I recently had my first ever Ruby 18 black tea and so the natural next step is to do a comparison tasting. I ordered a sample from Mei Leaf recently as well as a sample from Harney and Sons with this very comparison in mind. I didn’t realize until halfway through that I have never compared these two companies head to head before, as I have high regards for both companies. I must admit I had a preconceived notion of which one I would like more, and if you have been drinking tea for a while, you probably would have the same guess. But as we know in tea, it’s not always so simple.
I used 4 grams of leaf in identical gaiwans. I used 200F water filtered with Japanese binchotan charcoal for infusion times of 10 + 5 seconds. I went for a total of 7 infusion. Yes, 1,400 ml of tea at once. I do these things for you dear readers 🙂
For all of the pictures, the Harney and Sons will be on the left, and Mei Leaf on the right.
For the first infusion, the Harney had a note of mint up front with some fruity candy notes mixed in as well. This was different from the first time I had this, but I made a change to the brewing temp by lowering it from 205 to 200 and I can already taste a difference. I think 200 is a much better temperature for this tea. Mei Leaf had a mint flavor up front as well as a fruity note, but the fruit note was trending towards hot fruit, like in a pie. Maybe strawberry? I’m not a big fruit person, but it just felt like a red fruit if that makes sense. Overall these are very very similar so far and the differences are ever so slight.
Again these two were very similar on the second steep. The Harney was just a touch darker. The only difference I could note on taste was that the Harney had a fruity note that tended toward a fruity chewy candy, but a red one. The Mei Leaf fruity note tended towards a hot fruit pie, also a red one.
On the third infusion, the Mei Leaf had a slightly stronger mint note but still had the hot fruit pie taste. The Harney developed a hot fruit note on this infusion and went away from the chewy candy taste. Interesting. I’m starting to wonder if they both get their tea from the same farm. I’ve never tasted two teas that were so similar.
On the fourth infusion they were still incredibly similar. I noted fruity notes with a mint aftertaste on both. The Mei Leaf tasted a bit more like fruit punch this time but it was very slight.
So I stopped recording pictures after four, mostly because I was starting to feel a little silly. But I had to see if any differences would arise between these two, so I soldiered on for the cause.
After 5 infusions, they were starting to separate. I took a picture of the leaves after 5 infusions and it looked like one would taste a lot better than the other, but alas the differences were miniscule.
The Harney leaves were more broken whereas the Mei Leaf leaves were more whole and even had more room to open up and theoretically more flavor to give. I noted that the Mei Leaf was just a touch sharper and a touch sweeter for the fifth through seventh infusions. But again, it was close.
So, who’s the winner? Mei Leaf wins on longevity. The more whole leaves means you can get more flavor into the later steeps. But Harney was really good too and it was very close. Does that mean you should buy the Mei Leaf? Let’s see about that..
The Harney is $22.50 for 2 oz. (56 grams), or $.40 / gram. The Mei Leaf is $11.57 for 30 grams, or $.38 / gram. Now I usually ignore shipping costs when calculating the price, but I think in this case it should be taken into consideration. Harney has free shipping in the U.S. and the cheapest Mei Leaf shipping option is somewhere around $9. While Mei Leaf is slightly better and slightly cheaper on price alone, when you factor shipping it evens it out.
I giving this a split decision for the first time ever. I say order the one that is closest to you. If you are in the U.S. get the Harney. If you are in the U.K. or Europe get the Mei Leaf. These were both excellent teas at pretty fair prices, and you really can’t go wrong with either one.
I also think this would be a good comparison for people with more sophisticated palates than mine. If you are a supertaster or a more experienced taster, you might be able to find more differences between these. I would like to read that if any of you want to take up that challenge. Cheers!