Chi Whole Leaf Teas: Powdered Teas That Aren’t Matcha
Chi Whole Leaf is a new tea company that offers a variety of teas in finely ground powders — think of something similar to matcha, where you gently whisk hot water into the powder, but using a variety of ingredients instead of just green tea. You can learn more about Chi Whole Leaf teas here.
Chi Whole Leaf currently offers 5 different blends, and I and several other reviewers were given tiny samples of all of them to try. There are 2 blends with caffeine and 3 without.
The first tea I tried was a mix of ground yerba maté (a high-caffeine herbal tea from South America), licorice root, and gingko leaf. It was a dark olive green colour and I took 1/4 tsp of powder, stirred it with a bit of hot water to create a thin paste, and then poured more hot water (about 95°C) to get a full cup.
I personally dislike yerba maté because it has a weird earthy taste, but I was willing to try this tea because the presentation is so unusual. However, I barely made it beyond a sip or two. The earthiness of the yerba maté mixed with the overwhelming sweetness of the licorice root to create something that was overpowering and highly unpleasant in my mouth.
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I poured the whole thing out after only a few sips. This tea was not for me.
This tea was a mix of Darjeeling green tea, mint, and eucalyptus. I used 85°C water, but other than that, the preparation was fairly similar: I added a little bit of water to half a spoonful of powder to create a thin paste, then poured the rest of the water on top.
With this tea, the strongest taste was of the eucalyptus; the mint complemented it. I wasn’t getting much of a green tea taste, but I was getting a sense of herbal acridness at the back of my mouth. I’m assuming that this acrid note is a byproduct of all 5 samples being shipped in the same envelope — they all smell faintly the same, despite having diverse ingredients. With the combination of mint and eucalyptus, I bet this tea would be great to drink while having a cold. I could feel the back of my throat and it made my sinuses tingle a bit.
I was filled with trepidation about this one. It’s a mix of finely ground hibiscus, jasmine, and rose — and hibiscus is one of those ingredients that can absolutely take over a tea and monopolize the palate if you’re not careful.
The dried powder was bright pink bordering on fuschia. It’s eyepopping, to say the least! I used about a half teaspoon of dried powder for 1 cup of hot water and was rewarded with a deep hibiscus pink colour.
The taste was much milder and smoother than I expected — the flavour of hibiscus was there, but I think the rose was more prominent. I added about half a spoonful of agave nectar and the sweetness helped bring out the fruity, jammy quality of the rose. I didn’t taste much jasmine, though.
As I continued to drink through the cup, the tartness of the hibiscus became more apparent, though it manifested less as a taste and more as a sensation of crinkling on my tongue. It’s interesting, but I would have preferred something a bit less astringent. The dry powder of this one was slightly less finely ground up than the others because individual flecks were more easily visible in the water.
This herbal tea contains a mix of chamomile, St. John’s wort (see my note about this in the “Concerns” section), lemongrass, passionflower, and peppermint. I used a similar preparation as with the other teas — I mixed 1/2 tsp of powder with warm water to create a thin paste and then topped the rest off with hot water. This time the water was 90°C.
The powder and the tea were a murky khaki colour. I could definitely smell the chamomile when the water hit the powder, but I also got a strong sense of peppermint when I drank it. The overall taste was of chamomile with a light hint of peppermint in my sinuses; the aftertaste was somewhat dry and chalky. I should note that, like other reviewers, I found that the powder for this blend didn’t dissolve well. It collected into a sludge at the bottom of my cup after I first mixed it together.
I drank this late at night to see what effect the combination of chamomile, St. John’s wort, and passionflower would have on me before I went to bed. I didn’t see much of a difference the morning after, but overall, I thought this blend was okay.
I’m happy to say that of the 5 teas that Chi Whole Leaf offers, Ginger Chai was my favourite.
The dry tea was a burnt orange that reminded me of terra cotta, and smelled strongly of clove with a hint of ginger. When I added my hot water to the powder (using the same method described above), I was immediately hit with a strong rooibos smell that was quite fruity and peppery.
Once I added the hot water, I topped the mug with a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of milk to add some body.
The strongest thing I tasted of this tea was the rooibos, oddly enough, rather than the ginger, cloves, or cinnamon. But like I said above, it’s fruity and peppery. (Perhaps the pepper note was just the ginger in disguise.) I think that the spices are helping to smooth out the rooibos.
I quite liked the Green Mint and Ginger Chai teas, and would definitely consider getting larger quantities of these — especially since they’re so convenient for travel. I would also consider getting the Chamomile blend because it tones down some of the obnoxious metallic flavour I find in straight chamomile tea. However, I did not like the Yerba Maté blend at all.
One thing I’m worried about is that the pamphlet I received with my samples contained much more detailed ingredient info than what’s currently available on the website as of the middle of August, 2015. The pamphlet lists each blend’s ingredients outright, while the product descriptions on the website mentions each ingredient separately through the body copy instead of grouping them into a dedicated list. That’s not good from a usability/readability perspective.
More importantly, although the pamphlet states that users should do their own research before drinking these teas, I want to emphasize that St. John’s wort is a plant that’s often used as an alternative/herbal remedy for depression. I really REALLY want people to be aware of this before ordering the chamomile blend, because I know that herbal supplements can interact with pharmaceuticals in unexpected ways. I think that the chamomile and yerba maté blends in particular (since the yerba blend contains gingko biloba, which is also an herbal supplement) should have stronger warnings about how they could affect people who take prescription medication.