The Oxford Festival of the Arts brought Bluebird Tea Company representatives out of their 'nest' in Brighton to host a tea tasting event in the Magdalen College School. Saturday's blue skies were reminiscent of the company's name, which formed an adequate backdrop as they told us that a "bluebird day" is the skiing weather term founders Krisi and Mike picked out as they were inspired by blended teas in Canada. How this company differentiates themselves from Twinings and Tetley is their focus on tea mixology, making diverse blended teas rather than selling straight English Breakfast or Earl Grey.
The representatives quickly proved themselves knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the products, fielding questions about geography and phytochemistry, as well as demonstrating an encyclopedic knowledge of tea names and ingredients outside of the selected samples. When looking for a more apple-y tea than the Toasted Apple I had tried, I was recommended the Apple Strudel, which is a rooibos-based apple and cinnamon blend.
The tasting consisted of eleven teas: ranging from Mowgli's Fire Chai (Tropical jungle fruits with Indian Chai spices), to Smoky Russian (Formosa Oolong tea, Lapsang Souchong Tea, and Mao Feng Keemin tea). They explained that we would start with fruity, caffeine-free teas (or rather, some fruit infusions, because they do not actually contain the tea plant Camellia sinensis) and work our way to the green and black caffeinated teas, and finally the 'heaviest' smoky tea. I thought this was a good approach, but would perhaps have liked the addition of 'plain' base teas. For example, they asked us whether we had tasted yerba mate before trying the All Nighter blend, and not all of us had, so it was difficult to pick out the base when the tea had such prominent coffee and cocoa flavors. Either way, we all found teas we liked and disliked; the Argentinian of the group, who would drink her yerba mate mixed with coffee, was reminded of her late night study sessions with this blend. Aside from tastes, the visual highlight of the afternoon was a demonstration of how the Blue Raspberry tea changes from blue to pink with the addition of lemon.
My main concern is the way the tasting was conducted. They brewed one cup per tea and we were each given silver spoons to slurp up a sample as the cup was passed down the line. I almost opted out, as I did not want to exchange germs with mostly strangers, but when no one else showed reservations I went along with it. I was appalled at how the tea dripped down from some people's spoons back into the teacup and continued to be passed along. For twenty pounds, I would have hoped they could give each of us a mug to be rinsed out in between samples, or even compostable cups or spoons to be exchanged for each tea. One more adjustment could have been to brew the teas in two instalments; about forty-five minutes later, the final teas were lukewarm and not as enjoyable, even if the representatives were big fans of cold brewing.
Overall, I enjoyed experiencing the smells, colours, and flavors of these unique blended teas with such passionate hosts, but would have preferred a less communal tasting experience.