Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reluctant Review: Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice


This is a bittersweet review for a tea I truly enjoy, but one that now needs to be an occasional sip.

I usually shy away from flavored teas, but this blend from Harney & Sons captured my affections. It's perfect for the winter weather. It warms the palate and body. I don't usually like sweet teas, but the cinnamon is so strong it overpowers the sweetness.

I first had this tea as a sample at the New York Coffee & Tea Festival, so I didn't know what the ingredients were. I loved the flavor so much, my friend who tried it with me recently gave me a beautiful tin of the tea bags. I was delighted with the gift, but after inspecting the ingredients listed on the tin, I was disappointed to see that there are artificial flavors in this tea.

I rarely buy products with artificial flavors or colors in them, especially in things I consume on a daily basis. So as much as I love this tea, it went from being a regular indulgence to one that is just occasional. I respect the Harney & Sons company, and I was surprised to see they add artificial flavors to their teas. Since I don't usually drink flavored blends, I haven't noticed this on any of their other teas. I will be carefully reading labels in the future.


This tea is known as one of their most popular flavored teas. I can understand why- the play of spicy and sweet is just right, and hints of orange and clove are perfect for chilly weather. The spices linger on the tongue long after the tea has been sipped. Now I know this is because of the artificial additives, and not just the natural spices. The sweetness should have given it away, but I was too taken when the spiciness to notice.

As much as I love the taste of this tea, it is now in the same category as bubble teas- something I have when I'm in the mood for a sweet drink. This can be my winter alternative to bubble tea. The attractive tin will also brighten up my office. If you enjoy spicy blends and don't mind artificial flavors, definitely give this tea a try.

19 comments:

  1. Interesting. I should check my oolong and green tea to see if they have artificial additives as well. I'm usually too busy checking to see the caffeine levels.

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  2. I don't think the pure teas do, but maybe check if you have any flavored blends.

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  3. Do you know what the sweetener is?

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    1. Unfortunately, I don't. In the ingredients it just says black teas, orange peel, 'natural and artificial flavors'. so they don't disclose what the sweetener is. I could try and inquire, never hurts to ask!

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    2. They say on the Amazon page that it is sweetened only with cloves. No sugar added.

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    3. Thanks for the comment! As you can see from my canister above, it has artificial flavor. Perhaps they've recently changed the formulation? I'll have to investigate further. Thanks for letting me know!

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  4. After reading a piece earlier today stating that HFCS is now sometimes labeled as "natural sweetener" (http://yournewswire.com/high-fructose-corn-syrup-renamed/)I once again became worried about this tea. When I first drank it, I wondered about the sweetness, but saw (as one commenter above mentioned) that the company has implied that the sweetness is from cloves, even though the ingredients listing clearly states "natural and artificial flavors". I've emailed the company's customer service folks asking for clarification about what exactly that means. If I get a response, I'll pop back over and share it here.

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    1. Emilie, thank you! It is definitely too sweet for the flavor to come just from the cloves. Definitely let us know what you find out!

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    2. I've not heard anything from the company, but I did find this about one of their other cinnamon teas: http://www.thefoodcoach.com.au/articles/?ArticleID=1822 I suspect something similar is going on with the hot cinnamon spice tea. I kinda hate that I ordered two tins of this tea not too long ago...

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    3. Wow great detective work Emilie! Yes I am sure that's what is going on with this tea. I hear ya, I still have my tin of this tea, I can't get myself to drink it more than on rare occasion.

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  5. Argh this is so upsetting. This is my absolute favorite tea ever. Go figure it has an artificial sweetener. I pride myself for staying away from all things artificial and never imagined I would be led astray by a tea bag. Who would have thought I should have read the label. Just bought the mega bag on Amazon, too. "/ I had a feeling, though, that's why I searched & found this blog. Grateful for it. Thank you.

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    1. Sorry to bring the bad news to you, Dre! But glad you know now. Will you still drink it? I know it's frustrating, since it is so tasty. Thank you for your comment.

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    2. Sara, I will not be drinking it. I found one that tastes exactly the same (& it's organic & caffeine free) by Chicago Roastery. I just had to add a little raw honey for the same taste. I'm writing the company right now, as the customer service rep I spoke with didn't seem to want to argue with me that there is in-fact artificial sweetners in this tea. He gave me the email address of Michael Harney. We will see if I get a response. I'll keep you posted. :)

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    3. I'll have to check out the one from Chicago Roastery. Wow you get to go straight to Mr. Harney himself! Do keep me posted, this is quite an adventure! Way to go!

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    4. Well, this is just going to turn out to be a matter of opinion. Here is his response...I have a feeling this is cut and pasted to many people inquiring about how sweet this tea is, but his response has me thinking...

      "Thanks for the note. We do share your concern for transparency & added sweeteners. However I disagree that anything that is added to our Hot Cinnamon is a sweetener.
      Phenylalanine is an amino acid. The cinnamon tree makes it for various uses. In the presence of certain enzymes, that amino acid is modified by the plant. After several steps (including becoming cinnamic acid) it might become cinnamic aldehyde. The plant biosyntheses (naturally makes) this chemical for various purposes including lignin used for structural purposes such as bark. Humans have found that that if cinnamon bark is dried, it tastes sweet. That means that this chemical excites certain taste receptors on your tongue that send signals to your brain: sweet. Does that make the chemical a sweetener? No.
      The FDA does not consider it a sweetener, rather it is considered a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe ) flavor.
      As mentioned this chemical is found in bark, there are other substances found in bark that give the natural chemical an woody flavor, as well as other flavors. Thus we use a purified artificial version. Since there is no bark flavors, it seems sweeter and spicier.
      Phenylalanine is combined aspartic acid and methanol to make Aspartame. Aspartame has to be manufactured under control conditions that included fermentation and changes in temperature. That does not occur with our tea. So there is no version Aspartame in our tea.
      I can understand that all of this does get complicated. However what we use is a flavor not a sweetener as defined by the FDA. I am happy to discuss this further with you.
      Sincerely,
      Mike Harney

      Sara, I would love your thoughts on this. Since it is not combined with aspartic acid and methanol to make aspartame, do we still think it is as harmful?

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    5. oh my! It's hard to argue if it's chemistry, but so much of what he says seems creepy to me. What does a 'purified artificial version' mean? And just because something is 'generally regarded' as safe, it doesn't make me feel good about it. Unless he can pull out scientific studies showing that their version isn't as harmful as aspartame, I will continue to be wary of it. It's not natural. I do think he is trying to show that they have good intentions with their tea, but when it comes down to it, it still contains artificial flavors. That's really not something I want when I look for tea.

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  6. I'm so happy I came across this and hope you are able to get some further clarification. I had my first cup of this tea just yesterday and was just blown away. I LOVE it. I could drink a couple cups a day. Then I noticed "artificial flavors" on the label. I don't tolerate artificial sweeteners well but I haven't noticed any side effects so far. I've read the explanation a couple times trying to understand what he is saying as I'm no scientist, but it sounds like the artificial flavor they are using is just the strong sweet/cinnamon flavor that you normally find in the bark? The part about it affecting the brains receptors was also interesting as I thought that was something that HFCS did as well but I'm not 100% sure on that point. I'm just so disappointed. I am try to avoid all artificial sweeteners and I understand he is saying this isn't classified that way but...well, it's just hard to believe. I guess when it's too good to be true. As with all things I guess it needs to be consumed in moderation. :( Thanks for the post. Heather

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    1. Thanks Heather! It is definitely confusing to read. Still, the label says artificial flavor, so it's something I drink in moderation for sure. Labels can be so misleading!

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  7. Thank you very much, Dre, for posting Mr Harney's reply.

    As I understand it, phenylalanine is an amino acid that the cinnamon tree naturally metabolizes into cinnamic acid and, later, cinnamic aldehyde. The tree then uses this cinnamic aldehyde to produce the lignins it uses to form its plant structures, including the bark.

    The bark is the part we humans use to make cinnamon tea, because we find that, when we dry the bark, this chemical (cinnamic aldehyde) in it makes it taste sweet (i.e., the cinnamic aldehyde in the dried bark activates the sweet receptors on our tongues, which our brains then interpret as a "sweet" taste).

    However, because this "sweet-tasting" cinnamic aldehyde found naturally in the bark is accompanied by other woody-tasting chemicals, Harney & Sons has decided to use this sweet-tasting chemical in a purified form by removing the woody-tasting chemicals it's normally found with.

    It's this purified form of cinnamic aldehyde (i.e., separated from the other woody-testing chemicals that normally accompany it in the bark) that they use in the tea, and because it's a purified form, it tastes sweeter than it normally would when accompanied by the other woody-tasting chemicals found with it in its naturally occurring form in cinnamon tree bark.

    Now, because it's only purified (i.e., separated from those other accompanying woody-tasting testing chemicals), and not manufactured (like aspartame is), it is not - nor should be - considered a sweetener, hence the FDA's classification of it as a non-sweetener.

    In my view, what's unclear is whether Harney & Sons is only purifying this naturally occurring, sweet-tasting cinnamic aldehyde or artificially synthesizing it in a lab and then adding it to the tea so that the tea contains more of this sweet-tasting chemical - and in a purer form - than the cinnamon tree bark would normally contain. Because the chemical is a naturally occurring ingredient in common tree bark, the only thing unnatural about it is the process by which it's purified: a) by extracting cinnamic aldehyde from the tree bark and then purifying it or b) by synthesizing the cinnamic aldehyde artificially in a lab and then adding it to the tea to enhance or increase its natural sweetness. This latter method send more efficient for larger-scale production in the food industry (similar to the way we produce vitamins), and may account for why it must be labeled as an artificial flavor in the list of ingredients.

    Unless I misunderstood something important, perhaps we can ask THAT question (i.e., how the cinnamic aldehyde is purified) of Mr Harney in order to get a clearer answer?

    As for me, however they obtain the purified form of the sweet-tasting cinnamic aldehyde (whether as an isolated extract or as a synthesized form of the naturally occurring chemical found in cinnamon tree bark), I kind of see it as similar to the way we produce vitamins - naturally occurring, essential nutrients for humans that happen to be chemically synthesized in a lab, and therefore not harmful. Having said that, I do realize I am assuming that the synthesized version of the chemical is not harmful, a question I am not qualified to answer. But I think the risks are negligible, and the tea IS delicious, so I'll take my chances! ��

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