You guys know me – I never miss a chance to talk about rooibos tea. What a surpise, then, to see that Trader Joe’s has brought out a new Pumpkin Spice Rooibos herbal tea! The tin looks very nice – but this is rooibos tea we’re talking about. Is there anyway it can live up to the pretty packaging? Frankly, no – not at all. While it’s an improvement on other types of rooibos tea, it’s still just not that great.
|What it is:||Bland rooibos tea with cinnamon and pumpkin herbal spices|
|Price:||$3.99 for 20 tea bags|
|Worth it:||No, rooibos tastes like cardboard|
Generally, when you spend enough time with a food product, no matter what your initial reaction is, you tend to warm up to it. I’ll share a story with you. The Japanese produce a food called natto, which is a “fermented” (read: partially rotten) slag of soy beans. Natto is typcally served in these little styrofoam bowls, about the size of a cassette tape, and when you crack one open all you see is this beige, lumpy, nobby, sticky, slimy mass of tiny, fetid soy beans. You’re then supposed to stir it up with chopsticks, which makes the gooey beans froth up into a white, stringy mess – almost like a thick tangle of spiderwebs mixed into the beans. I’m not even going to describe the sound or smell it makes when you stir these up. The taste is, as you can probably guess, gross and slimy and sticky. In short, it’s a food that offends all 5 senses – a foul-looking, foul-smelling, foul-tasting, gross sounding mess with a repulsive texture. Sometimes people like to crack a raw egg into it.
After living in Japan for a time, and being surrounded by the natto-eating Japanese, I eventually came to enjoy natto myself. It took about 18 months of extended exposure, but even to this day I will still pick up natto from local Asian market and have it for breakfast. My point is that, after extended exposure, I was eventually able to appreciate the acquired taste for natto and even came to enjoy it. Yet despite numerous tries and repeated attempts, I am absolutely unable to apprecieate rooibos tea on any level. It’s simply the lamest drink on the planet.
Maybe the difference is that natto, for all it’s shortcomings, is at least a taste. Rooibos tea, on the other hand, tastes like wet cardboard. That’s not meant to be a put down on rooibos, it’s simply the most descriptive phrase I can think of. Rooibos tea tastes exactly like wet cardboard – and coming from a guy who ate his fair share of pasteboard story book covers as a child, I know what I’m talking about. Of course, what else would you expect from rooibos tea? After all, the rooibos bush, from which it is cut, basically just a dry collection of scrubland twigs, and rooibos tea is just some of the twig shavings from that bush.
Yes, twigs! You’re boiling twigs! Look at what you’re doing people! And sure, I suppose you could say that we’re just “boiling leaves” when we make ordinary tea – but the difference is that there’s a long history of delicious edible leaves (Uh, Spinach? I’m looking at you!), and no record at all of delicious twigs. In fact, I’d say anytime you find yourself eating or drinking twigs, that’s a sure sign that you’re doing something wrong.
Look, it’s absolutely telling that Trader Joe’s keeps coming out with versions of rooibos tea that are rooibos…and something else. Trader Joe’s Rooibos and Honeybush tea was certainly an attempt at trying to make these twigs more palatable, This new Pumpkin Spice Rooibos tea does a much better job of it, adding to the rooibos cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin flavor. Trader Joe’s is definitely onto something here! These traditional pumpkin pie spices add a delightful scent to the tea, and lend it a spicy, nuanced flavor tea. They just need to follow the trend and next time leave the rooibos out entirely. A pumpkin spice herbal tea that doesn’t also taste like wet cardboard? That’d be incredible. As it stands, this tea is palatable in so far as you can ignore the rooibos part. Everything else but that is nuanced and pleasantly invigorating and seasonal.
I’d certainly praise this as the best rooibos tea I’ve ever had, but that is faint praise indeed. If you’d like to drink a nice cinnamon spice tea this isn’t exactly that, but it’s close enough that it may satisfy you. However, I would strongly advise you to try some of Trader Joe’s much stronger Vanilla and Cinnamon Black Tea or delectable Spiced Chai instead. If you prefer an herbal tea, then definitely go with Trader Joe’s Herbal Blend Harvest Tea – a seasonal blend so good that I literally count the days for its return. Or go ahead and try this pumpkin spice rooibos – just don’t come complaining to me when you throw out the tin before you finish it.
Would I Recommend It: No, there are better teas at TJ’s.
Would I Buy It Again: No man, it’s rooibos tea.
Final Synopsis: A good cinnamon herbal tea, undermined by bland rooibos.
It’s been a while since we looked at Trader Joe’s tea selection. And honestly, that’s because Trader Joe’s teas run a little hot and cold. On the one hand I’m a huge fan of Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai Tea and their Autumn Harvest blend. On the other hand you have more, shall we say, lackluster offerings like their wretched Tropical Sweetened Matcha. When I saw the new gorgeous box of Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Rooibos and Honeybush Tea, I was immediately on board. Surely with box art this bold, this dynamic, surely it must be one of the good teas. Right?
Look, let’s start out with the positive stuff.
Fair trade products are worth supporting. As it turns out, corporations are incredibly good at exploiting the unrepresented and voiceless – particularly if the people being exploited are a continent or two away from the eventual consumer. In the same way that fair trade chocolate is important to developing sustainable economies (and environments) in Africa, fair trade tea is worth supporting. Also it’s organic, so that’s good too. Organic and Fairtrade – two strong, good adjectives leading us off right out the gate.The problem is that the product title doesn’t’ stop there, because then we get to the “rooibos” part.
I don’t do this often on this blog, but I’m going to make some strident, potentially divisive claims based more on personal opinion then objective polls of larger social trends. Rooibos tea is terrible. In the same way that people have risen to the defense of Trader Joe’s heavily sweetened corn-only salsa, I’m sure there are die-hard rooibos tea lovers who are going to take umbrage with this statement. To me however, rooibos tea taste like wet carboard. That was the first thought I had the first time I tried it, and it is the same thought I have had every time since. Rooibos tea tastes exactly like sucking on the paper stick of a Tootsie Roll Pop until it turns to mush.
Rooibos is an herbal tea, which means it isn’t a real tea made from the leaves of tea plants, but instead from the clippings of a broom-like scrub plant that grows in South Africa. It has been steadily growing in popularity the last few years because of…. something. I don’t know.
I honestly do not understand why people drink this tea, and I have regretted the purchase every time I picked it up. I had hopes that the promise of “Honeybush” being present in this Rooibos and Honeybush tea might make for a different experience. It does not. Honeybush is another South African bush commonly said to taste just like the rooibos bush only “a little sweeter”. “Little” being the important adjective in this phrase, meaning “not actually noticeably sweet at all”.
Here’s the other thing I think is weird. It takes an incredible amount of rooibos to brew even a single cup of rooibos tea. The given brewing instructions are to let one tea bag steep in your cup for 6 full minutes before you try sipping it. For a pot of tea they recommend adding one tea bag per person, and letting the pot steep for 8 minutes. That’s an extremely long soak. I dare you to try that with a bag of Trader Joe’s Original Irish Breakfast Tea, let alone several bags. After 6 minutes, the tea would be strong enough to overpower you in fight.
Again, yes the box is beautiful, the bags are beautiful, and even the box itself is well designed – incorporating a natural hinge and an exceptionally clever self-locking flap. The only problem is that I feel I would be just as well off gumming the edge of the box until it turns to pulp as I would be actually brewing the contents.
I may be well off the mark on this one – I’m willing to believe that someone loves this tea – it’s just that it it has any positive qualities I’m completely blind to them.
Would I Recommend It: This is very unlikely.
Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so. If I get the hankering for rooibos again I reckon I can always just chew on an index card.
Final Synopsis: Rooibos tea always tastes like wet cardboard to me.