It’s that time of year when marketing teams get a little ahead of themselves. When Brian—a lowly, unimportant yet enthusiastic figure on the supermarket R&D team—starts to feel the energy of Christmas run through him, fueling him with an uncharacteristic level of confidence. Sweeping back his thinning hair and adjusting his novelty tie, he announces a new idea for this year’s festive food selection. OK, so I’m thinking: gravy granules with clumps of glitter, like baubles. He gains steam. Which we will call. Dramatic pause. GraveTREE.
People like Brian are the reason that supermarkets come out with dumb products during the Christmas season, hoping to monopolise on your lowered guard after consuming 40 mince pies and a pint of Bailey’s. Why else would Waitrose try to sell this “sausage wreath,” a festive dish that resembles a pagan, misandrist sacrifice of bloody, severed dicks more than actual food? Or Tesco, releasing a mulled wine-flavoured bleach that will inevitably lead to the deaths of ten to 14 people over December?
Another of 2018’s blessed festive offerings is the “pigs in blankets” tea from Sainsbury’s. The novelty brew, released last week alongside a Brussels sprout tea, is a mixture of Lapsang souchong, apple pieces, sage, and rosemary, designed to taste like the favourite Christmas side of chipolatas wrapped in streaky bacon. It instructs you to “boil freshly drawn water,” and allow the bag to infuse to three to five minutes. “Best enjoyed without milk.”
Just like the first tongues to try the bitter, mahogany brew of coffee or the tropical sweetness of pineapple, it was my turn to be the Columbus of food (except without all the genocide and stealing).
Let me start by saying it took me an hour and a half to source this tea. After visiting two local Sainsbury’s and having to (eyes down; ashamed) bring up a picture of the tea on my phone to help the bewildered staff, it transpired that the pigs in blankets tea is only sold in larger branches of the supermarket. So, to the Underground I went.
Fifteen minutes from the office, in a largely unexpected mid-morning excursion to a Big Sainsbury’s, I look for the pigs in blankets tea. After wandering around and having a staff member unhelpfully tell me that it is in aisle 13 (??????), I locate it. The box is pink and adorned with a watercolour pig in a Christmas blanket. It looks pretty harmless so, naively—nay, foolishly—I grab a packet and head back to the office.
In the office kitchen, my experiment begins. Upon opening the packet, I am hit with a meaty stench akin to a potpourri of dried pork. It’s really, really pungent. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from many disappointing interactions with delicious smelling herbal teas, it is that they never taste as good (or bad?) as they smell. I whisper this to myself as I pour the hot water into a cup. It won’t taste as bad as it smells.
I take the brew to my desk and wait for it to cool down. At least, I tell myself I’m waiting for it to cool down, when really, I am only delaying the inevitable. I bring the tea to my lips and take a sip. A warm, stock-like liquid rushes into my mouth. It is in parts smokey, watery, and salty; and for a moment I think I could enjoy it—like miso soup or chicken broth. Except, it’s not actually food, it’s tea, and no one should make savoury tea with sage in because it is wrong and offensive.
Dear reader, it’s horrible. It’s like someone has brewed a pot of hot water with a single Frazzle in and left said Frazzle to soak for four hours until the water has become merely essence of Frazzle. I take it around my office, pushing it in the face of colleagues and asking them to “guess” what the tea is for “fun.” “I hate it,” says one after unwittingly taking a sip. I continue to drink the bacon water, forcing it down.
I spend the rest of the day haunted by the smell of this tea, as it sits unfinished on the side of my desk. I forget about it for an hour or so, but then the smell emanates through the air towards me, and I reminded that it’s still there, along with 19 other unused bags. I move the mug to the kitchen. The packet of tea starts to smell, like a spectre of all the pigs I ate in my meat-eating past. It is inescapable.
Thanks again, Brian.