee dripper from Sweet Maria’s is the only device we use now for coffee. It makes the equivalent of French press all on its own and without any dregs at all in the brew. http://www.sweetmarias.com/clevercoffeedripperpictorial.php

      I loved the tea brewer until I started making my own tea bags.

    3. I use the Bodum Yo-Yo mug. Very large infuser basket and the mug is clear glass, so you can see just how strong the tea is getting.

  15. Being Latin American, it was somewhat embarrassing to gradually become accustomed to wonderful tea (I am already a coffee snob/fanatic). AND, because I am very methodical (and hence, love to bake) I tried and fiddled with many different ways to get a good cuppa.
    1) I have to agree with Amanda: great tea is almost impossible brewed in a cup; you must brew in a pot. Since I cannot locate Brown Bettys in Albuquerque, I mail order from A Bit of Britain, located in Colorado. They have a fabulous selection of tea pots. I do not like drippy pots, either, and they carry the Japanese pots in every conceivable color. Those cups come with little mesh inserts. 2) Those mesh inserts allow “tea dust” (eww!) to get through if you use loose tea. No good. I toss those right out. You can get a gold filter made by Teeli (made in Germany) or by Swissgold. They fit in the tea pots and less “dust” gets through. Or you can use the cool paper tea bags (T-Sac) and not have any “dust” at all. 3) Get an electric water kettle. Nothing is better for the proper temperature of your water. Plus, when you are running around with little kids, the kettle will not boil dry (sigh). 4) Yorkshire Gold and PG Tips are both widely available in bags in specialty stores or Amazon. 1 bag in my 16 oz. tea pot first thing in the morning is great. I time it using the timer on the microwave. Hey! You want a good cuppa, you gotta pay attention! Later in the day, I am awake enough to scoop some loose tea into a filter for the next pot.
    Although I love hand-ground, Hario method coffee, Nothing, Nothing, Nothing is more comforting than a good cup of hot tea drunk from a real tea cup. Once you get the right equipment ordered from all the various sources, brewing great tea is pretty quick and painless. I am lucky to have at least 5 wonderful places to buy high quality loose tea where I live, but I know loose tea is available by mail as well.

    1. Melinda, you and Mrs. Pastry need to be pen pals. She’s seriously into tea (and fluent in Spanish). I am a mere dabbler by comparison, and frustrate her by preferring my easy “good enough” teas to her extraordinary ones. When she asks me if I want a cup of afternoon tea on the rare afternoons when we’re in the house together, it takes her a while to run through her exotic inventory. “Just tea!” I say and in return get the hairy eyeball. I’ll never rise to her level of tea appreciation, nor yours I’m sure. But I will pass this on!

      Thank you. Your English is flawless.

      – Joe

      1. Joe, you made a pun! My English language is flawless (well, I grew up in a bilingual household and did attend an Ivy League graduate school) and also my (slightly embarrassing) mastery of English tea is flawless! I am a goner – Jane Austen, Downton Abbey, Great British Sewing Bee, etc. When people ask for tea at my house, I first ask, “Black, Green or Herbal?” because if I rattle off all the types their eyes glaze over.
        But seriously, PG Tips and Yorkshire Gold come in bags and make perfectly decent everyday tea. Just use a pot. It really does affect the taste. In England, guys use tea pots. For pots: http://www.beehouseteapot.com/ Amazon has the PG Tips and Yorkshire Gold as well as the Swissgold tea filter (for Mrs. Pastry – trust me you will make big points).

        1. Melinda, I thank you for your concern with my standing in the household. A fellow must keep his image up both outwardly and inwardly as you clearly understand. I shall take your advice though the pot thing will take some figuring out. My morning routine is pretty set. However I’m sure Dr. Mrs. Pastry will have some ideas on that. Any tea pots out there with scenes of famous military engagements on them? Maybe heavy metal band or football team logos? I’ll have a look around.


          – Joe

          1. I’m certain you could get teapots with logos for the various British football clubs. Or maybe rugby?

            In any case, I entirely second the recommendation of an electric kettle – we bought one on moving into a house with no appliances (because I refused to go without tea until the new stove got delivered), and it’s wonderful for anything requiring hot water, not just tea.

          2. We actually have one of those and they’re fabulous. Actually now that I think about it we have two: one in the kitchen and one in my office since I’m lazy. I don’t remember what I used to do without it!

            Thanks Jane!

            – Joe

  16. This is another one of those perplexing American situations – that the wealthiest nation on earth cannot appreciate a good cup of tea (or coffee for that matter – don’t get me started on American “coffee”). The tea section in an average Australian supermarket is five shelves high and about 20 feet long, with every blend and variety known to man. I always struggle to find a good tea bag when I’m visiting the US.

    1. Yes yes yes, clueless this, have no idea that. I know the whole “American” drill. But we’ve become a lot less Anglicized over the years what with not having a queen and such. Hence the tea problem. I hope to find a solution in fairly short order, however. Lots of good ideas so far in the comment fields if I do say so myself!


      – Joe

  17. I use one of these with loose tea. (Actually, I use an earlier model.)


    You put the tea and water into the container. When it’s steeped, put the container on top of your mug, which raises a valve and the beverage flows into the mug; the leaves stay in the container. I walk that into the bathroom, dump the leaves into the toilet and flush. (Okay, that last part might be more than you want to know, but it sure beats fiddling with one of the spherical infusers.)

    And a french press works very well.

  18. I see you have enough suggestions for particular brands and varieties. My tip for buying cheap British tea in the US is to go to an Indian grocery store, if you have any around. I find they tend to have very strong tea and British brands, sometimes imported from Britain, but for much better prices then the fancier “specialty” stores that you normally think of for buying imported British goods. Whenever I’m stocking up on rice and spices I always throw in a box or two of Tetley or Red Rose.

    1. Elizabeth! You genius you! Louisville isn’t a big place, but definitely big enough to have several very good Indian grocers. Fabulous advice!

      Thank you,

      – Joe

  19. This might be tea sacrilege, but my husband and I brew loose-leaf tea by the pot in a simple Mr. Coffee using paper filters.

    1. The is a judgment free zone, Catherine. And anyway, why not? Not sure what all these tea lovers will say — who knew I had such a tea-obsessive readership? — but you’re OK by me!

      – Joe

    1. Thanks for the good information, Alison! If I don’t use it I know Mrs. Pastry will!


      – Joe

  20. Hi, Joe – If Mrs Pastry is into tea, here’s a tip for a birthday/Christmas/anniversary pressie: Tea from The Savoy Hotel, London: http://www.shopatthesavoy.com/tea/the-savoy-teas-100g.html Next time I’m in that part of London, I’m going to get me some of their breakfast tea! If I’m feeling rich, I might splurge on another one… How’s your wallet feeling?

    1. It’s always feeling pretty light I have to say, Squrille, but Dr. Mrs. Pastry is always worth it. Great tip. I shall tuck that in my back pocket for a special occasion!

      Thank you,

      – Joe

  21. Taylor’s of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold.

    It is strong, bright and clean. This is my favorite black tea. I worked with a guy from Sheffield and he instituted tea times in the lab twice day. When I brought in a box of this (we took turns bringing in tea, milk, sugar) he nearly wept with joy.

    I became addicted in field school. Where I lived on beer, tea, bread, cheese and fruit. Institutional food is bad, institutional British food was just more than I could bear after being in the field for 8-10 hours.

    I didn’t read through all the comments, so my bad if someone else has mentioned it. I love your blog. I learn so much from you, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity of making your next cup of tea a very, very happy one.


    1. Wonderful, Jenny. Another reader did mention this, but hearing about the weeping shall motivate me to order it right away.

      Thanks very much also for the kind words. It means a lot that you take the time to stop in and read me!


      – Joe

  22. Hi Joe – I just found your site and might be a little addicted. Smart, easy-to-follow, reason-studded baking advice and answers? Sold! I’ve never lived in the UK, so this is purely American, travesty-swilling opinion here, but I’m partial to Stash brand tea. Their English breakfast tastes the best to me – nice flavor, not too bitter, and preferable by a large margin to the Twinings brand I have available in grocery stores.

    1. Welcome, Chelsea! And thanks very much! Please come back when you can and ask any questions you like. The site sorta depends on good questions from readers…I don’t have enough ideas to keep the thing running on my own! 😉

      Thanks for the era suggestion!

      – Joe

  23. I feel your pain! Japan also has similarly weak and dish-watery Lipton teas at most supermarkets, and the posh international places charge a fortune for a tiny box of PG tips. I ended up buying a large commercial sack of bags “for catering use” which worked out cheaper per bag than the posh supermarket stuff, even including delivery to Japan! I got them here: http://www.britsuperstore.com If you have no luck in supermarkets in the US, it’s worth a gander perhaps?

  24. I usually find good old PG Tips to be what I need. My local grocery store carries it but you may have to go to Amazon or another shop if the grocery store in your area doesn’t stock it.

    1. I think I’m going to find some of that this morning. I haven’t had a cup yet and I need to run out anyway. Thanks for the recommendation!

      – Joe

  25. maybe, if you’ve got one near you, try an “indian” (they might be pakistani or bangladeshi or…) grocery store. they tend to have brands of tea you don’t readily find in your more typical american grocery store.

    1. not just brands, too- i imagine they ship more from overseas than other stores.

  26. If you are still looking for a quality tea like those you enjoyed in Britain, Hale Tea Company has spectacular blends.
    I did some remodeling for one of the owners on his Wilmington Island home (near Savannah, GA). He was a wonderful man (with the most well-behaved American Black Labrador I have ever met, named Trumps) who showed me all about tea…English style.
    I had always preferred my tea with cream and sugar, and ignorantly assumed that was ‘English’ style! He assured me that IS the only proper way to drink it, but so much more went into preparation…temperature, water quality, time for steep, etc., etc.
    But I was fascinated by their production method for assembling their product. At that time (2003), it was all done by hand (sorting, assembling, boxing) in a separate office area in their home.
    I have never had such a good quality tea since. They are kind of pricey ($6 for 10 tea bags), but worth it.

    1. I shall pass that excellent recommendation on to Mrs. Pastry. That’s her kind of thing for sure. I know I’d enjoy it as well but you’re right that is pretty steep. Fun for every now and then though!

      Thanks Shal!

      – Joe

  27. I’m a loose tea drinker as well, but when time is an issue or I’m traveling, Harney and Sons is my go to. Paris being my favorite flavor! They do sell loose tea but their bagged teas are equally as good.

    1. I second the Harney and Sons recommendation. First had it in very nice restaurant and now have to order online, but worth it as even their decaf teas are very good.

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