WAY BACK IN 2013, I fell in love with Tazo’s Earl Grey tea. This was surprising because I had never ever liked earl grey before. I was a fairly devoted consumer of caffeine via coffee—usually a strong dark roast with lots of body and oomph! But as I got older, a little oomph went a long way, so I cut down my coffee intake and substituted tea as an afternoon pick-me-up.
Tazo’s packaging for individual tea bags was a light purple paper packet with a black box at the top with TAZO in a font type that looked rather rune-like.
A description of the tea on the front of the packet reads “Black Tea – The Noir – A traditional tea scented with the essence of bergamot.” 1
The new packaging is white paper with the black box eliminated and the runic letters replaced with plainer type. The description now reads, “Black tea kissed with bergamot’s lavender essence.” What appears to be a stylized purple wave moves across the bottom of the packet face.
Of course, I froze up inside when I saw this: I did not like the looks of the bags. When I got them home, it was worse: the blend had also changed, with noticeably less bergamot in the mix.
Tazo’s Earl Grey in its heyday.
Enlightenment into the world of Tazo
I was not taking this lying down, so on April 22, 2014, I sent the following email to Tazo’s customer service department:
Regarding Tazo Earl Grey tea: while I prefer the familiar purple tea bag packet with the black logo box at the top, I can certainly learn to live comfortably with the new, white packet. In its way, it is a better design.
Unfortunately, I cannot live with the change in the taste of the Earl Grey: it is decidedly less bergamotty (sic), less oily even. It is blander all the way through, from first sip to last.
To show my affection for the older blend, please find here links to a pair of posts on my website regarding your tea:
I am writing a third post concerning the aforementioned changes. I was going to title it “the new earl grey, she ain’t what she used to be,” a nod to the old folksong, The Old Gray Mare.
Any chance that there are cases of the older, purple packeted tea in your warehouse?
To my surprise, on April 25, 2014, I received the following reply from a member of Tazo’s customer service department:
Thank you for taking the time to write. Your search for enlightenment into the world of Tazo is to be admired. With this first step on the path, may you find answers you seek.
I do apologize for the trouble with the changes with our tea.
A variety of Starbucks coffees, Tazo teas, brewing equipment and more are available for online purchase at www.StarbucksStore.com. If not found via the main website I could recommend the 3rd websites such as Amazon or Ebay.
If you ever have any questions or concerns in the future, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Tea Enthusiast Advisor
I responded immediately on April 25, 2014, to the above email:
Thanks for the response.
Regarding your message: enlightenment often comes in forms most unexpected and to those not even seeking it.
Thank you for acknowledging the “changes with our tea.” I was dreading a note from you advising me to have my taste buds checked.
I will search the other sites you recommend, but should you stumble over a few years supply of the purple-packeted Earl Grey, please think of me.
So, Julian did, in fact, acknowledge that the Earl Grey recipe/blend had been tampered with and altered. I was not provided with any direct info on the availability of the older, preferred version of the tea. And, of course, I have slowly gotten used to the new Tazo, but it’s now on a par with other Earl Greys by other companies.
The much blander look of today’s Tazo Earl Grey.
Real vanilla bean ice cream
Tillamook is a local dairy-based co-operative familiar to almost everyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest. It makes a variety of products, including ice cream, milk, butter, sour cream, etc. All of their products are fine but their ice cream is exceptional! And for my taste, Tillamook Vanilla Bean is the best vanilla bean ice cream out there! 2
The familiar design of the ice cream’s container that we have been buying and enjoying for years was a buttery yellow color with a blue border at the top that contained “Tillamook” in white letters. There was a distinctive cow’s head just below the company name.
The ice cream within was stone cold white with a generous helping of flecks of black vanilla beans. And the bean was the part of the taste that separated Tillamook from all of the pretenders advertising an otherwise bland vanilla ice cream as being “Vanilla Bean.”
We took America’s favorite ice cream flavor and filled it with loads of real crushed Vanilla Beans!
And then things changed: Tillamook started shipping their ice cream in newly designed containers. It is still a buttery yellow color, but noticeably paler. The blue border and the cow are gone; “Tillamook” is now in dark blue letters with a two-masted ship-of-the-line above it.
The new illustration is still of Vanilla Bean flowers and pods but without the bottle of milk. Just seeing the new design filled me with trepidation.
We picked one up a Vanilla Bean along with an Oregon Blueberry Patch. Got home, put them in the freezer, and prepared the dinner. Dessert time and Berni and I were both afeared of opening the Vanilla Bean and finding that the packaging wasn’t all that had been redesigned.
Needless to say, our fears were justified: while not devoid of the familiar bits and pieces of bean, the ice cream had considerably fewer particles and considerably less flavor.
Of course, over the next week we finished the two—they were good, really: the Vanilla Bean just wasn’t the Vanilla Bean that it had been. So we waited a couple of weeks and went to a different store, assuming that time and location should get us a different serving from a different batch of Vanilla Bean ice cream.
This is the packaging for the original recipe for Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with the artificial vanilla flavoring. Note the distinctive blue border with the cow’s head at the top and bottle of milk below it. This product is listed as “Tillamook (1)” in the taste test below.
Registering my complaint
Tillamook’s new Vanilla Bean Ice Cream was smoother, creamier than the old recipe, but otherwise unremarkable. I would no longer even consider it a real Vanilla Bean ice cream, just a tasty vanilla ice cream with a hint of the bean. Berni and I were not pleased, so I sent an email to Tillamook dated April 27, 2014:
Regarding your recent changes in both the packaging and the recipe for your Vanilla Bean ice cream, I am writing to register my complaint with the latter. I moved into Bellevue in 1988 and have resided on the east side ever since. I discovered our ice cream years ago and was delighted to taste your Vanilla Bean: it was the best I had tasted since the heyday of Breyers Vanilla Bean way back in the 1960s and ’70s!
My wife and I buy at least one container of Vanilla Bean a week, usually with a second flavor. When we saw the changes that you had made in the ice cream packaging, we were trepidatious: few companies only alter the wrappings without fiddling with the innards.
And you did! The “new” Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream is still a fine ice cream. It’s just not a superior Vanilla Bean ice cream. The Vanilla Bean flavor is decidedly less pronounced, making for a much blander confection.
That is, Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream is no longer a Vanilla Bean ice cream that we can rave to our friends and acquaintances about. In my case, that includes the readers of my blog.
Immediately preceding my sending this email to you, I posted a new article titled “what do earl grey tea, Vanilla Bean ice cream, and dharma and greg have in common (part 2: on tillamook’s Vanilla Bean ice cream).” I included the text of this email (“Dear Tillmook”) in the article. You are certainly welcome to read the article and to respond to it . . .
Hoping to hear from you!
I received a prompt reply on April 29, 2014. And a good reply: the Tillamook representative, Ms. Callie O’ Sullivan (could she sound more Irish?) took the time both acknowledge the change in their ice cream’s making to explaining what the change had been! So, below lease find my correspondence with Ms. O’ Sullivan:
Thank you for your email! I’m so sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with our Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. As a company, we’re dedicated to making the highest-quality dairy products in the most natural way possible.
We recently reviewed our ice cream product line and removed some artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners from several of our flavors. For Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, this means that we removed the artificial vanillin from the ingredients. All other ingredients remained the same.
Although we’ve changed to a more natural ingredient list, Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream should still taste just as good, and I’m sorry to hear that you no longer enjoy it. Please know that I will be sharing this information with our Product Development team, to let them know you prefer the original recipe.
If you would like to provide us with your mailing address, I will follow up shortly in the mail with a replacement coupon for you to either purchase another flavor or give Vanilla Bean another shot.
Thanks again for letting us know about your experience; I hope your next purchase delivers the quality you have come to expect from the Tillamook brand.
Consumer Loyalty Team
I replied as promptly on April 30, 2014; here is my email to Ms. O’ Sullivan:
Thanks for your response to my email. My apologies for my own less than timely response to your email below; I am in the process of moving and my time is taken up with packing, etc.
While I have to applaud Tillamook for removing artificial ingredients from its ice cream, I still have to mourn the loss of the very best vanilla bean ice cream on the market . . .
As per your suggestion, I have included my mailing address. Please send me the coupon and I will give your Vanilla Bean another taste test. In fact, I will do a “taste test” with Tillamook and Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, and Häagen-Dazs!
This is the packaging for the new “all natural” recipe for Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Note the more minimalist design: no blue border, no cow, and no milk. Just the flowers and pods of the bean plant. This is listed as “Tillamook (2)” in the taste test below.
My first taste test
So the next round will be the taste-test pitting Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream against Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla, Breyers Vanilla Bean, and Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean! I actually did the taste test in June and here are the results. Note that I started with Tillamook’s earlier vanilla bean recipe with the artificial ingredient (‘1’ below), giving it a score of 10 against which to base the other.
Tillamook Vanilla Bean (1) 10
Tillamook Vanilla Bean (2) 5
Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla 4
Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean 4
Breyers Vanilla Bean 1
This is NOT a quality evaluation! This is my personal response to these products and the grades are relative.
Tillamook is NOT five times better than Breyers, period! But Tillamook tastes MORE than five times better than Breyers to me!
My second taste test
October now and I have adjusted to the new Tillamook recipe (2) to the pint that I barely recall the original (1). So I did another taste test leaving the original recipe as the benchmark and assigning it a value of 10:
Tillamook Vanilla Bean (1) 10
Tillamook Vanilla Bean (2) 7
Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla 4
Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean 4
Breyers Vanilla Bean 1
If I were to do the test without Tillamook (1), then (2) would become the benchmark and get a 10! To balance the affair, I’d probably raise the other’s each a notch. I know that’s mathematically unfair, but it’s my taste and it’s my website and as Ol’ Blue Eyes once said, “That’s life!”
So, it seems that Ms. O’Sullivan was correct: the new Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream tastes fine. Needless to say, there’s a quart of it in my freezer for today’s dessert.
What about Dharma and Greg?
Please note that this is an updated and modified version of three articles that were originally posted on this site back in 2014. At the time, I was new to WordPress, so those articles were in a too-small, sans serif typeface (gag!).
And they were devoid of pictures, as I was clueless about how to download images from the Internet and then upload them to my site. This is both more readable, more visually attractive, and—hopefully—more entertaining.
And the moral of the story about Tazo and Tillamook? Complaining may not change things, but you never know until you try—and you might learn a thing or two along the way.
Wait! What about the question posed by the title of this piece: What do earl grey tea, vanilla bean ice cream, and dharma & greg have in common?
Damned if I remember . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson as Dharma Freedom Finkelstein and Gregory Clifford Montgomery in the delightful television series Dharma & Greg.
When I began this piece four years ago, it was a three-parter with the final part about Elfman’s uniquely lovely and delightfully daffy Dharma Montgomery persona. For some reason, I never got around to it. and probably never will. Oh, well.
1 I have written about my conversion to and taste for Tazo’s Earl Grey tea twice on this site before. The first was on December 1, 2013, and was titled “do you think that popeye and olive oil drank earl grey at tea time?”
The second piece was published on February 1, 2014, and was titled “earl earl earl, earl of grey (yes, I’m the earl of grey),” the title referring to Gene Chandler’s doowop classic, The Duke Of Earl.
2 Tillamook ice cream is priced considerably lower than many better known brands, even those of noticeably inferior taste quality.