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What's the best tasting black tea?

We review tea bags from Lipton, Twinings, Madura and more.

unlabelled tea bags in a box

Drinking tea is practically an Australian national pastime. 

Last year we bought almost 10,500 tonnes of tea from supermarkets. And although premium loose-leaf tea and flavoured tea varieties are increasingly popular, black tea in tea bags is still our favourite. So which tea tastes best? 

It's time to pop the kettle on and read our review of 16 supermarket tea bags, from brands including Lipton, Twinings and Madura, to see which brew you should buy for your next cuppa.

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Best tea bags

taylors of harrogate yorkshire tea proper black tea

Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Tea Proper Black Tea

  • CHOICE score: 80%
  • Price per tea bag: $0.05
  • Country of origin statement: Packed in the United Arab Emirates from imported ingredients.
Taste-testers say:

"I'd love to know what it actually was so that I can buy it."

"Enjoyed the sample, was a very nice cuppa!"

"Dark tea with a strong flavour. Very pleasant and smooth aftertaste."

bushells blue label

Bushells Blue Label

  • CHOICE score: 77%
  • Price per tea bag: $0.04
  • Country of origin statement: Blended and packed in Indonesia from local and imported teas.
  • Fun fact: Bushells has supported the Driver Reviver road safety program for over 15 years. At Driver Reviver locations volunteers offer free cups of Bushells tea and biscuits to combat driver fatigue and help people reach their destination safely.
Taste-testers say:

"I would buy this tea in a heartbeat if I knew what it was and where I could purchase it. Lovely and strong tea, yet still smooth."

"[This sample] is nice, calming."

"Pleasant mouthfeel – clean but with some pleasant earthy highlights on aftertaste."

lipton english breakfast

Lipton English Breakfast

  • CHOICE score: 76%
  • Price per tea bag: $0.05
  • Country of origin statement: Packed in the United Arab Emirates from imported ingredients.
Taste-testers say:

"A very pleasant all round tea. Compares well to the black teas I usually drink at breakfast."

"An enjoyable cup of tea from infusion through to the final sip."

"It was a nice all-rounder."

tetley tea cup bag

Tetley Tea Cup Bag

  • CHOICE score: 76%
  • Price per tea bag: $0.03
  • Country of origin statement: Blended and packed in India from local and imported teas.
Taste-testers say:

"A good black tea. Almost strong enough and only just pipped by our normal teas."

"This sample was again very nice. It was biscuity with maybe a little nutty taste and was clean and smooth."

"It was a nice, pleasant cup of tea."

madura premium blend

Madura Premium Blend

  • CHOICE score: 76%
  • Price per tea bag: $0.08
  • Country of origin statement: Made in Australia. Teas from Sri Lanka, India, Southeast Asia and our own Australian estate.
Taste-testers say: 

"Initially it was floral to a degree and pleasant to drink."

"All in all a very nice cup of tea."

"Flavour presented mid to back palate with moderate astringency. Pleasant and lingering aftertaste."

madura english breakfast

Madura English Breakfast

  • CHOICE score: 75%
  • Price per tea bag: $0.10
  • Country of origin statement: Made in Australia. Teas from Sri Lanka and India.
Taste-testers say: 

"A smooth everyday tea."

"This one has really satisfied me, I'm relaxed and ready to get back to work."

"It was clean and smooth. I like it!"

dilmah ceylon tea

Dilmah Ceylon Tea

  • CHOICE score: 75%
  • Price per tea bag: $0.05
  • Country of origin statement: Product of Sri Lanka.
Taste-testers say: 

"Excellent cuppa. I must have saved the best until last!"

"Good mellow flavour. A 'sip and savour' tea."

"I found this a refreshing tea that I would be happy to drink again."

Tea traitors

For each sample they tried, the taste-testers were asked if they preferred it over their normal tea bags. The products that people were most likely to ditch their usual cuppa for were:

  • Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Tea Proper Black Tea (32% preferred this sample over their normal tea bags)
  • Tetley Tea Cup Bag (26%)
  • Madura Premium Blend (25%)

Tea bags compared by taste and price

How we test

testing numbers and tea bags

Each tea is given a unique code.

Products

We tested 16 black tea bag products that are available nationally in major supermarket chains. 

Where a brand has more than one product we've included its bestseller (according to manufacturer or Retail World Annual Report) or most commonly found product. We did not test decaffeinated tea or loose leaf tea. 

Price per 100g is based on price for a 100-pack or closest (not on special) in June/July 2019.

Tasting

This taste test was conducted among Voice Your Choice members who regularly drink tea.

filling tea bags at table

Branding detail is removed from tea bags.

This was a blind taste test where each participant was randomly assigned tea samples that had been de-identified. They were instructed to prepare each sample in the same way as they would normally drink their tea and complete a short taste test survey. 

Each product was tasted by at least 62 testers.

Scores

Participants were asked to give an overall rating for each tea sample on a seven-point scale ranging from 'terrible' to 'excellent'. We then converted these numbers to an overall percentage score (CHOICE score). We also asked participants to select from a range of 16 descriptors using those that best describe the tea. 

We recommend products with a CHOICE score of 75% or more.

Microplastics in tea

Do you take milk or sugar? Or would you just like plastic with that? Scientists have detected microplastics in the environment, tap and bottled waters and some foods such as table salt, and a 2019 study found that you might be getting microplastics in your daily cuppa too.

Researchers from McGill University in Canada tested four different commercial teas packaged in plastic teabags. Using electron microscopy, the team found that a single plastic tea bag at brewing temperature released about 11.6 billion microplastic particles and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the water – levels thousands of times higher than those reported previously in other foods.

It's important to point out that most tea bags – including those in our taste test – are still made from natural fibres such as hemp or cellulose (i.e. paper), although some do contain a tiny amount of plastic polymer/polypropylene (rather than a staple) to heat-seal the bags. This food-grade synthetic sealant doesn't leach into water.

two types of tea bags showing materials

Tea bags can be made from different materials, including nylon or PET plastic mesh (left) and paper made from hemp or cellulose (right).

But some brands – often premium ones where the tea comes in a silken, pyramid-shaped bag – use a plastic mesh for their product made with nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics. And it's this type of tea bag the Canadian researchers tested. The researchers didn't reveal which brands they had used in the study. Instead, they suggested that rather than avoiding brands consumers should try to avoid plastic packaging and consider switching to loose teas or paper tea bags instead.

See What are tea bags made from? below for more details about individual brands sold in Australia.

So should we be worried? There's no reliable evidence so far to suggest that exposure to microplastics in drinking water is a concern to human health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But given that humans can be exposed to microplastics through multiple sources, including food and air, the WHO acknowledges that more research focused on overall exposure to microplastics from the broader environment is needed.

What are tea bags made from?

The following information is taken from the websites of some of the more popular tea brands in Australia.

Are tea bags compostable?

  • Plastic-free tea bags will biodegrade in home compost systems – just remove the staple first, where applicable.
  • Tea bags that contain plant-based (PLA) plastics will biodegrade in a commercial composting facility, so pop them into the appropriate bin for kerbside collection.
  • Fossil fuel-based plastic – nylon and PET mesh used for some tea bags and food-grade polypropylene fibres used to seal some tea bags, for example – is non-biodegradable, so tea bags that contain it aren't suitable for composting.

How to make iced tea

When it's summer and it's too hot for a cuppa, iced tea can be the perfect alternative. Sure, you can buy it at the servo or in supermarkets, but the commercial varieties are often packed full of sugar – as much as 10 teaspoons per bottle.  

Besides, making your own is straightforward, cheap, and you can add whatever flavour you fancy. You can even prepare a jug ahead of time and have it in the fridge ready to quench your thirst as the temperature outside rises.

This simple recipe is from Fiona Mair, CHOICE's home economist.