Friday, January 28, 2011

Madagascar Vanilla Red By Celestial Seasonings: An Average Tea That Barely Cuts It.

The Good: Tastes good without sugar, Nothing bad in it.
The Bad: Caffeine free, Does not taste like vanilla
The Basics: With a remarkably weak "recommend," I concede that Madagascar Vanilla Red is something different for the taste buds and there is some merit in that.

There is a certain irony in reviewing quite a lot of teas and being asked by a reader if I'd tried any other red teas in response to my review of Celestial Seasonings Saphara Tropical Rooibos (reviewed here!) days before Madagascar Vanilla Red came up in my new rotation! Last year, I picked up a bunch of white teas on my annual visit to the Celestial Seasonings factory and this year, I picked up quite a few red teas. So, my answer is, "yes, now I have!"

Unfortunately, I am beginning to suspect that red teas might not be my thing, which is ironic considering that I have been called a Red on several occasions. My fundamental problem with Madagascar Vanilla Red is that it does not taste particularly like vanilla and with sugar, it has a pretty nasty aftertaste. If there is any pattern I have found to Celestial Seasonings tea, it is usually the opposite: a tea that has an aftertaste usually tastes more like what it is supposed to when cut with sugar, which usually eliminates the aftertaste. This tea, however, is different.


Madagascar Vanilla Red is a tea from Celestial Seasonings. It is a 100% natural rooibos tea - and I have no idea what that means, but I have gathered that the rooibos is what defines this as a "red" tea and that its origins might well be from Africa - that is caffeine free. This is sold as a vanilla-flavored tea and it falls a bit short of that. Madagascar Vanilla Red comes in Celestial Seasoning's standard stringless tea bags, which are paired together with easy to separate perforations that allow one to separate the tea bags. When I make pots of tea, I tend to use two bags and leave them connected. A box of Madagascar Vanilla Red comes with ten pairs (20 individual) of tea bags.

Madagascar Vanilla Red is marketed as a vanilla-flavored tea and it falls a little shy of being the ideal for that. For sure, there is a subtle vanilla flavor buried in there, but it is not the dominant one and it is not one that is going to light the taste buds up with enthusiasm.

Ease Of Preparation

Madagascar Vanilla Red is a rooibos tea, which means that preparation is the standard for most teas; boiling a pot of water! Simply boil a pot of water, put your tea bags in an appropriate vessel and pour the boiling water over the tea bags and let them steep. A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea; reusing these tea bags yields a weaker version. Upon rebrewing with the same tea bags, my second pot came out at about 5/8 or 1/2 strength. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works well.

To prepare Madagascar Vanilla Red, simply boil some water, and pour it over the tea bags in a cup, mug or steeping pot. This tea is recommended to take four to six minutes to steep and after a few cups and pots, I've found that with boiling water, the tea is ready at the five minute mark and letting it steep longer does not truly change the results. Letting the tea steep more than six minutes does not net any additional flavor, nor does it denature the flavor of the tea.


Madagascar Vanilla Red tastes faintly of vanilla. It tastes mostly like tea and nothing more. This is frustrating to read (believe me, it's more frustrating to taste and have to write!), but this has a taste that is rather bland, tea-like and indistinct. It is woody without any strong spice or flavor to it that might define it clearly. Strangely, as the tea cools it begins to actually smell a bit more like actual vanilla. But it is not rich in any flavor but tea, which is odd for a tea that is not made using black tea leaves.

Without sugar, there is a faint, dry aftertaste that is easily manageable and not terribly unpleasant.

With sugar, however, Madagascar Vanilla Red becomes slightly sweet, with an incredibly sour and dry aftertaste that leaves one looking for another drink to cleanse the palate. Indeed, it is pretty foul with even half a teaspoon of sugar. Adding sugar does not bring out any additional vanilla flavor, either.

Iced, Madagascar Vanilla Red is a terrible disappointment. Cold, it is all sour and tea flavored; not even the hint of vanilla that comes when it is hot. Even with sugar, there is such a strong, sour aftertaste that iced, Madagascar Vanilla Red is almost enough to turn one off to tea!

As for the second pot, the flavor is weaker, but it is not quite as sour with the reused tea bags.


It is not surprising that the rooibos tea flavor gives the vanilla flavor in Madagascar Vanilla Red a thrashing, given that the primary ingredients are: rooibos and then natural French vanilla flavor and vanilla bean. There is nothing unpronouncable or strange in this tea (though for all I know rooibos could be grown through the slaying of Transformers). Madagascar Vanilla Red tea is all natural, gluten free, and does not contain caffeine.

Were it not for the sugar I add whenever I make pots of Madagascar Vanilla Red, this tea would be devoid of any nutritional value. It contains no calories, fat, sodium, carbohydrates or protein.


Madagascar Vanilla Red is a red tea and it lives up to its name in that regard. Colored a medium reddish brown, this will stain fabrics and probably other surfaces if left on them. While mugs and steeping pots easily rinse out, I would not recommend letting this tea linger on any light colored fabrics.

Madagascar Vanilla Red is easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. One of the nice things about this tea - like most - is that so long as it is kept cool and dry, it can last for a long time and it is easy to clean up.


Madagascar Vanilla Red is a fair tea and ultimately it is something different, which is good for someone like me who drinks A LOT of tea. But for other, more casual, tea drinkers, it's a tough sell. I let it come down to the toss of a coin and tails was "recommend," so it's getting a VERY weak "Recommend." I can see having a box around for something different, but I'll never recommend having more than one box on hand!

For other Celestial Seasonings tea reviews, please check out:
Gingerbread Spice
English Toffee


For other food and drink reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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