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Tag: chai

Chai Noir from T by Daniel

Lately it feels like I’ve been on a flavoured tea kick, and my visit to the Toronto Tea Festival in late January pushed that into higher gear. When I was there, I bought 5 separate flavoured blends from T by Daniel, a company based in Brampton. I remember at last year’s tea festival, friends of mine oohed and aahed over their blends, so I resolved not to throw away my shot this year. So today’s review is of their Chai Noir blend.

Chai Noir is a masala chai with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, and some rather unexpected ingredients: hazelnut, almond, macadamia nuts, and cactus blossoms.

The dry leaf itself looks different from other chais, because the spices definitely dominate the blend visually. My guess is that, at most, only half of the blend is black tea, with the other half being cardamom pods, flower petals, cloves, cinnamon pieces, and nuts.

The weird thing is that despite the label not listing ginger as an ingredient, I swear I can smell it in the blend. I’m pretty sure I can even see a few dried pieces of ginger in the mix — I see at least one chunk of something that looks stringy and somewhat beige. There are a few other ingredients in the mix that I can’t identify, however. I’m not sure what a cactus blossom looks like, but there are a few pieces in the blend that look like dried fruit.

Despite my inability to identify every ingredient, the aroma of the dried leaf is pretty awesome. I can smell the usual suspects — cinnamon, cloves, cardamom — but beyond that, there’s a richness and roundness and depth to the scent of Chai Noir that I find pretty enthralling.

Is it the hazelnuts? The vanilla? The macadamia nuts? Whatever it is, it’s kind of oily, but it adds a surprising amount of body and smoothness to the aroma.

I took 1 big teaspoon of the blend and steeped it in just-boiled water for 2-3 minutes — I wasn’t really keeping count. However, because I’m a goof, I used a mug with an apple-green interior, making it much harder to actually guess the true colour of the resulting brew.

That was a goof because judging by the taste, I should have let the tea steep for at least a minute longer. While the flavour was very smooth and well-balanced, it felt faint. Not bold at all. And if there’s something I expect from a chai blend, it’s to wallop me over the head with flavour.

Overall, the roundness and depth and oiliness of the aroma was true to the flavour of the brewed tea, but it just didn’t feel there enough. Either more brewing time or more leaf is warranted.

You can buy Chai Noir from T by Daniel here.

30 Days of Reviews: Vanilla Chai from Zen Tea

The holidays are coming up, which means that it’s time for warm, comforting, spicy teas. And today’s tea, Vanilla Chai from Zen Tea, is a good example. I bought a sample of this from Zen Tea all the way back in February/March, and now that the cold weather has returned, this tea made its way into my cup.

This vanilla chai contains black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla pieces, ginger, cloves, black pepper, natural flavouring. The black tea base used here looks smaller and more cut-up than traditional loose-leaf tea, but larger and more intact than a CTC (crush-tear-curl) tea. Bits of clove, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom are visible among the leaves, giving the leaf a kind of jaunty, festive look.


Up close, the dry tea smells very rich and spiced, but the dominant scents are of ginger and cinnamon. I smell hardly any vanilla at all, and in fact can’t distinguish any pieces of vanilla pod in the dry leaf.

The instructions said to boil the leaf gently for a few minutes then add milk bit by bit – but frankly, that’s far too labour-intensive for me. So I just did the usual method of letting the leaf sit in hot water for a few minutes. After 3-4 minutes, the resulting brew was a rich red-brown colour, warm and welcoming.


I had it straight with no sugar or milk. Overall, this vanilla chai is very balanced and smooth, with no astringency. While I could taste a variety of spices, mostly ginger and cinnamon, I couldn’t taste very much vanilla at all. Vanilla showed up only at the end of the sip, in the back of my sinuses.

So much for vanilla chai, huh? Lots of chai, but vanilla, not so much.

You can buy Vanilla Chai from Zen Tea here.

Valentine’s Day with Chaiwala Chai

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. Mr. BooksandTea and I barely left the house that day because it was freezing outside, but if there’s one thing that tea is good for, that thing is providing comfort on cold days. So how did we celebrate Valentine’s Day? By having homemade blueberry pancakes for breakfast. And if there was one tea I wanted to try alongside these pancakes, it was the chai mix I bought from Chaiwala a few weeks ago at the Toronto Tea Festival. (Bonus! It turns out these guys live in Scarborough, just like I do! This makes me incredibly happy.)

This is the stuff:


See how it says “fresh ginger”  and “honey” on the label? That’s one of the neat things about this blend. It really does have fresh ginger and honey mixed in with the black tea, resulting in a kind of thick, crumbly mix. I think the honey is here both to add sweetness and to prevent the tea and spices from spoiling when in contact with the moistness of the fresh ginger.

And oh my god, there are a LOT of spices in this mix. In addition to the black tea and honey, there’s ginger, orange peel, cardamom, fennel, nutmeg, bay leaf, and a whole lot more. You can see how much spice is in this mix when you actually measure it out for brewing. It looks a bit like vegetable slaw, I think:


Chaiwalah’s chai smelled bracingly strong, spicy and pungent: so strong, in fact, that I had trouble picking out individual flavours. However, I’m pretty sure that I was able to sense cloves, fennel, bay leaf, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I will say it again: yowza, this tea smelled strong.

The instructions on the Chaiwala package said to mix 8 ounces of milk (preferably soy milk) with 8 grams of chai and then heat the milk on the stove on medium until it just reaches a boil. For all that effort, I decided to measure out about 16 grams of leaf for 16 ounces of milk and then make myself an extra big cup. I don’t buy soy milk, so I used plain old 1% cow’s milk instead.

And into the pot it went! Here’s what it looked like before I put the heat on:


I let the milk sit for a bit before heating it up because I was preparing the pancakes. (I used this blueberry pancake recipe, by the way. It was tasty, but the batter was much thicker than I expected.)

Once I made some headway on the pancakes, I turned the stove on, put it on medium heat, and let the tea sit until it reached a boil. This took about 10 minutes. And voila, here’s the boiling tea:


I strained it into a mug, finished cooking the pancakes, got some kiwi to go with the pancakes, and had a deliciously regal breakfast with my husband. Since he doesn’t like tea, I had this concoction all to myself. Look at this and tell me you’re not jealous:


This tea was super strong. However, I couldn’t taste much in the way of black tea at all: the strongest flavours were of ginger, fennel, cloves, and bay leaf. (For some reason, the bay leaf was particularly prominent in my cup.) Part of me wonders if this is because I used cow milk instead of soy, or because I let the tea sit in the milk for several minutes before putting it on the boil. There’s plenty of room to experiment, however: I’ve used only about 1/4 of the package from Chaiwala, and because of the way it’s mixed (tea, honey, and fresh spices), I need to use it up quickly before it goes bad.

Tea Reviews: Irie, Soul Good, and Jubilee from Tea Leaf Co

About Tea Leaf Co

tea_leaf_coTea Leaf Co is a Toronto-based tea retailer. All their teas are certified organic by Ecocert Canada and the USDA. Most (but not all) of their teas come in sample-sized pouches of 20g. Shipping is free for orders $49, but as a bonus, shipping is a flat rate of $3 if you buy only sample sizes. I purchased three samples for review and they arrived in my mailbox in Toronto in less than a week.

You can buy from Tea Leaf Co online at

Irie — Coconut Chai

The first thing that will strike you about this blend is the smooth aroma of coconut which permeates the infusion, and flutters amongst the other Chai spices, without overwhelming, imparting that delicious smooth coconut flavor. The sweet notes of citrus come out at the mid point of the flavor development while the cardamom sweetness lingers towards the end… a masterful performance.

Ingredients: Black tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, orange peel, black pepper, coconut shreds, natural essences.

tea_leaf_co_irie_dryWhen I first opened the package of Irie tea, I immediately smelled the spices and the orange peel, but I didn’t smell much coconut at first. However, I could definitely see big flakes of coconut in the dry leaf, along with flecks of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and orange peel. The leaf was just lovely to look at. Eventually, I did notice the smell of coconut, but it was light and faint at the back of my nose near my soft palate.

I brewed 3 tsp in my 3-cup teapot with 100°C water for 3-4 minutes and added a dollop of agave nectar. The resulting brew was a clear amber that was lighter than I expected. The smell was a very fine balance of coconut, orange, and spices.

tea_leaf_co_irie_pourThe first taste on the tip of my tongue was of sharp spices, which eventually faded to smoothness. After that, the strongest two spice flavours were ginger and cardamom, with coconut becoming a light flavour on the back of my tongue. This was a really smooth chai with a good balance of flavours. However, I do wish that the base tea had been stronger, as it was really light.

Soul Good — Apple Cider Oolong

A perfect cup of all natural apple cider to warm you up this autumn and winter.

Ingredients: Oolong tea, apple pieces, ginger, natural essences.

Soul Good apple cider oolongWhen I first opened the package of Soul Good tea, I smelled a powdery smell that I couldn’t quite place. It reminded me of potpourri or baby powder but not in a bad way — it was soft and sweet rather than dry or chalky. I could smell the ginger and the apple on top of the powder, creating an interesting flavour profile — not quite reminiscent of apple cider, but definitely fruity and spicy.

The dry leaf consists of white flecks of dried ginger, brown pieces of dried apple, and dark, curled nuggets of oolong tea. I don’t know enough about oolong to be able to identify what’s being used here, but based on the floral smell and the dark green colour of the nuggets, I’m guessing that it’s either unroasted or only lightly roasted.

tea_leaf_co_soul_good_brewI brewed the 1.5-2 teaspoons of dry leaf in 1 1/2 cups of water at 85°C for 3-4 minutes. The resulting brew was a pale orange yellow, and the dry leaf had clearly expanded a lot in the filter bag.

The brewed smell was quite similar to the dried smell: sweet, soft, fruity, powdery. I added a spoonful of agave nectar (too much, I realized in retrospect) to the cup, which helped bring the flavour forward. The apple was gentle and appeared mostly on the back of my tongue. The ginger was there if I squinted, but it wasn’t that strong.

Although this tea is billed as an apple cider oolong, I wasn’t really getting the depth of flavour that I would expect from a cider. I think this is because of the blend’s use of green oolong. I bet it would pack a greater punch if a more heavily-roasted oolong were used for the base.

Jubilee — Mango Green Rooibos

This organic herbal tea blend is an exciting combination of herbs and spices. It embodies the smells and flavors of the carnival season and piques all of your senses creating an experience that walks a fine line between excitement and relaxing escape.The carnival culture of Brazil and the Caribbean stem from African traditions, since Africans has an ancient tradition of parading and moving in circles through villages wearing masks and costumes.

Ingredients: Green rooibos, rose petals, mango pieces, calendula, orange peel, apple pieces, natural essences.

Jubilee mango green rooibosThe dry leaf for Jubilee was a mix of rose petals, calendula petals, green rooibos, and mango pieces. The smell was like ripe, juicy mango edging into overripeness. In the back, contributing to that overripe smell was the rose, adding a bit of tartness, and the calendula, adding a bit of floral peachiness.

I brewed 8 tsp of the dry leaf in my iced tea pitcher — I boiled one litre of water, added a squeeze of agave nectar, and let it sit for 5 minutes before topping the pitcher up with another litre of cool water and chucking the entire pitcher into the fridge to cool. I let it sit for about 8 hours before pouring out a glass to taste.

tea_leaf_co_jubilee_brewThe liquor was a bright sunny orange, and the dominant flavours were of mango and rose. Again, the flavour itself was very light on the tongue. Almost too light, actually — I worry I may have understeeped this.


My favourite tea of this set was Irie because it had a very finely balanced blend of spices. I have some masala chais in my cupboard that taste like a cinnamon stick and others that are pretty much nothing but ginger, and this one sits right in the middle. Plus, the hint of coconut and orange provides depth.

The Jubilee iced tea was good, but I think I wimped out on the leaf and didn’t add enough sugar. I think I’ll use the rest of the sample for a single pitcher and see how that fares. I’m quite happy with my choices, though; Tea Leaf Co. has more blends to try, and many of them look very promising.

One Final Note: Great Service and Branding

One final thing I’d like to note about Tea Leaf Co is how solid their branding is. Their site is bright and easy to navigate, their colour scheme and typography are clear and distinct, and the quality of their packaging is apparent when looked at up-close.

On top of that, their customer service is top-notch: the owner, Stephanie, mailed my package almost immediately after it was ordered even though she was very busy dealing with many things at once, and the tea was delivered wrapped in a beautiful layer of colourful tissue paper. The package also contained a handwritten thank-you note that included a custom coupon code for future orders.

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