I had decaf tea for the very first time today.

It was an accident, I assure you. I will never order decaf tea knowingly, even for the sake of discovering what it tastes like. No. I will not waste my money on that. I will rather take McDonald’s tea than decaf.

What happened was that I was having some food with my girlfriend at a middle eastern restaurant, and while she ordered a Turkish coffee, I wanted a cup of tea. Among the choices of chamomile, earl grey, rose, and blueberry butterscotch dillweed hibiscus, I heard “English Breakfast”. That’s an unadulterated tea, I thought, so I ordered it.

The teabag came in a little plastic bag, I opened the little bag and noticed that on the blue tag where it said “Trader Joe’s Premium Teas”, there was a little orange line underneath it, with a bold black word “decaffeinated” written across it, as if it were a warning sign.

Since I already opened the packaging, I didn’t quite want to return it to the server, and figuring it would be the first time for me drinking decaf… I plunged it into the cup of hot (really not so hot) water.

I couldn’t really tell any difference between this teabag and any other teabags I’ve brewed in the past. It does the usual diffusion of colour slowly, and I let it sit, figuring it needs a good few minutes to brew a proper cup for me to taste test this thing.

So a few minutes later, I took a sip… hmmm… it tastes like…. the second wash of some bad teabag tea. You know how sometimes, when you’ve brewed one cup with a teabag already, you can always try again and brew another, weaker cup. Well, this tastes like that weaker cup. It’s…. bland. It’s not bitter at all. I suppose the lack of caffeine reduces the bitterness. I also suppose that whatever the decaffeination process is, it probably does something similar to brewing the tea once. It’s so bland… I let it sit some more in the cup, and tried it again, and it was still the same bland taste. I don’t think this thing can take a second infusion, no matter what you do. It was so bad I even took a small sip of my girlfriend’s Turkish coffee.

I think I’m going to brew myself some puerh now.

Lipton teabags

Some of you know that I am a PhD student doing research in China this year, and today, in Shanghai, we had a dissertation group meeting today, with a few fellow PhD students talking about their respective projects.  That, of course, is not interesting subject for this blog.

What is interesting is the tea I drank.  Lipton Yellow Label tea.

A thought occurred to me today — what makes it so that Lipton, a company that sells what really is an inferior product, can penetrate the country where tea is originally made and still made with such sophistication?

I posed this question to the group, and got everybody wondering.  After all, there are cases where something that is abhorred earlier would take over a market after it’s been accepted, but usually, that something is foreign, unknown.  Tea, on the other hand, is not such a thing.  Chinese drink tea all the time.  I suppose bad tea in a bag is unknown, foreign, just as coke or pepsi or sushi might be, but still…. it’s like introducing some weird burger to Americans and taking the States by storm.  Mos Burger (google it) is weird, is good, but is not popular outside of Hawaii.

So, I guess the question is — how did Lipton do it?

I suppose the fact that it’s in a bag helps.  The perceived image of drinking something foreign (foreign must be good!) helps.  But the tea itself is horrible… it’s a little sour, flat, not aromatic, goes well only with milk (I was imaginging it having milk in it the whole time I was drinking my bag).  Why do people like it?  It’s not even that cheap.