Hampstead Madagascan Vanilla Organic Darjeeling – Tea Review

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Sometimes it takes quite a bit of time to find a really high quality tea, when you want something no fuss, from the regular grocery store and easy to make (with other words, tea bags, please!). These three criteria often seem to be impossible to meet. Portioned tea in tea bags tends to be typically of a poor or decent quality – note that that’s already the point when you gave up on high quality and are willing to go along with a generic, mediocre, not bad though quality tea. Whenever you found the tea you like and that it takes you 2-3 minutes to brew, you drink it as going through a routinery doctor check: with no emotions, just with the sense of urgency.

Every time I discover a high quality packaged tea – be it in the specialised shop or, especially, at the grocery store – it feels like a little victory to me. My first encounter with Hampstead tea was a bit of a spontaneous manner: it was sold at the Easter market in the office building where I work. And since I can never pass by when tea is at stake, I slowed down my pace and started analysing the offer. Out of 6-7 sorts one immediately drew my attention: it was a Madagascan Vanilla Organic Darjeeling Tea.

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I’ll be honest, my experience with Darjeeling is far from extensive: as of a non-British origin, I have never specifically been after this sort of tea. I’ve got a couple of Darjeelings on my record, but I am far less confident in this field than I am in the field of green tea. I wonder if any of my readers could drop some light on the topic and share their knowledge and experience with me. Vanilla, however, is a whole different story: being one of my favourite ingredients, be it baking, perfume or tea, it works as a natural aphrodisiac for me, and it draws my attention immediately, until I try it make a (ideally unbiased) judgement.

Being a product of organic production and self-sustaining environment, this tea was the first bio black tea that I’ve tried ever. Hampstead tea is certainly pricier than your regular Lipton or Pickwick, but it also guarantees the highest quality of ingredients, their fair trade origin and sustainability – all ingredients concerned are either organic or biodynamic, as stated on the packaging.

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The packaging is minimalistic and very well-thought design-wise. Combination of whites and dark browns evokes authenticity and awakes appropriate associations with real vanilla … One packaging includes 20 separately packaged in paper envelopes tea bags.

Ingredients: Black tea, liquorice root, vanilla extract.

Preparation: Let the tea bag brew in freshly boiled water for 3-5 minutes. I can confirm that the tea fully develop its flavour very soon, perhaps after the second minute of brewing, however if you’re not afraid of facing a deep, intense flavour, you should go for the whole five.

Smell: Rich, with distinct sweetness and light (but not overpowering) herbal notes – for this I blame liquorice, even though it’s hard to put a finger on what herb could possibly be at stake. The scent is very potently aromatic and fills the room almost immediately.

Taste: Rich and deep. This is a real strong British (Indian) Darjeeling. Vanilla notes add a little “something something”, character and charisma. Liquorice is completely unrecognisable (thank GOD! as I am not a huge fan). Now, let’s turn to vanilla. Being my “safe” ingredient, it gives the tea aroma, and plays as a bonding ingredient between tea and consumer, it enriches the flavour with hints sweetness and warmth, without adding any sweetness to the taste.

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As I mentioned above, my relationship with liquorice everything is rather problematic. I’m pretty glad I never studied the list of ingredients before purchasing the tea, otherwise I would’ve just let it be, which would’ve been a huge mistake, because the Madagascan Vanilla tea has slowly but surely become one of my all time favourites. It is however recommended to avoid liquorice if you suffer from the high blood pressure, which is definitely my case, however the reason I avoid the root has more to do with its truly specific taste and my painful experience with a number of herbal teas where liquorice was a cause of slightly sweetish flavour, which I cannot stand in tea. But to each their own, of course.

Madagascan Vanilla Darjeeling is a great morning tea – intense, rich flavour with much more depth and aftertaste than what is expected from a packaged tea. I definitely consider its organic/biodynamic origin played a crucial role in this factor, however it also affected the price. If you are into more premium teas, this would be a definite hit, as well as a great present for someone who is into widening their tea horizons. As Hampsted has stated on their websites, “as we pay premium for the tea, the tea pickers can use that extra income to invest in things they need, like child car, tree planting and school computers”. And nothing tastes better than a good deed – maybe that’s what explains enriching flavour and deep notes that go down to the bottom of our hearts.

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Have you tried any of the Hampstead teas? Would you like to read more about the brand? After discovering the Madagascan Vanilla, I am really interested in the company, be it tea assortment, or their noble message to the fair trade community. How does your relationship with liquorice look like? Are you pro- or contra- liquorice in tea and food?

Let me know!

x

Tea Review: Lipton Bright Asian Fusion

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And again I am coming back to you with a tea review. It’s been a while… In the meantime, I have collected a couple of teas to try and to share my experience, and am above eager to start with a good old green Lipton.

This time, it is a Bright Asian Fusion blend of “light white, smooth green with notes of lychee”. Lipton lures us into tasting with an exclamation “Turn over a new leaf”! Nice and positive approach, a promise of new beginnings. The box itself is cheery in the shades of green and yellow and, as typical for the brand, decorated with abstract designs.

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I’ve written it in my earlier posts, but as readership has significantly grown since, I will repeat myself. The pyramidal shape of teabags is actually patented by Lipton. The company claims that the Pyramid bag enables tea leaves to “swirl and swirl for a delightful treat moment“. Apparently, this was Lipton‘s response to Harney and Sons tea bags design back in 2006. Unilever (the “umbrella” of Lipton) came with the pyramidal shaped bag when they started noticing a trend: “every consumer is becoming gourmand“. The Pyramid bag was proven to be the best option how to offer higher quality tea – long leaves instead of sifted and graded leaves, which used to be the case earlier.

The packaging includes 20 pyramidal tea bags, as usual.

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Ingredients: Green tea, white tea (11%), aroma.

Preparation: as with any other green tea, I would recommend brewing in water of 80-90 degrees Celsius. I would rather stay at the low end this range, as the blend includes white tea, which is recommended to be served at a slightly lower temperature.

Smell: very subtle, barely there, scent of tea leaves with a slightly fruity note (lychee, perhaps, but definitely not distinctively recognisable). Aroma doesn’t linger for too long, it’s rather light, everyday inoffensive tea.

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Flavour: that’s where the lychee sparkles – the fruitiness is distinct and definitely present, but not overpowering. As said above, this tea is a really light and inoffensive every-day option. Lipton’s marketing gurus proudly note that its”balanced taste” would definitely attract even the green tea beginners. Depending on the longevity of the steep/brew, the tea develops a slight bitterness, hence I’d recommend to remove the tea bag after approximately 3-5 minutes.

Energy level: white tea slightly “relaxes” the intensity of the green tea; nonetheless, this tea is amazing for early mornings or sleepy afternoons. It can guarantee a 1-2 hour energy boost.

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Lipton Bright Asian Fusion is recommended to everyone who is just starting with green tea. Thanks to the white tea note that smoothens the unapologetically green taste, it works as an every day companion for morning or afternoon tea ceremonies. Due to the amount of caffeine, I wouldn’t recommend it for evening drinking. All in all, this tea is approachable and goes well with any dessert, due to the lack of sweetness in the flavour.

Have you already tried white tea? What’s your take on it? Would you go for white or green tea on the daily basis? Let me know!

x

My journey to Matcha: How-tos and How-not-tos

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I have to admit: it took me all the time and dedication to get to writing this blog post. After a longer break in blogging, while searching for inspiration and new topics, the idea to move one step forward suddenly came onto my mind. However… the execution has been much trickier and more complex than I had anticipated.

My journey to enjoying matcha was not an easy one, I wouldn’t deny. It took me significant time to get accustomed to matcha taste, and it took me even more time to start liking it. At first, I was trying to convince myself that I find the matcha bitter, grassy flavour attractive (which didn’t take too much effort, as I am usually into those unusual flavours, which are not everybody’s cup of tea – take wasabi chocolate as an example). Later, when I eventually learned to believe it, I started trying to convince myself to gravitate to matcha more, instead of auto-piloting in my “comfort zone” of green teas. The transition period has taken several years that were broken into periods by an odd cup of matcha latte here and there, which took over the role of a guilty pleasure, secret treat and matcha wannabe replacement.

With the process of “growing up” into my matcha adulthood, I have gotten accustomed to the flavour and started craving matcha, its flavour (believe it or not) but mainly the immediate boost of energy it provided me.

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I’ve been interested in matcha preparation since the moment I started taking this drink seriously. For my birthday last year I explicitly requested a matcha-serving kit, knowing that the art of Japanese matcha ceremony is a complex process that involves – like any other Japanese tradition – patience, sense for detail, and high-quality tools.

I got to learn about matcha slowly but surely, step by step, rather by asking people and applying the “trial-error” method than by extensive googling. I aimed to come to understand matcha naturally, instead of getting overwhelmed by information and opinions. It’s by attending the Japanese festival how I discovered that the matcha powder I had got from a colleague a year ago is hardly matcha anymore: the powder loses its qualities, which include antioxidants and vitamins, within a month after opening. For experimenting with matcha drinks I was advised to get matcha packaged into 2g sachets, which would be perfectly appropriate for everyday use.

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Later on, from a tea shop manager I learned about the differences in tools and discovered the importance of a bamboo spoon. Matcha preparation is a finicky process following the principle “go big or go home”: if you start getting into it, you cannot be satisfied with a generic mug and an ordinary tea spoon. You’ll be going for a ceramic bowl and delicate bamboo tools.

I am still learning, but I’ve already gone quite far in this matcha journey. No, I do not own the traditional bowl that turns the process of drinking matcha into ceremony, and no, not every matcha I make turns into an explosion of flavour, but it’s the journey and experience gathered along the way that counts.

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Matcha is multi-functional, so it can of course be used for baking and cooking as well as in ceremony. This is exactly what all my “old” matcha was going into. Matcha tsuki is also a kind that is recommended for delicious desserts.

An example of my matcha trials: 

Step 1. Pouring hot water  /80 degrees Celsius/ into the ceramic (ideally) bowl is WRONG. Instead the powder should be added first. 

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Step 2.  Dumping the powder into hot water is WRONG. Instead you should sift matcha into the bowl, then pour a few drops of sub-boiling water and mash it into a paste.

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Step 3. Whisking like there’s no tomorrow is WRONG. Instead, slowly add the remaining portion of water into your paste and whisk continuously to prevent clumps. Ideally, like there’s no tomorrow.

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Step 4. Enjoy the lovely, smooth, frothy, energising, pea green (not mossy green like in our case) nectar of life! 🙂

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What is experience with matcha? What lessons have you learned along the way? Do you have any matcha preparation tips&tricks up your sleeve? Have you tried baking with matcha – it’s the next step I’m anticipating!?

Let me know!

x.

My Summer 2016 Must-Haves

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As the summer (or rather the absence of summer we’ve been having this year) is coming to an end (crying face), I’ve decided to summarise a couple of all-round beauty bits that were accompanying me on a daily basis throughout the season of sunflowers and music festivals, sea breeze and Aperol spritzes…

A good ole’ dry shampoo is a must in summer. No matter how sweaty the summer is. Since 2009, I’ve been pretty loyal to the affordable, yet amazingly efficient Batiste. I adore the brand for the limited editions and various scents they come up with from time to time. In my opinion, the Floral Essences with colourful packaging is a quintessence of summer. I used it on my “third-day-hair”, as well as on freshly washed locks for extra volume and texture. Cannot go wrong with this one!

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It is no secret that I don’t like to fuss when it comes to hair. My favourite summer hairstyle is messy beachy waves. Having naturally wavy hair, I only need a couple of spritzes of salt spray after the wash to create the every day nonchalante hair look. This summer I’ve got to try the TRESemmé Perfectly (UN)Done Sea Salt Spray that I picked up in the US last year. The name says it all – messy “bed hair” is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I feel that it’s what suits me the most.

If you are a fan of Bronze Goddess scents from Estee Lauder, or Beach fragrance from Bobby Brown, you could definitely appreciate the more affordable version of the most summery scent ever: coconuts, sand and light florals. Monoi from Yves Rocher has been my “go to” scent for a couple of summers already. Lower percentage of alcohol in this Hydrating spray turns it into a perfect companion for those days when your favourite longer-wearing perfumes make you feel dizzy. What’s more – apply it directly onto your skin, and you’ll get an extra portion of moisture alongside the heavenly scent.

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My least used product this summer was my last summer’s favourite. Fruity Sorbet from The Body Shop (in the most summery of ’em all Satsuma scent) is incredibly refreshing for those hot and humid days when you don’t want to fuss with a moisturiser. Keeping the product in a fridge definitely serves for the best result – I adore the feeling of cooling juicy sorbet on my skin just after the cold shower. This year, however, due to the limited amount of sunny hot days in my part of the world, this guy spent most of its summer in the fridge.

When  it comes to make up, I go with the summer flow: the last thing I want is the struggle of the melting full-make up face. Hence, BB or CC creams are my every day companions. This summer, I’ve discovered the Aquasource CC Gel from Biotherm. It has minimal coverage, but serves amazingly well as a moisturiser and skin tone equaliser. I love the lightweight gel texture, which is also extremely refreshing in comparison with heavier cream consistency.

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Another summer trick is to go for the “multi-use” creamy products. I’ve tried out the novelty from Maybelline – the latest addition to their Baby Lips range. Baby Lips & Cheeks has a funky cute packaging – which is already a plus, but not the only one. It comes in four bright shades that look incredible on both lips and cheeks. Considering how affordable this range is, I love the effect of fresh and glowy skin it provides. I own three out of the four shades, but I found Flirty Pink works best for my complexion. Simply put, it’s yet another “no fuss” make up product that is easy to re-apply on the go (and what’s more – the scent is just yummy!).

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A crucial step in my summer make up routine is refreshing my face with thermal water. This year I discovered the Vitality Splash from the German brand Be:Yu that has amazing nourishing as well as refreshing properties. If you are new to this whole “thermal water” game, trust me: nothing feels better than spraying your face with a cooling citrus-scented mist. Hence, recommended to keep in the fridge.

How has your summer 2016 been so far? Have you had the chance to enjoy a summer vacation? What were your go-to city or holiday essentials this season?

Let me know!

x

 

The battle of Sencha by Lipton: tea review

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My tea love story began with green teas, and it’s no secret: I talk about it often. Getting into more complex and aromatic tea would not be possible for me, however, if it wasn’t for sencha.

Sencha is one of the most popular and loved variations of Japanese green tea. It is characterised by its strong aroma and deep flavour with light grassiness to it: the flavour, however,  usually depends on the region where, and season when the tea is produced. The sencha leaf is darker than other variations of green tea, and it often undergoes faster fermentation, at a lower temperature (with some kinds even at 60 degrees Celsius).

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Lipton, as one of the major tea trends pioneers, have introduced Sencha into their European assortment and offer in the early 2000s. Around 2010 they came up with Indonesian Sencha, following the new trend of pyramidal bags, which I addressed in several blogposts here. With the most recent content and form update they switched the silk material of their tea bags to the cotton, and the packaging itself has been designed more in-line with their current concept. Being an eager tea collector, I happened to own both variations of Lipton‘s Sencha tea and be able to follow their way from fragrant and floral Indonesian Sencha to sharp and strong Spectacular Sencha.

Indonesian Sencha by Lipton is an invitation on a “journey to Java”, an inspiration for flourishing green tea gardens of “long, stylish leaves”, a promise of unforgettable sceneries and scent of an enchanting island. The freshness of sencha is emphasised by the rose petals introduced to this tea mix, and fruity notes develop through the flavouring for a taste of Osmanthus pear. Light, floral, steamed flavour is the outcome of this blend that kicks off with potent and fragrant aroma. “Sip this tea and sip paradise” – we are already aware that Lipton is a master of merchandising poetry.

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As per the instructions, this tea needs a 2-3 minute brew for the full and flavourful experience – your perfect cup of tea. For me it has never been an everyday tea, rather a special occasion treat. One of those highly aromatic, intense teas that surprise you with light bitterness in the aftertaste.

Indonesian Sencha might not be this typical and favourable Japanese sencha – taste-wise it is less grassy, less deep in colour, but rather more fragrant and deep.

Ingredients: 89% green tea, 9,3% flavouring, 1% rose petals

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The re-designed sencha from Lipton was given a majestic name – “Spectacular Sencha“. Ingredients-wise, it reduced the list only to the green tea and aroma, leaving the floral and fragrant element of the rose petals behind. Accompanied by the call to “awaken the senses” it offers “sharp, strong and deeply exotic” flavour, “a carnival in a cup”.

Spectacular sencha is, indeed, less fragrant and aromatic. At a first smell, it strikes with the intensity, typical for green tea. With this update it, however, loses the depth of flavour and the multi-level taste development. The aroma of pear is still present, but in more light-weight, rather unnoticeable form. This sencha is more reminiscent of the regular, Japanese sencha and its grassiness than its predecessor Indonesian Sencha.

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I always welcome fruity notes in tea, it should be known to the readers of my blog by now, as I praise them in almost every post I write. Hence, it will be no surprise that I favour the older, now discontinued, version of sencha by Lipton. The newer variation – Spectacular Sencha – might be, however, much more suitable for followers of orthodox tea drinking ceremony and Japanese sencha lovers, as it fully develops into the delicacy of green tea with “a little something” in the aftertaste.

What about your experience with sencha? Have you experimented with different kinds, and if yes, which one is your favourite? What brand of sencha tea would you recommend? Let me know.

x

 

What’s on My Face: Current Make-up Routine

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Long time no see! I don’t have any surprising justification for my absence, apart from the overwhelming preoccupation with both my job and preparation for my post-grad finals. But it’s not what we are here for, is it?

Since I haven’t really got into playing with new make-up items nor into trying new trends recently, I felt like sharing my current make-up routine will do it justice: after all, it’s what I’ve been on for a couple of recent months and what served me well.

The recent acquisition was the cushion foundation from Yves Rocher. I know, I know, it’s a trend. Yes, they are indeed everywhere, but you know – I actually like it. This type of foundation is a perfect match for my skin: it’s somewhere between the BB cream (that I prefer anyways for my daily make-up) and a very dewy medium-coverage foundation. Since I got several questions about application, I need to make it clear here: my skin is normal to combination and I haven’t had any troubles with coverage, nor longevity of wear. To me, this foundation provides the coverage I usually go for anyways. I might need to re-apply it in the afternoon or powder over it just a bit, but the thin consistency makes it all possible, without looking cakey. And just by the way: at first, I was super sceptical about the soft fabric applicator that comes with it, but now I’m completely converted – it just does the trick! My shade is in 200 Rosé.

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I like to proceed with the cream blush from Clarins that I re-discovered while shopping my stash: it’s a weightless consistency cream to liquid Instant Light blush in the shade 02 Coral Tonic. Not the most handy product if you are not used to thinner formulas, but definitely a convenient one. It’s super easy to apply with a doe foot applicator, and that’s what I like the most about it. The effect it provides is a natural touch of colour with slight shimmer, so I cannot but recommend it.

The star of my routine is definitely the eyeshadow palette from Nars, which was acquired in late 2015. So versatile, yet so unique. The Narsissist Dual Intensity Shadows palette is everything and more you could wish for: I tend to combine shades HIMALIA and URSA MAJOR for a daytime look, but thanks to darker tones, like SUBRA or SYCORAX it’s extremely easy to create a more sultry, evening look as well, or even to upgrade your daytime make-up. I first noticed these shadows about a year ago, fell in love with them immediately, and never regretted purchasing this palette, regardless the high price point. NARS’s Dual Intensity shadows can be used wet or dry, and the palette combines both shimmery and satin shades. And, it comes with a brush, which is always amazing!

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I like to finish my look up with the new(ish) L’Oreal Paris lipstick from the Bold Pinks (La Vie en Rose) collection. The shade Blake appealed the most to me – bright, almost fuchsia pink is very complementary to my skin tone and always does the trick of making me look more awake, in an instant.

As an extra step, I started using the Givenchy Mister Radiant Made-To-Measure Glow Totally Weightless primer (what a mouthful of a name!) that I also re-discovered while shopping my stash. Remember all the hype about this “magical” primer a couple of years ago? Well, I definitely do. It’s a but tricky to use, but if you manage to master the application, you will be rewarded with the most natural looking bronzy glow ever. Sounds like a dream for the summer months, right? Just start with a thin layer, let the bronzing particles dissolve and apply on the face parts where you’d normally apply a bronzer – at least it’s how I rock it.

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A final step – even though not connected with make-up – is a couple spritzes of the summer edition La Vie en Rose (yes, again) of Victor&Rolf‘s Flowerbomb. La Vie en Rose is an annual summer version of the favourite fragrance – keep your eyes open for this year’s bottle!  I got it last spring by mistake, but now can’t really live without. The combination of roses, juicy mandarine, grapefruit and notes of jasmine is a quintessence of summer to me. Aaaaand… you are ready to go and rock the heated city!

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What does your summer make-up routine consist of? Do you have any recent favourites that you cannot imagine your routine without? Let me know!

x

Tea Review: Kusmi BB Detox

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After a longer while of writing about black, herbal and miscellaneous teas it is finally time to come back to my roots, into my comfort zone and to review a good ole’ green tea. Frankly, green tea is the variation I gravitate toward on a regular basis, and if I don’t have green tea in my stash (which would never happen, because I stuck up way in advance), I would be a very sad person. And a tired person, to put it that way.

I wrote about Kusmi tea already on my blog – I am a big fan. Tea of the month for April was their BB Detox, and after the initial hesitation I’ve decided to give it a go. Why hesitating? First of all, I am not a huge believer in mixing green tea with herbs – which was the case here. Secondly, word “detox” in a name always sounds a bit gimmicky to me. But detox or not, I went for flavour, and in the end, I was definitely not deceived.

This tea is representing a Wellness range of Kusmi teas. As per official text on the website of the company it is a quintessence of a liquid “beautifying balm”: green tea and maté as its main ingredients serve as refreshing and uplifting components, that at the same time work as natural antioxidants. Hand-picked dandelion and rooibos are two other friendly “helpers” who combat free radicals, leaving your skin plump and glowy. Basically, it unifies tea and beauty in one, so perfect for reviewing on this blog!

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Packaging: My tea comes in an “old school” paper packaging – so, no signature aluminium tins this time – and contains 20 muslin tea bags. It’s where it starts to be interesting. I’ve known about muslin use in a beauty department (ironically, I mentioned a muslin cloth in my last blogpost about multi-masking), but what about tea? It was the first time I experienced organic fabric in my cup – I am well aware of paper teabags, silk teabags and even polystyrene teabags, but muslin brings tea drinking to another level. Again, as I said in my previous article dedicated to Kusmi, with this brand it’s all about experience.

Ingredients: Green tea, mate, rooibos, guarana, dandelion. Scent of grapefruit. Well, that’s something! Quite a striking bouquet but somehow it makes sense, especially in connection with the name.

Scent: Aroma hits immediately with a sharp note of citrus (grapefruit, I believe) and slight bitterness. I would consider it rather exotic (perhaps, dué to mate and guarana), definitely without very typical or prominent green tea scent.

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Flavour: Is smooth but refreshing. As a big fan of maté, to my pleasant surprise, I find this ingredient rather bold, however, not overwhelming at all. In contrast to the scent, it does not offer many citrus notes, but instead, strikes with a green tea flavour. I distinguish some presumably tropical notes, which I can almost with certainty assign to guarana. The BB Detox leaves a slight aftertaste, but all in all its very light flavour makes it so drinkable.

Serving: Each teabag, as well as the packaging, gives you quite clear instructions on how to. As is typical with green teas, you leave it steep for 3-4 minutes in the water preheated to 85-90 degrees.

Overall experience: This tea is addictive. So easy to prepare, yet so challenging. Why the name? I would justify it by the green tea and mate components in it – frankly, it’s a perfect companion for a “not so good” (read: hangover) day. As well as a day when you feel low on energy. As well as a day when you crave a boost of flavour. As well as a day… Basically, every day. BB Detox is a universal classic, and I am more than happy that a random merchandising activity brought me to this tea, which I normally would’ve left unnoticed.

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And what about you? Do you believe in “detoxifying” properties of tea? If so, which one is your “universal” recipe for detox? Have you ever tried tea packaged in muslin bags? Let me know!

x

P.S. I accompanied my tea with Minty Humbugs by M&S that added a perfect touch of sweetness.