While most of the Greylock Glass team wakes up with an IV drip of coffee every day, I’m the resident tea drinker. I picked up the habit years ago, when I was the editor on a series of books about tea, and learned about the world beyond the stuff sold in the grocery store (you know the brand I mean, with the bright yellow label). And thank the gastronomy gods for that, because tea isn’t supposed to taste like bitter gutter runoff. What it is supposed to taste like: smooth and flavorful, a daily respite in a cup. EnterJAF Tea.
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JAF is the real deal among tea makers. The flagship of Jafferjee Brothers, JAF is a family-owned company that’s spent 75 years cultivating single-origin Ceylon teas in the highlands of Sri Lanka—a changeable climate especially favorable to Camellia sinensis, the shrub that produces tea leaves. Why does this single-origin business matter? Because tea, like wine and meat, can take on characteristics of the land where it grows—think of it as tea terroir. JAF hand-harvests their tea and conducts taste-testing and packaging locally, both to preserve freshness and to support the local community. All estates where JAF teas are grown are certified non-GMO, and the tea is kosher.
I was sent a box of JAF’s Flavoured Black Tea to sample. Ceylon tea is widely considered the best black tea in the world, prized for its smooth drinking and aromatic quality. As tea boxes go, this one is lovely: a sleek black cardboard box with compartments for the different flavors, all sealed in foil-lined envelopes that prevent the degradation of the essential oils that are key to tea flavor. The box has eight flavors: pink grapefruit, lemon, peach, forest fruit (berry), passionfruit, blueberry, mango and banana, and soursop.
I’ve tried all eight flavors and have enjoyed each of them. Though I’m usually a green tea drinker, I found the flavor of JAF’s black tea to be a solid medium on the robustness scale—neither too mild nor too strong. I thought the flavorings might be gimmicky and hard to distinguish, probably because I’ve been disappointed a few too many times at coffee shops selling the inferior supermarket stuff. But each of the JAF teas in the box has its own distinct flavor, and actually tastes like—drumroll, please—the fruit it comes from.
Most tea drinkers will love the familiar flavors like lemon, peach, and passionfruit. And they’re very, very good. But I was most taken with the tangy wild-berry flavor of the forest fruit tea, and the biggest surprise in the box, soursop.
Also known as guanábana, this fruit is popular in Latin America and the Caribbean, but little known in the United States. It’s related to the cherimoya, or custard apple, which I’ve come to love during my annual trip to Spain (ah, the hardship of marrying into a European family). The flavor is hard to describe—a little bit strawberry and a little bit pineapple, with the creaminess of mango. I had my doubts that the taste could be replicated in a tea, but JAF has done it admirably.
While I still like my green tea for waking up in the morning, I’ve been enjoying a warm, calming cup of JAF nearly every afternoon . . . especially before checking the news. The teas run somewhat on the delicate side and are easy to oversteep, so I’ve learned to set a timer, to keep from going past the recommended 3-minute mark. Now I just need to add another tea fanatic to my roster of friends, so we can exchange boxes of JAF as holiday gifts.