The first is a positive remark Steven made about Lipton tea. The second is (gasp!) a positive comment *I* made about Lipton tea. Here is a humble bag of Lipton tea, to get you in the spirit of this post:
Picking on Lipton:
Often, I think Lipton gets a bad rap. Because it's the dominant brand, it is the default tea for connoisseurs to "pick on". Ironically though, picking on it by default may actually help this brand maintain its place as the dominant brand in the market...but that's another issue. I was picked on a lot as a kid, and it's not terribly pleasant or constructive, not something I would ever wish on anyone, so rather than doing the same to Lipton, I'll share my genuine opinion about what I really think about this tea.
What do we expect from Lipton?
I think tea is influenced a lot by how we perceive it, which is one of the key aspects that Steven gets at in his post above. If we order a whole-leaf oolong tea with a steep price tag on it, and it just tastes bad, where does our head go?
- Maybe I didn't brew it properly.
- Maybe the tea was not stored properly.
- Maybe I just don't know how to appreciate this particular tea or style of tea. (especially if the tea is an unfamiliar style that we do not regularly sample)
- Maybe this particular batch is no good.
But if we have the same experience drinking a cup of Lipton tea, our head usually goes to a different place:
- This tea is low-quality, mass-produced junk.
Is this justified? Objectively, we can look at Lipton and say: the tea bag contains finely broken leaf, fannings or dust. That means it's low grade. That means it's bad. But this logic does not hold.
Broken-leaf tea is not necessarily bad. For example, I tried a broken-leaf orthodox tea from Tanzania a while back, Upton Tea's TK18: Livingstonia Estate GFBOP, and one of my favorites was their now-discontinued Himalayan BOP Blend. These are not just "decent" or "passable" teas, these are teas I consider truly outstanding, and would gladly drink over any number of whole-leaf selections.
Lipton puts a great amount of care and resources into quality control, selecting teas and blending them to maintain a consistent quality of their tea as conditions change from season to season and year to year. Objectively, there's no reason to expect Lipton to necessarily be bad. And, if we do not enjoy it, it makes sense to at least ask whether or not we stored it properly, and brewed it so as to bring out the best in it.
My recommendations about Lipton:
If you are going to drink Lipton tea, treat it like any other tea:
- Make sure it's fresh and has been stored properly.
- Put some care into brewing it: make sure the water is boiling, heat your brewing vessel up so you're actually steeping the tea with boiling water, and carefully watch the steeping time (I recommend only 1 minute for a single cup).
My original comment on 39 Steeps was that I once gave this advice to one of my friends who was complaining about Lipton tea being bad. She told me after following the advice that she was very surprised, and that she really enjoyed the cup of tea. She told me that the resulting cup of tea was both less bitter and more flavorful than what had resulted when she had brewed the same tea haphazardly.
I want to make one final remark. I've tried a lot of teas, and Lipton's plain black tea is a lot better than a lot of teas out there. It's not the lowest of the low, nor is it really anywhere close. I've tried relatively pricey whole-leaf teas that I enjoyed much less, not to mention any number of other mainstream tea bags from the common brands in the supermarket, that I also think don't quite compare. Objectively, I think of Lipton as being somewhere in the middle in terms of quality, which is pretty impressive given its price scale of production.
What do you think?
Do you bash Lipton, or use it as an example of low-quality tea? Or do you enjoy it, and think it's actually pretty decent quality? Have you ever drunk Lipton, or any other mainstream, inexpensive, mass-produced teas, while putting care into properly storing them and preparing them, as you would expensive loose-leaf tea? What were your results?
You can read and share reviews of Lipton's Black Tea on RateTea if you are curious what others think, or want to chime in for yourself.