Twinings should have known better: Don't mess with a Briton's tea.
Customers are incensed by the company's decision to tamper with its beloved Earl Grey blend in England, where Twinings replaced the original with a "refreshed" version in April.
Now named simply "The Earl Grey," the tea has "an extra hint of bergamot and citrus," assistant brand manager Katherine Jeffery explained on Twinings' British website, which has become an unintentional hub for the customer backlash.
"Horrid," "vile" and "an affront to tea" are just some of the descriptives in a public shaming that's reached fever pitch in recent days. Tea drinkers are complaining that the new Earl Grey has an artificial lemon taste. They liken it to "foul-tasting dishwater," "diluted toilet cleaner," "wishy washy potpourri," as well as Fairy, the ubiquitous British dish soap.
"If I want lemon zest in my tea, I will add it myself," commenter Yasmin Stonebanks wrote on the company website.
Another politely suggested the new blend be called "the restrictive Earl Grey," since it is "positively unpleasant with milk and lightweight without milk."
Lamented another: "I decided to give it a chance and stick with it for at least two boxes in order to see if it was a grower – sadly not in my case."
A 300-year-old company, Twinings launched the Earl Grey blend in 1831, combining black tea with oil from bergamot oranges. Now, once-devoted customers are defecting to versions made by Taylors of Harrogate, Waitrose, and Marks & Spencer, a big deal considering that many boast drinking upward of six cups a day.
There's a Facebook campaign, of course: "Bring Back the Original Twinings Earl Grey Tea."
Others have rushed grocery stores to stock up on the loose leaf variety, which is still available in the original blend.
The scene is reminiscent of the New Coke backlash of 1985: After tinkering with the original recipe, Coca-Cola Co. got more than 400,000 complaints, faced boycotts in the Southern United States and hired a psychiatrist to listen in on the distressed calls flooding its hotline. The company got the message, resuscitating the original recipe 79 days later.
For now, Twinings is defending the new blend, a spokesperson telling The Daily Mail that "The Earl Grey" underwent "rigorous consumer tasting, receiving strong preference feedback over the previous blend."
"It was traditionally thought of as the tea you had when you went round to your grandmother's," Twinings' Claire Forster told the paper. "Now a lot of young people are getting into Earl Grey. … All products need to evolve to keep up with people's developing palates."
Dishwater it is then.
What do you do when your favourite products get overhauled?