The taste test: Detox teas

I remember moving into a new office 30 years ago where the previous tenant had fled hurriedly, leaving behind a number of his herbal-tea products. These were so new to us that we weren’t sure whether we should drink them, eat them or smoke them. Today, herbal tea has become a sizeable market, with ever more expansive claims as to the wondrous properties of the infusions. One distinct category is “detox” teas and, in sympathy with New Year shriving, we’ve been tasting them. Our panel comprised the Discerning Litigator (DL), the Pâtisserie Fancier (PF), the Gourmet Celeb (GC), the Gluttonous Pig (GP) and the Michelin Snapper (MS). The last seemed to think the whole exercise was about hangover cures and warmly recommended Porto Flip – a blend of port, brandy and raw egg yolk with a nutmeg garnish.

Let’s first remind ourselves that the term “detox”, whether applied to tea or a diet, is a nonsense. Detox diets are normally heavy on fruit and veg and prohibit meat and fish. But the naturally occurring toxins in our food – hundreds of them which our bodies routinely cope with – are to be found in flora not fauna. This was rather borne out by one of our teas which urged us to “be on the safe side” and not have more than three cups a day. Several of our samples contained liquorice. The Michelin Snapper, in his past life as a banker, had once assessed the risks in an American company his client wanted to buy. The chief one was that its products used the “stimulant” liquorice and might thus be reclassified as a drug. The phrase “detox tea” can thus be considered an oxymoron which has, so to speak, got itself into hot water.

The teas we tasted nevertheless claimed variously: “cleansing and purifying properties”; “to help you cope with life”; “energy, weight loss and detox all in one”; “boosts your immune system”. Call me a sceptical old goat but somehow I doubt it. Which brings us back to taste. To a large extent this exercise comes down to which flavours you like. Pukka Detox contained liquorice, with added sweetness from fennel seed and aniseed: “good taste” (MS); “liquorice – ugh!” (GC). Yogi Tea Detox had liquorice and cinnamon: “comforting”(PF); “cough medicine”(GC). Clipper Detox’s ingredients included hibiscus and nettle: “bonbons”(MS); “cheap boiled sweets”(DL). And Teapigs Organic Matcha is a highly concentrated green-tea powder: “green tea but not as good”(MS); “things rank and gross in nature possess it merely”(GP).

Two teas scored most highly on the day. Runner-up was Whittard’s Lemon, Ginger and Echinacea – a caffeine-free fruit and herbal infusion. Whittard describes it as “invigorating, cleansing and zesty”. Our view was: “distinct taste of ginger”(PF); “tolerable”(DL); “faintly antiseptic ... nurse, can I have some more?”(GP).

And the winner was Fresh & Wild Organic Detox Tea. Its ingredients read like an incantation from Macbeth’s three witches: liquorice root, peppermint, spearmint, burdock root, dandelion root, milk thistle seed, ginger and sage. The most refreshing thing about this tea was that the packet was free of any hyperbolic claims: “grassy, herby”(GP); “medicinal, pleasant enough”(GC); “a bit like star anise, though I prefer pastis”(MS).

The teas did have one tangible effect on us. They made us crave our pre-Christmas diet. So we sat down to a quick fix of Stilton, walnut bread and claret. It’s a new discovery – the Tox/Max diet.

Next week: Paul Betts

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